The Brisbane Lions’ forgettable start to 2014 has worsened with gun midfielder Daniel Rich ruled out for the rest of the season.
Rich will undergo knee reconstruction in Melbourne later this week after scans on Monday confirmed he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament against Gold Coast on Saturday.
It’s a massive loss for Brisbane, whose optimistic finals hopes are already flagging with a 0-3 record and a tough draw ahead.
The club and Rich opted against LARS surgery which could have had him back for the closing rounds of the year and taken the safe route with a traditional reconstruction.
“He’s pretty devastated, as you would be,” Lions football operations manager Dean Warren told AAP.
“Daniel is not only a fantastic footballer, but a great leader, and there is no doubt our side will miss having him out there.
“But as he said, `that’s footy’, and he’s just getting it done and moving on with his rehab.”
The 23-year-old sustained the right knee damage in the first half of their 53-point loss to Gold Coast when he collided with Suns youngster Sean Lemmens.
Possessing a booming left boot, Rich has been among the Lions’ most influential midfielders since debuting in 2009 and winning the AFL’s Rising Star award.
The 101-gamer was second in the Lions’ best and fairest count in 2012 and was the most heavily tagged midfielder last year, when he served as vice-captain.
“He’s an experienced player and a leader but just having a bloke who can kick a ball like him in your team, when we lack a little bit of skill, he really provides that for us,” said skipper Jed Adcock.
“But it gives someone an opportunity.”
Adcock felt Rich’s absence from Brisbane’s on-ball division would see talented youngsters Sam Mayes and James Aish get more minutes in the midfield.
“We’ve got a big game this weekend against Port, who have been playing well, and it’s important that we move on quickly and work out where we need to improve,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot to work on.”
Compounding the Lions problems, senior defender Daniel Merrett faces a minimum two weeks on the sidelines for his high strike on Suns midfielder David Swallow.