2017 AFL preview series: Brisbane Lions – 18th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    Memories of the Brisbane premiership three-peat from earlier this century dim with every passing year.

    The Lions have finished higher than tenth only once in the last 12 seasons, and have finished no higher than twelfth in the last seven years. You’ll get long odds of them breaking out of that bracket in 2017.

    Brisbane are one of only two sides to hit this year under the charge of a new coach, the other being Melbourne, who are implementing their Paul Roos-to-Simon Goodwin succession plan. Chris Fagan, thus, is the only coach taking on a job and a list with completely fresh eyes and mind.

    Brisbane has arguably the most undecided best 22 in the competition. They had a look at 40 players at senior level last year and with the youngest and most inexperienced list in the league, they are in full re-build mode.

    Here is an approximation of what Fagan might have to work with if all his players remain fit and healthy, which was a challenge in itself during the Justin Leppitsch years.

    Brisbane Lions’ best 22

    B Darcy Gardiner Jack Frost Marco Paparone
    HB Tom Cutler Harris Andrews Sam Mayes
    C Daniel Rich Dayne Beams Mitch Robinson
    HF Tom Bell Daniel McStay Lewis Taylor
    F Allen Christensen Josh Schache Eric Hipwood
    Foll Stef Martin Tom Rockliff Dayne Zorko
    Int Ryan Bastinac Rhys Mathieson Ben Keays Hugh McLuggage

    Emergencies: Michael Close, Ryan Lester, Claye Beams

    Names not displayed above are Rohan Bewick, Ryan Harwood and Josh Walker. Add those to the likes of Ryan Lester and Claye Beams as emergencies, and you have a pile of dead wood in the all-important mid-20s age bracket.


    Can Chris Fagan get the best out of this lot, or will their cards be marked early, and chances given to the unproven youth?

    As we have known for some time now, Brisbane have some experienced talent through the midfield, and a series of key position players, in their very early 20s, at either end of the ground.

    The younger key position generation is, experience-wise, led by Daniel McStay (41 games) and Harris Andrews (36), and is also comprised Josh Schache (17), Michael Close (17), Jono Freeman (14), Eric Hipwood (10), Matthew Hammelmann (9) and Sam Skinner, who was cruelly denied a debut last year.

    A group of footballers doesn’t come much rawer than what we see above, but all have shown more than glimpses of talent in their brief senior showings to date.

    The senior players will carry the midfield, and they have multiple players who could lay claim to being in the top 50 in the competition.

    Dayne Beams was on track to become an all-time great, and hopefully he can still find his best football after being hit hard by injuries in recent seasons. Dayne Zorko is a triple-threat gun with his knack for finding the ball, sticking tackles and hitting the scoreboard.

    Tom Rockliff is sometimes maligned for winning too much of the ball, but there have to be worse crimes than that on an AFL field. He leaves it all out there every week, and you’d rather have him in your team than not. A career year might just be in the offing too.

    Daniel Rich will continue to launch his left foot missiles, even if we wish it would happen more often. Mitch Robinson’s midfield cannonball routine will be performed again, even though he has more to his game than that.

    The supporting cast through the middle is led by Ryan Bastinac, who finished seventh in the best and fairest in his first year as a Lion after 120 games with the Kangaroos. Tom Bell had an impact when available, and he’ll be looking to average 20 touches a game and kick 30 goals for the year.

    Two first-year players that impressed at Brisbane last year were the controversial Rhys Mathieson, and fellow 20-year-old Ben Keays. Both had more contested possessions than uncontested, which is a great sign they’ve got a thirst for the contest. It’s the first thing you want when looking to improve a struggling side.

    Stef Martin stamped himself an All-Australian contender in 2015, but couldn’t back-up similar results in 2016. This wasn’t helped by being knocked into a parallel universe by Steven May in Round 4 against the Gold Coast, and he’ll be looking to bounce back.

    Goals look like they’ll be hard to come by as the young key forwards learn their craft. Allen Christensen and Lewis Taylor will need to create chances and then take them when they come.

    It’s unlikely the Lions will be as offensively minded this season. The usual imprimatur of a new coach taking over a bad team is to shore up the defensive side of the game. Given Brisbane gave up the third-most points against of any side in the last 20 years in 2016, we can assume it will be a priority for Chris Fagan.


    The Lions’ backline will be populated by honest battlers and good ordinary players, alongside the talent mentioned above. Fagan may look to put some polish back there, and sometimes players just click under a new coach. It will be interesting to see who can make a quantum leap under his tutelage.

    Fagan, renowned as a developer of young talent, is on the record as demanding a selfless brand of football from his players. If he has set up an environment where young players can thrive, who knows what they will be capable of.

    Certainly, Hugh McCluggage has the profile of a first-year player ready to have an impact and looked the part in his first pre-season game. He is one of seven draftees from the 2015-16 AFL national drafts that we are yet to see.

    Carlton exceeded all external expectations under Brendon Bolton last year, and Brisbane fans will no doubt be hoping for a similar story at their club. Modest hopes, yes, but such is the position they find themselves in.

    Predicted ladder spread: 15th-18th

    Predicted finish: 18th

    Best and fairest: Dayne Beams

    Leading goalkicker: Allen Christensen

    All-Australian potential: Dayne Beams, Stef Martin, Tom Rockliff, Dayne Zorko

    Rising Star candidates: Jarrod Berry, Eric Hipwood, Hugh McCluggage

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • Editor

      February 27th 2017 @ 8:11am
      Josh Elliott said | February 27th 2017 @ 8:11am | ! Report

      You mean it’s not North Melbourne getting the spoon? Cam, I’m honestly a little disappointed 😉

      • Columnist

        February 27th 2017 @ 8:27am
        Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        I had actually forgotten they were still letting North compete in the AFL this year. Clear oversight on my part.

        • February 27th 2017 @ 9:59am
          Macca said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

          Can I expect the blues report tomorrow Cam?

          • Columnist

            February 27th 2017 @ 10:31am
            Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

            If I was having a bet, Macca, I think I’d be backing that…

            • February 27th 2017 @ 10:48am
              Macca said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

              Looking forward to it.

        • February 27th 2017 @ 8:28pm
          Bill said | February 27th 2017 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

          Whats richmond gonna be? Ninth?

      • February 27th 2017 @ 3:22pm
        Theeva Kumar said | February 27th 2017 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

        lol north will suprise a few this year

    • Roar Rookie

      February 27th 2017 @ 8:45am
      Andrew Blake said | February 27th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      The are obviously several players that have to step up this year, but there are a few place fillers that really have to perform. Brisbane will have two top 5 draft picks at the end of the year – thanks to Port’s foolishness at the trade table. One of those picks will go Connor Ballenden so the likes of Walker, Close and Freeman have to show why they’re worth keeping around another year. Down back, Jack Frost has a lot of redeeming to do after being suspended for round one and show he’s not there to be a filler while Sam Skinner learns to walk again. And Gardiner will also be under threat by some of this years new recruits as well.

      • Columnist

        February 27th 2017 @ 1:04pm
        Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        I can feel the passion and the hope you have for the Lions Andrew, and I sense a ruthlessness to you that you hope is replicated at selection by Fagan and co.

    • February 27th 2017 @ 9:27am
      Pumping Dougie said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      Very interesting and rather sad stat on Brisbane only finishing higher than 10th once in the last 12 seasons, Cam; sounds like they’re traveling worse than Carlton!

      The Best 22 looks worse than I expected. Hopefully all of their promising young talent stick together and emerge as a force together. But the overwhelming conclusion I draw from your article is that the club needs a lot of help from the AFL to become seriously competitive again.

      • Columnist

        February 27th 2017 @ 9:55am
        Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        I guess it brings about a philosophical question PD – what are the value of premierships to a supporter base, and would they trade one of their three flags to have been more competitive in the last decade (like a North for instance).

        I guess the new coach gets to implement a new culture, which it sounds like is happening. I tend to be an advocate of less AFL involvement at club level rather than more, pull yourselves up from your bootstraps, etc. In an 18 team competition, there always going to be struggling teams, and a percentage of those are going to get their rebuild wrong, which prolongs their stay down the bottom (see Melbourne).

        • Roar Guru

          February 27th 2017 @ 10:35am
          Paul D said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

          Struggling clubs in Melbourne maybe, but not struggling clubs in a frontier state like Queensland. The natives don’t go and watch the Lions because everyone knows they’re terrible. No-one up here outside of the rusted-on even remembers the threepeat anymore.

          I think the AFL got the intervention right. Sorted out a few good appointments with coach, football manager & support staff but haven’t touched the board. The Lions were (are) in a bit of a death spiral – huge debt meant they couldn’t afford good off-field staff and without good off-field staff they were going to remain terrible which meant remaining in debt. If you want a team in QLD you can’t just let them be significantly worse than the rest of the competition year in year out and still expect the natives to keep rocking up.

          • Columnist

            February 27th 2017 @ 11:06am
            Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

            I’m more than happy for the AFL to support and help debt-laden clubs through fiscal means, in trying to keep the off-field infrastructure at each club as level as possible.

            • Roar Guru

              February 28th 2017 @ 12:24am
              Paul D said | February 28th 2017 @ 12:24am | ! Report

              Can you hit them up about wiping the $8 million of our $13 million debt we still owe the AFL?

              No idea why that has not been dropped yet. If anyone can explain why the AFL would fund a new coaching roster and not drop that debt given their assets and they fact they basically own the club, I would love to know.

              • February 28th 2017 @ 2:03am
                Martin said | February 28th 2017 @ 2:03am | ! Report

                It would be interesting to know whether the Brisbane Lions are forecasting a budget surplus for the end of this season.

        • February 27th 2017 @ 11:20am
          Pumping Dougie said | February 27th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

          Good question Cam. Until last year I had never seen my club win a premiership. If I was faced with the choice over the next decade of Bulldogs playing finals but not winning another flag, versus winning one more flag but being a cellar dweller for 8 of the other 9 seasons, I’d choose to play finals each year and miss out on a flag. It’s not all about the end result for me – 85% of the season is the Home & Away part. That’s a lot of time to either enjoy or not enjoy.

          • Columnist

            February 27th 2017 @ 1:06pm
            Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

            As a Tiger supporter PD, I can offer no personal experience to have an opinion one way or another… I suspect I’d lean your way too though.

          • February 27th 2017 @ 9:23pm
            Brian said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:23pm | ! Report

            I’d take the flags.

            • Editor

              February 28th 2017 @ 12:58am
              Josh Elliott said | February 28th 2017 @ 12:58am | ! Report

              Flag without a second’s thought.

          • Roar Guru

            February 28th 2017 @ 1:13am
            Paul D said | February 28th 2017 @ 1:13am | ! Report

            Honestly I’d take the flags too – clinging to the threepeat is one of the few pieces of flotsam and jetsam keeping the diehards afloat up here amidst the wreckage

            • Roar Guru

              February 28th 2017 @ 10:49am
              Pumping Dougie said | February 28th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

              I guess my whole life I’ve learnt to enjoy footy without the flags. I’ve never had the memory of flags to sustain me through the lean years. I get a lot of joy from football when the Doggies are travelling well but feel pretty disgruntled when they aren’t – which I sense is something you’ve been feeling of late, PaulD. I guess fans of other clubs measure success only by winning the premiership title, but whilst I think that’s the ultimate barometer, I think there are many broader measures.

              People can mock a club all they like for not winning recent premierships, but they’re bloody hard to do (and getting harder, now that we have 18 teams … and no longer allow salary cap cheating); it’s much more respectable, rewarding and enjoyable to be contending for finals than to be losing week-in, week-out.

              Josh, you say a flag without a seconds thought, but you haven’t really experienced the frustration and disillusionment of what it’s like to dwell near the bottom for a sustained period without any realistic hope on the horizon. North have been up and about for the past 4 to 5 decades.

              • Roar Guru

                February 28th 2017 @ 1:54pm
                Paul D said | February 28th 2017 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

                I think it’s a bit of a different case with the Lions and their flags, compared to a storied Victorian club with a century of tradition – I think it is true to say that the 3 flags were appreciated less by Brisbane fans (the Fitzroy fans are a different story) then they would have been had they been won by any other club who has been wandering the desert in thirst for a lot longer. In hindsight the 3 flags came in a rush, when the club was barely out of adolescence and it now appears clear that quite a few of the fans making the trek to the ground during those years had limits to the support or devotion they had towards the club when it wasn’t doing well.

                I think in time if we do stick with 18 teams you’re right about contending being a currency of its own – even if it was a totally even premiership share that’s still only one flag roughly every 20 years, and you know there’s no way known that is going to happen anyway. I fully expect to see 4-5 clubs with 40-50 year waits for a flag by the time I’m retired and doddering around my local shopping centre being old and confused.

                For me, it has only been the last two years that I’ve really got down on the Lions prospects – witnessing what appears to be an unbridgeable gulf between us and the top 8 year after year has a futility all of its own, and really, there’s limits to how much you can go round telling people “oh we used to be good 15 years ago” – the more you talk about the past the more you betray your embarrassment about the present and that you have nothing good to say about the future.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 27th 2017 @ 11:47am
          Andrew Blake said | February 27th 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

          As painful as the last decade has been, I’m still living off the threepeat.

          Even the years after when the Lions weren’t making the finals, there was still some good times to be had. The season when Brownie won the coleman was only decided in the last game of the season. And the first four Fevola games were really exciting – until the completely foreseeable and inevitable happened and the wheels fell off.

          The Lions are great cautionary tale of a) not preparing for the future in the short term. The new facility should have started in 2004 when the club was on a high; b) being too trusting of their own. Voss was allowed to go tothe casino and put everyone on navy blue black 25 while Leppitsch was supposed to have used his apprenticeship under Damian Hardwick to sort everything out; and c) taking the aforementioned gamble that took 5 years to wash out through trading/drafting.

          • Columnist

            February 27th 2017 @ 1:07pm
            Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

            The Lions did become a cautionary tale I think – look at how Geelong and Hawthorn were able to manager their lists and stay for a long time in their dynasties. Collingwood tried to plan for the future while being successful in the present around 2010-12, but seemed to get it very wrong.

          • February 27th 2017 @ 1:11pm
            D.Large said | February 27th 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

            Flags are the only currency, everything else is equal last.

    • Roar Guru

      February 27th 2017 @ 9:54am
      DingoGray said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      “Memories of the Brisbane premiership three-peat from earlier this century dim with every passing year.” – that’s what the Threepeat DVD is for!

      “Names not displayed above are Rohan Bewick, Ryan Harwood and Josh Walker. Add those to the likes of Ryan Lester and Claye Beams as emergencies, and you have a pile of dead wood in the all-important mid-20s age bracket.”- harsh but so true! Hopefully be season ends these guys will be well and truly lock and loaded in the NEAFL side. Less Josh Walker. I actually think with a bit of decent midfield service, you will find him clunging a few.

      • Columnist

        February 27th 2017 @ 9:57am
        Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        Haha, good call Dingo.

        Yeah, I was going to make a minor exception for Walker. I think he is still young enough as a key position player to improve a bit. I just feel he meanders a bit out there. Needs to raise his overall intensity.

        • Roar Guru

          February 27th 2017 @ 11:03am
          DingoGray said | February 27th 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

          I do think people tend to forget Walker is still pretty young!

          One I would really like to see get some luck during the next 12 months is Sam Skinner.

          In the meantime I’ll be cracking out that DVD again. It’s going to need replacing soon. A couple of times a year for the last 14 years.

          • Roar Rookie

            February 27th 2017 @ 11:50am
            Andrew Blake said | February 27th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

            It’s always great fun watching the replays on a Virgin flight. They have a classic grand final series on their streaming service and I always make it a point to replay one when I can.

    • February 27th 2017 @ 10:02am
      aw said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      Christensen is out for 6-8 weeks but you think he’ll lead the goal kicking? I rate Schache

      • Columnist

        February 27th 2017 @ 10:31am
        Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

        Yeah, I only found out he broke that collarbone after I submitted the piece. I’m a big fan of Christensen, it’s just the sort of blow the Lions didn’t need.

        • Editor

          February 28th 2017 @ 1:00am
          Josh Elliott said | February 28th 2017 @ 1:00am | ! Report

          4-5 good games in the back half of the year would be enough to win the Lions’ goal-kicking.

    • Roar Guru

      February 27th 2017 @ 10:26am
      SportsFanGC said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

      Hi Cam,

      Very important year coming up for the Lions on the current rebuild.

      I have stated on a previous thread that it feels like this iteration of the Lions climb back up the ladder towards respectability and finals footy is much more promising than the past.

      Fagan and Noble are solid, highly credentialed, professional operators that have come from seriously well run organizations and with Greg Swann running the front office there is hope for the Club.

      Getting their Elite Training Facility to be more than a pipedream is going to require all the negotiating power of the AFL up here in Queensland. Next year when West Coast move into their new digs the Lions will be so far behind the competition in terms of facilities it will be a joke. It has to have an effect on the players and staff when they see/hear what other clubs experience during the week and throughout the pre-season compared with the way that the Lions operate.

      Leaving that aside there is some very good young talent on the list and it simply a matter of getting game time into these kids. Unfortunately this cannot be rushed.

      Schache, Hipwood, Andrews, Gardiner, Keays, Mathieson, McStay, Cutler, Clayton, Dawson having been joined by the 2016 draft class of McCluggage, Berry, Cox, Witherden and Allison is the future of the Club.

      There should be enough experience on the list lead by Beams, Zorko, Martin, Robinson, Christensen, Rich and Rockliff to lead these kids into becoming professionals.

      The Lions will be in the bottom two with the Blues this year again but the things I would be looking out for are as follows:

      – Four quarter effort, particularly when the game is going against them
      – No 20 goal thrashings during the year
      – Being tough to beat at the Gabba
      – Winning at least one of the QClashes
      – Pinching one or two upset wins against a Top 8 team

      • Columnist

        February 27th 2017 @ 10:34am
        Cameron Rose said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        Good synopsis as always SportsFan.

        I agree that the long list of kids you named look like there’ll be more hits than misses, and all of those senior names have a big responsibility to maintain their consistency and effort, which is easier for some than others.

        There are going to be games where they drop their bundle, but we want to see them minimized and spread out through the year. Pinching those top eight wins might be a bit of a stretch this year, but your middle three points are reasonable.

      • Roar Guru

        February 27th 2017 @ 10:38am
        Paul D said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        I don’t mind us dropping our bundle in the fourth quarter so much, it’s when we drop it in the first quarter I get annoyed.

        The point about the facilities is a good one too. I hadn’t realized how much the crappy facilities had affected the Gold Coast Suns until they opened their new elite facility and all the players were admitting how they felt like second stringers working out of demountables and tin sheds. it certainly makes a difference, as you say, the players all talk amongst themselves these days and know exactly what is available at all the other clubs

        • February 27th 2017 @ 10:41am
          Macca said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

          I read somewhere a few years back about the Gippsland TAC Cup side having a mini theatre built for it for the video review – if you leave TAC with that and get to AFL and you are in a demountable it would certainly be a mental challenge.

          • Roar Guru

            February 27th 2017 @ 1:43pm
            SportsFanGC said | February 27th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            Elite Facilities cannot be underestimated. It is uplifting for players to go to work and gives an organisation a general “good vibe”.

            It in the race for trades and retention it is an invaluable tool.

            Imagine you get drafted to the Lions but your best mates end up at Hawthorn, Collingwood, Fremantle etc and you all converse about how your training day and facility looks like.

            The Suns facility is seriously, seriously impressive as is the Titans up the road at Parkwood.

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