BROWNLOW Medallist Lachie Neale is set to return for Brisbane’s massive AFL clash with Melbourne.
Neale hasn’t played since having ankle surgery to repair a syndesmosis injury suffered against Carlton in round six but he will fly to Sydney – in an extended squad – for Friday’s game at Giants Stadium.
Coach Chris Fagan said both Neale and reliable defender Ryan Lester (hamstring) just needed to complete Thursday afternoon’s training run to be ticked off to play.
“It would be good (to get Neale back), obviously he’s a very, very good player,” Fagan said.
“Having said that, the blokes that have been playing in his spot have been tremendous over the last five weeks.
“We’re very confident whether Lachie or whether he doesn’t that we can continue on with our form.
“He trained well enough on Tuesday to make us think that he’s a chance for tomorrow night but we’ve still got to see how he goes this afternoon.”
Fagan said Brisbane’s medical team would have final say on Neale’s fitness but Melbourne counterpart Simon Goodwin expected the gun midfielder to play.
“He’s had a long time out of the game but we expect him to be at this best,” Goodwin said.
“That’s what the champions do, they prepare themselves as best they can and if they’ve got confidence to bring him in, in such a big game, I’m sure he’s ready to go.
“So he’ll add to their midfield depth, there’s no question they’ve got a high-quality midfield and it generates them a lot of their forward half game.
“So he’s a player we’ll certainly surely have to watch, but they’ve got a number of guys who are in really good form.”
James Harmes successfully tagged Western Bulldogs gun Tom Liberatore last week but Goodwin said the Demons wouldn’t necessarily turn to a tag again.
If Lester returns, it will be a timely boost for Brisbane’s undersized backline given Melbourne have talls Tom McDonald, Sam Weideman, Luke Jackson up forward – and Ben Brown in reserve.
Melbourne will be without Ed Langdon (concussion) but will resist the temptation to push McDonald up the ground to replace the winger.
Goodwin expected the game to be a fly-in, fly-out affair with 26 players, plus staff, flying north on Thursday afternoon and returning to Melbourne on the weekend.
(C) AAP 2021