“If it bleeds we can kill it. And we reckon Essendon can bleed.”

With these 13 words coach Leigh Matthews created a mindset that would change the very psyche of the Brisbane Lions forever.

Steeling a famous line from Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1987 movie thriller ‘Predator’, Matthews set the Lions on a path that would take them to three premierships in the next 67 games and earn acclaim as one of the greatest teams of all-time.

In the lead-up to the Round 10 clash of 2001 against Essendon at the Gabba, Matthews drew on the theme from ‘Predator’ to inspire a famous victory.

Matthews has recounted the story countless times, but never so often that it is not worth recounting again as the Lions celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 2001 premiership at Saturday night’s Gabba clash with Essendon.

“There was this alien monster from outer space who was killing all these people in the South American jungles. All of a sudden they shot the monster and discovered it bled,” Matthews explains. “We reckon Essendon can bleed.”

It was the root of Matthews’ grand plan for the Lions to cut down the Bombers, who had won 32 of 34 games, including 20 in a row from the start of the 2000 season and the 2000 grand final.

The Lions, with an unconvincing 4-5 record after a five-point Gabba loss to eighth-placed Adelaide, sat ninth on the ladder when the master coach pulled a coaching masterstroke.

He convinced his players they could beat the then power club of the AFL, who a week earlier had beaten second-placed Hawthorn by 65 points.

It was the second half of a 14-day Brisbane reset after a diabolical 74-point loss to Carlton at Princes Park in Round 8.

Immediately after the game Matthews had held a blunt review, detailing some brutal home truths to a side which had failed to impress through the start of the 2001 season after being semi-finalists in 2000.

Simply, he told his players it had to be all about the team … not the individual.
Understand your role, accept your role and play your role, he told them.

He’d got an immediate response the week following against Adelaide without quite getting the job done as Luke Power returned from injury, Daniel Bradshaw was recalled from the Reserves and Robert Copeland made his AFL debut.

Matthews had dropped Matthew Kennedy and Ben Robbins and lost Trent Knobel to an elbow injury. The ex-Gold Coaster never played for the club again, later joining St. Kilda and then Richmond.

In Round 10 he made four changes at selection, dropping Marcus Picken and losing Beau McDonald, Aaron Shattock and Power to injury as Shaun Hart and Craig McRae returned from injury. Craig Bolton, later to become a captain and premiership player with the Sydney Swans, played his third game of the season and his 10th overall, and an 18-year-old Jamie Charman got a late call-up to play his second game and his last game of the season before making way for McDonald’s return.

It was a night to behold in perfect conditions in front of a sellout Gabba crowd of 36,149.

The Lions posted their first win over Essendon since the 1996 merger in a superb team performance led by an industrious Simon Black and a barnstorming Jonathan Brown.

A moment of inspiration from Black said it all. With his side 20 points up 22 minutes into the final quarter, he charged towards the eastern goal as Chris Johnson kicked long to the goal square.

Even though the game was safe he dived full-length to grab the ball off the pack and in the one motion hand-balled in mid-air to Tim Notting. A goal from point blank range.

It had been evident from the first bounce that this was not the same Lions side that had been hammered by Carlton two weeks earlier, with a 19-year-old Brown setting the tone from the first bounce in his 23rd game.

He charged in like a snorting bull from centre half forward at the bounces, and after just 31 seconds ran headfirst at oncoming traffic to intercept a lobbed pass by the usually reliable Damien Hardwick under extreme Lions tackling pressure.

Critically, he nailed the set shot from 35 metres on a 65-degree angle.

Fifteen minutes in Alastair Lynch (four goals) was similarly inspirational, leaping head-first into the path of Essendon veteran Dustin Fletcher to set up Brown for the second goal. Jason Dunstall described it as “Carey-like” in commentary, likening the young Lion to the North Melbourne superstar.

Michael Voss was typically inspiring too. On crutches early in the week after hurting his ankle against the Crows, he led a brutal tackling assault in the middle of the ground.

Johnson, running off half back and Nigel Lappin, his side’s equal leading possession-winner with Black, vied with Black, Brown and Voss for best afield honours as Brisbane held Essendon to a paltry 2-7 at halftime to lead by 29 points and grab the upper hand.

Matthews had put on a coaching masterclass in the first half. Mindful that his side had conceded 40 goals in the previous fortnight, he began with an extra man in defence and conceded a big height difference in two unlikely but critical match-ups.

He played Chris Scott at centre half back on Scott Lucas and had Marcus Ashcroft shadow James Hird. Both were clear winners as the Lions withstood everything the Bombers had to throw at them in a tough goal-for-goal second half.

The Lions’ 15-12 (102) to 10-14 (74) win was the start of a streak that remains the equal second-longest in AFL history. It peaked with a grand final win over Essendon to make it 16 in a row and reached 20 early the following season to match Essendon’s 20-game streak in 2000.

Only Geelong’s 23-game run of wins from 1952-53 has stretched further.

With the Lions starting seven defenders and a third wingman, teams as they lined-up at the first bounce of ‘The Predator Game’ were:-

B: Chris Johnson, Mal Michael, Marcus Ashcroft
HB: Martin Pike, Chris Scott, Brad Scott, Darryl White
C: Jason Akermanis, Michael Voss, Tim Notting, Des Headland
HF: Shaun Hart, Jonathan Brown
F: Craig McRae, Alastair Lynch
R: Clark Keating, Simon Black, Nigel Lappin
I/C: Robert Copeland, Craig Bolton, Daniel Bradshaw, Jamie Charman

B: Robert Forster-Knight, Dustin Fletcher
HB: Damien Hardwick, Aaron Henneman, Adam Ramanauskas
C: Damien Peverill, Jason Johnson, Sean Wellman, Dean Solomon
HF: Paul Barnard, Scott Lucas, Dean Rioli
F: Danny Jacobs, Matthew Lloyd, James Hird
R: David Hille, Mark McVeigh, Mark Johnson
INT: Jonathon Robran, Mark Bolton, Aaron Heffernan, Cory McGrath

Brisbane  3-4    7-6       10-8     15-12-102
Essendon 1-4    2-7       6-12     10-14-74

Lions: Lynch 4, Brown 3, Bradshaw 2, McRae 2, Akermanis, Black, Keating, Notting. Bombers: Lloyd 3, J Johnson 2, Fletcher, Hird, McGrath, Ramanauskas, Solomon.

Lions: Black 27, Lappin 27, Voss 25, Johnson 24, Notting 23, B Scott 22, Akermanis 19, C Scott 18, Pike 17, Brown 15, White 15. Bombers: J Johnson 18, Hird 17, Hardwick 16, Ramanauskas 16, Peverill 15, Lucas 14.

Lions: Black, Johnson, Brown, Ashcroft, Voss, C Scott, Notting, White, Lappin, Pike. Bombers: Peverill, J Johnson, Hille.

Chris Johnson (B) 3, Simon Black (B) 2, Nigel Lappin (B) 1.

This weekend the Lions take on Essendon in an '01 Grand Final re-match. Buy your tickets here.

Keen to continue falling down our premiership anniversary rabbit hole? Check out our 20th Anniversary Premiership Hub for the latest news and memorabilia.