Brisbane Lions 2018 AFL season preview, best 22 and predicted finish

Josh Barnstable Roar Rookie

By Josh Barnstable, Josh Barnstable is a Roar Rookie


32 Have your say

    After a tough but promising first season under the tutelage of new coach Chris Fagan, the Brisbane Lions were awarded the dubious honour of the wooden spoon for the first time in club history since 1998.

    However, many media pundits rated the Lions as one of the best bottom-placed sides seen in recent years, and they were only consigned to 18th spot following their last-round loss to North Melbourne at the Gabba.

    Having surrendered many young players to opposition clubs in years gone by, the 2017 off-season provided a nice change of pace for the Lions, who were able to talk Hawthorn champion Luke Hodge out of retirement, while also landing Charlie Cameron.

    Unfortunately for Brisbane, they still saw young talent walk out the door. Josh Schache, the number two selection from the 2015 national draft, found his way to the Western Bulldogs late in the trade period while former club captain Tom Rockliff exercised his rights as a free agent, moving to Port Adelaide.

    The Lions bid farewell to a number of players during the off-season, with experienced trio Ryan Harwood, Michael Close and Jonathon Freeman all delisted.

    Reuben William, Matt Hammelmann, Josh Clayton, Jared Jansen, Blake Grewar, Claye Beams and Cian Hanley were also axed, with the latter two gaining a reprieve via Brisbane’s only two selections in the rookie draft.

    Armed with the prized number one national draft selection, the Lions opted for young Western Jets midfielder Cameron Rayner, before selecting Zac Bailey and Brandon Starcevich later in the first round.

    Cam Rayner

    (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    Toby Wooller joined the Lions via pick 41, before academy selection Connor Ballenden arrived a couple of selections later.

    Fellow academy player Jack Payne also realised his AFL dream, rounding out Brisbane’s involvement in the national draft.

    Playing list

    1. Ben Keays
    2. Luke Hodge*
    3. Allen Christensen
    4. Ryan Bastinac
    5. Mitch Robinson
    6. Hugh McCluggage
    7. Tom Bell
    8. Rohan Bewick
    9. Dayne Beams (C)
    10. Daniel Rich
    11. Cian Hanley (R)
    12. Stefan Martin
    13. Jarrod Berry
    14. Josh Walker
    15. Dayne Zorko
    16. Cameron Rayner*
    17. Claye Beams (R)
    18. Nick Robertson
    19. Jacob Allison
    20. Cedric Cox
    21. Sam Skinner
    22. Marco Paparone
    23. Charlie Cameron*
    24. Liam Dawson
    25. Dan McStay
    26. Tom Cutler
    27. Darcy Gardiner
    28. Lewis Taylor
    29. Alex Witherden
    30. Eric Hipwood
    31. Harris Andrews
    32. Sam Mayes
    33. Zac Bailey*
    34. Brandon Starcevich*
    35. Ryan Lester
    36. Rhys Mathieson
    37. Toby Wooller*
    38. Connor Ballenden*
    39. Corey Lyons
    40. Jack Payne*
    41. Matt Eagles (R)
    42. Mitchell Hinge (R)
    43. Jake Barrett (R)
    44. Archie Smith
    45. Jack Frost
    46. Oscar McInerney (R)
    *Denotes new player

    Best 22
    FB: Alex Witherden, Harris Andrews, Darcy Gardiner
    HB: Luke Hodge, Dan McStay, Daniel Rich
    C: Sam Mayes, Dayne Beams, Hugh McCluggage
    HF: Cameron Rayner, Eric Hipwood, Mitch Robinson
    FF: Lewis Taylor, Josh Walker, Charlie Cameron
    R: Stefan Martin, Jarrod Berry, Dayne Zorko
    I/C: Ryan Lester, Allen Christensen, Ryan Bastinac, Rhys Mathieson
    EMG: Cedric Cox, Tom Cutler, Nick Robertson

    The star
    There aren’t too many players across the league as important to their club as Dayne Beams is to the Brisbane Lions.

    The former Magpie was announced as the new club captain at the start of the year, despite managing just two games in 2016 due to a knee injury.

    Beams managed 19 matches this season, his best effort in a year since joining the Lions in 2015. The All-Australian midfielder showed how important he is to the young Brisbane outfit, averaging 27 disposals a game, along with 4.5 marks, 4.2 tackles and 4.9 clearances. He also had a big impact up forward, kicking 20.11.

    Beams’ sensational season was recognised on the AFL’s night of nights, finishing tenth in the Brownlow Medal with 17 votes.

    There will be pressure on Beams as the Lions enter the 2018 season looking to end an eight-year finals drought. The two-time Marcus Ashcroft Medal winner will be hoping to spend more time on the field as opposed to in rehab, having played just 37 of a possible 66 matches since his move up north.

    Dayne Beams Brisbane Lions AFL 2017

    (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

    Ready to breakout
    An impressive teenage prospect who suffered a broken leg in the lead-up to having his name called out at the 2016 national draft, Alex Witherden had to wait longer than most of his contemporary draftee teammates to gain a debut on the big stage.

    After a string of impressive performances in Brisbane’s NEAFL side, Witherden played his first senior game in Round 14 against Greater Western Sydney.

    He quickly established himself as an important member of the Lions’ backline, averaging an impressive 23.2 possessions, 5.3 marks and 2.6 tackles a game.

    Having played nine matches and at just the age of 19, Witherden is still eligible for the 2018 Rising Star award, and is currently equal-favourite.

    With a pre-season under his belt heading into his second year, Witherden is primed to continue his amazing start to his AFL career.

    Alex Witherden Brisbane Lions 2017 AFL

    (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

    Needs a big year
    Not many have experienced the trials and tribulations of being an AFL footballer over the past two years more than Allen Christensen.

    The former premiership-winning Cat, who made a surprise move north to the Lions at the end of 2014, has not played a senior game since breaking his collarbone in Round 11, 2016.

    On the eve of last season, Christensen suffered a crack in the plate that had been surgically inserted to strengthen the bone while at training.

    He made it back for one NEAFL game but again suffered another injury to the shoulder, wiping out his entire year.

    Now fighting fit with an added five kilograms to his frame, Christensen is a virtual new recruit for coach Chris Fagan, and his tenacity in the forward half will be vital to the Lions kicking a winning score.

    Last chance
    His name has appeared in this column for the past two seasons, and with his contract due to expire at the end of 2018, the upcoming campaign will be make-or-break for Rohan Bewick.

    The 100-game utility, who enters the pre-season as the fifth-oldest Lion, showed terrific signs in last year’s JLT Community Series, but it accounted for just eight senior matches in 2017.

    Bewick spent most of his time playing in defence before moving forward in Round 15, kicking three goals to help his side to a come-from-behind win over Essendon on the road.

    With plenty of youth now on the Brisbane list, Bewick will likely start 2018 well and truly on the outer of the best 22.

    New colours
    There is a buzz surrounding the 2017 season’s bottom-placed side heading into the new year, largely because of the recruitment of two stars in Hawthorn champion Luke Hodge and Adelaide speedster Charlie Cameron.

    Getting the signature of Hodge came as a surprise to most of the footballing public, especially after the 305-game veteran retired after the Hawks’ Round 23 clash with the Western Bulldogs.

    However, with a good relationship with coach Fagan stemming from his time at Hawthorn as an assistant to Alastair Clarkson, Hodge was convinced to pull the boots back on.

    He will act as an on-field leader capable of playing anywhere on the ground, but at the age of 33, the two-time Norm Smith Medallist won’t be expected to perform week in, week out across the entire season.

    That expectation will apply to former Crow Cameron, however. After a terrific season in which he kicked 29.25 as Adelaide made their way to the Grand Final, Cameron’s request to be traded to the Lions nearly wasn’t granted.

    However, a suitable deal was struck late in the trade period. With his speed, skill and goal sense, Cameron will entice more people through the gates of the Gabba in 2018.

    Charlie Cameron Adelaide Crows AFL Finals 2017

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    The kid
    The hype surrounding Western Jets teenager Cameron Rayner has been steadily building all year, culminating in the Lions selecting him with the first pick in this year’s national draft.

    There were whispers prior to the draft that Brisbane could reach for Andrew Brayshaw, however Rayner proved to be their man, and the midfield/forward dynamo looks set to make a big impact in his first season in the AFL.

    With Dustin Martin-like attributes and a level head on his shoulders, Rayner is Brisbane’s first number one draft pick since Des Headland in 1998.

    Supercoach lock
    No Lion is more popular in the fantasy football stakes than pocket rocket Dayne Zorko.

    The three-time reigning Merrett-Murray Medallist has become one of the competition’s best players due to his ability to accumulate the ball, his speed and his knack for kicking goals. Zorko averaged 25.1 disposals, 3.8 marks, seven tackles and 5.4 clearances in 2017 while also booting 34.27, taking out the Lions’ leading goalkicker award for a second consecutive season.

    All of this makes him an excellent acquisition to your Supercoach outfit, especially after a career-best campaign in which he averaged 110.8 points a game. He will enter 2018 around the $550,000 mark, a hefty price to pay but definitely worth every cent.

    Dayne Zorko of the Brisbane Lions AFL

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)


    Round 1: St Kilda (Etihad Stadium)
    Round 2: Melbourne (Gabba)
    Round 3: Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
    Round 4: Richmond (MCG)
    Round 5: Gold Coast (Gabba)
    Round 6: Greater Western Sydney (Spotless Stadium)
    Round 7: Collingwood (Gabba)
    Round 8: Western Bulldogs (Etihad Stadium)
    Round 9: Hawthorn (Gabba)
    Round 10: Sydney (Gabba)
    Round 11: North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium)
    Round 12: Essendon (Gabba)
    Round 13: Bye
    Round 14: Greater Western Sydney (Gabba)*
    Round 15: Fremantle (Optus Stadium)
    Round 16: Carlton (Gabba)
    Round 17: Hawthorn (University of Tasmania Stadium)*
    Round 18: Adelaide (Gabba)
    Round 19: Geelong (GMHBA Stadium)
    Round 20: North Melbourne (Gabba)*
    Round 21: Collingwood (Etihad Stadium)*
    Round 22: Gold Coast (Metricon Stadium)*
    Round 23: West Coast (Gabba)
    *Denotes rematch

    A pretty standard fixture on paper for the Lions’ 2018 season. They start the season relatively softly before two daunting back-to-back road trips to Adelaide and Melbourne to take on Port Adelaide and Richmond respectively. A fortnight later, they head to Sydney to face the Giants.

    Rounds 9 and 10 will offer the young Brisbane side a chance to catch their breath with consecutive matches at the Gabba, hosting Hawthorn and Sydney. The Lions will head to Perth just once, taking on Fremantle at the brand new Optus Stadium in Round 15.

    As usual Brisbane will take on Gold Coast twice, with the first QClash to take place in Round 5 at the Gabba before a return bout in Round 22 at Metricon Stadium.

    The aforementioned trips to the Adelaide Oval and Spotless Stadium will be their only matches in South Australia and New South Wales, while they will head to Victoria six times, playing four games at Etihad Stadium, one at the MCG and one in Geelong.

    For the ninth time in the last 11 seasons, Brisbane will head even further south to Launceston where they will take on the Hawks.

    The quirk
    Brisbane’s match-up against Collingwood at Etihad Stadium in Round 21 will be their first meeting against the Pies under the roof since 2002.

    Don’t miss it
    With the additions of Hodge, Cameron and Rayner, excitement will be at fever pitch as the Lions start their 2018 campaign in Melbourne against the Saints in Round 1.

    For Queensland fans, Brisbane’s first home match of the season will take place the following week in the prime-time slot of Saturday night when they face Melbourne.

    A big crowd should be expected as the aforementioned trio take their first steps onto the Gabba as Brisbane players.

    It will be Brisbane’s first match-up against the Demons on their home turf since 2013, and they boast a favourable 10-4 record since 1998, so a win definitely won’t be out of the question.

    Make other plans
    While anticipation will be building in Round 2, Brisbane supporters probably won’t be too keen for their next match-up a week later when they take on Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval.

    With additions such as Jack Watts, Steven Motlop and former Brisbane skipper Tom Rockliff, the Power are a beefed up football side in 2018 and as such are a premiership contender.

    Combine that with the Lions’ horror record at the Adelaide Oval, where they have lost five games by an average of 91 points, and it paints a pretty bleak picture.

    Still, stranger things have happened and early season form can be hard to predict.

    Final word

    The Lions are a building side with plenty of exciting youth, headlined by Cameron Rayner, Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Cedric Cox and Eric Hipwood.

    With the addition of Luke Hodge down back and Charlie Cameron up forward, Brisbane will strengthen two key areas of the ground, and with the impressive Chris Fagan heading into his second year as coach, fans should expect to see some promising results.

    Finals, however, remain a couple of years away.

    Predicted finish: 14th.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • December 12th 2017 @ 5:26am
      RM said | December 12th 2017 @ 5:26am | ! Report

      For all the excitement about our young players and some of the great wins last season, I still am a bit worried about 2018.

      Does all that positivity mask the fact that the first year with Fagan resulted in a wooden spoon? Voss never coached the team to spoon. Even Leppitsch never coached the team to a spoon. There is a part of me that’s concerned Fagan will prove better at achieving positive PR than he will at achieving victories on the field.

      Even despite those concerns, when I look at the best 22 list, I can’t help but feel excited for the 1st time in years. There’s some genuinely good young talent there, along with a few experienced older heads and some elite talent in the midfield with Beams and Zorko. Hopefully I’m not just falling for the PR but I think 14th is the lowest this team should consider an acceptable result. They might not be able to get much higher than that, but any lower would be disappointing. Another wooden spoon would be disastrous.

      • Roar Guru

        December 12th 2017 @ 11:00am
        Paul D said | December 12th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

        Leppa would have won the spoon in 2016 had it not been for Essendon’s suspension I reckon.

        I think the issue is more that the other sides in the competition improve faster, get more out of their youngsters and generally perform better than we do. Fagan is putting his best foot forward but we’re in an arms race with a lot of better funded, more experienced outfits and as the last decade has shown we are losing, repeatedly.

        If we can string a few wins together that will give the side belief they can be good enough. But it’s been years and years since we won more than 2 games in a row. 3 of our 4 worst ever losing streaks (9, 10 and 12 games in a row) have all come in the last 3 seasons.

        We can’t go 3 months without winning a game again, without catastrophic loss of morale and spirit in the side.

        I’m trying to hope our rebuild doesn’t meander along endlessly eventually depositing us to one season inside the top 8 before receding again, but it’s hard to keep faith sometimes.

        • December 13th 2017 @ 4:45am
          RM said | December 13th 2017 @ 4:45am | ! Report

          Fair point on 2016 – and you’re right about the inability to string a few wins together, with the devastating flipside of being able to string long, long losing sequences together. It was the thing I found most disappointing last season – there were some really good wins where the team played well, but they could never find a way to back up those performances and keep it going. You can expect to see that sort of inconsistency with young players but as you say it has been going on for years.

          I’d be very happy if this season resulted in a finish of 12th with at least one sequence of stringing 3 wins in a row together. It might seem odd that a finish of 12th would be seen as a big success, but honestly I’m just looking for a light at the end of the tunnel at this point.

          The other thing about the long, long losing streaks is that it is not just the side’s morale and spirit that gets damaged but also that of the supporters. If you look at the crowd numbers at the Gabba last year, they were pretty good early after some promising signs, but fell away very drastically as the losses stacked up. I’m not sure how many more seasons of never-ending losses followed by players leaving followed by ‘exciting rebuilds’ the Lions can survive.

        • December 21st 2017 @ 2:54pm
          Macca said | December 21st 2017 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

          PaulD – see McCluggage signed on until the end of 2021!!

          • December 21st 2017 @ 3:13pm
            David C said | December 21st 2017 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

            Fantastic news. Now there is just Witherden to go.

            • December 21st 2017 @ 3:32pm
              Macca said | December 21st 2017 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

              Perhaps they will follow Freo’s lead and get Rayner to sign an extension as well!

          • Roar Guru

            December 21st 2017 @ 11:23pm
            Paul D said | December 21st 2017 @ 11:23pm | ! Report

            I did see that a few hours ago, yes. Great news. We are turning the corner bigtime. We retain these elite kids and it will all start to come together again.

    • Roar Guru

      December 12th 2017 @ 10:54am
      TomC said | December 12th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

      It’s a good write up Josh, and an entertaining read. Well done.

      I’m actually a little surprised to read that Witherden is only equal favourite for the 2018 rising star. He’s made a great start to his career. Hopefully he sticks around.

      No question at all that Beams is their most important player. As a Brisbane fan, he’s just about the only guy in the team who makes you feel confident when he has the ball. In fact Witherden is probably the next best candidate.

      I’m very much in the glass-half-empty camp on the Lions. 14th is probably the highest they might finish, and they’re among a group of five teams that seem likely to prop up the bottom of the ladder, along with Gold Coast, Carlton, Fremantle and North Melbourne.

      If I had to pick a likely finish I’d probably say 17th above the Roos.

      The reality is that all the problems they had last year – particularly relying on unproven youngsters in many major positions – will still be around in 2018. I might be more positive if I felt that Cameron and Hodge would make really significant impacts as players, but I’m doubtful.

      I think Josh’s third last line pretty much articulates what Brisbane fans should hope to get out of next season. There are plenty of kids that are easy to get excited about, and fingers crossed some or all of them become genuinely effective AFL footballers.

    • December 12th 2017 @ 2:19pm
      Don Freo said | December 12th 2017 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

      I would like to see Brissy use Daniel Rich properly. Just because he can kick they play him to exploit his kicking…away from the ball. He was a true midfielder as a 17yo against men at Subiaco.

      Play him inside and have him work. He is strong and sure but he is coasting at half back and on a wing. He should be there with Beams and Zorko as Brissy’s key playmaker.

      • December 13th 2017 @ 10:10am
        RM said | December 13th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        From memory he got a few chances in the midfield under Voss and I believe in the early days of Leppa as well, but could never really deliver. Maybe it could be worth giving him another shot at it with Beams and Zorko there now alongside him, but if the best place for him in team to use his skills is HB then I’m happy to see him stay there

        • December 13th 2017 @ 10:21am
          Don Freo said | December 13th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

          Some coaching never goes astray. He is a top liner that Brissy seems to allow to plod along as a c grader.

          • Roar Guru

            December 13th 2017 @ 10:49am
            TomC said | December 13th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

            He’s played multiple roles under three coaches and while he’s had some great individual games at times he’s never been consistent over a decent period. The common factor is not the coaching or the position, but Rich himself.

            That said, with Hodge, Witherden and Mayes now in the Lions’ backline it seems like a good time to try him on the wing again.

            • December 13th 2017 @ 11:38am
              Don Freo said | December 13th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

              No. Get him in and under. He is strong. Make him work. A man with a beautiful kick bursting clear of the centre is a game edge.

              At Freo. Stephen Hill plays his best football in and under, not as an outside player. His decision making and kicking skill is sharper under pressure.

              Brissy needs to maximize its talent. Rich is one such talent.

              • Roar Guru

                December 13th 2017 @ 12:03pm
                TomC said | December 13th 2017 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

                He’s just not a particularly effective ball winner, DF.

                The reality is that he has trouble winning it for himself, and his one-sidedness means he has difficulty disposing effectively in traffic. You won’t get a ‘game edge’ from his kicking by having him at the bottom of a pack.

                I’d like to see him on the ball more too, but not as an in and under player. One way or the other it’s always difficult for struggling teams to get the most out of their damaging outside payers.

              • December 13th 2017 @ 12:35pm
                Don Freo said | December 13th 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

                You don’t stay at the bottom of the pack. You start there but then you break free. Brissy needs to develop and engage its talent. For too long it has marginalized it

              • Roar Guru

                December 13th 2017 @ 12:48pm
                TomC said | December 13th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

                Rich is hardly a tackle-bursting, line breaking sort of player.

                Of course the Lions are trying to develop and engage their talent, like every other club. The fact they’ve tried Rich in multiple positions is evidence of that.

                You’re just looking for easy answers.

          • December 13th 2017 @ 6:20pm
            Hungry Jack said | December 13th 2017 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

            With all due respect, Don . . . he plods along because he is a plodder! Never seen him ‘burst’ from a pack, ever. If he were a top liner his form would have demanded he play in the middle. At Freo next year? Maybe he could be better coached there!

            • December 13th 2017 @ 6:28pm
              Don Freo said | December 13th 2017 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

              There is absolutely no “due respect” to anyone in that comment.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 12th 2017 @ 2:51pm
      Murphster888 said | December 12th 2017 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

      I think your all a bit pessimistic myself, you have managed to assemble some of the best young talent in the country, with the help of the afl, which I won’t go into, but anything is possible with this list you have talent on all lines add that to the right game plan and who knows what could be achieved. Brighter days ahead

      • Roar Guru

        December 12th 2017 @ 2:56pm
        Paul D said | December 12th 2017 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

        If you want an example of what Brisbane Lions looked like without AFL help I refer you to 2014-2016

    • December 12th 2017 @ 9:08pm
      michael steel said | December 12th 2017 @ 9:08pm | ! Report

      If they can win their first two games, who knows what could happen.

    • December 12th 2017 @ 11:46pm
      Martin said | December 12th 2017 @ 11:46pm | ! Report

      Brisbane does have depth in that their NEAFL team won the premiership last year and so if anyone of the top 22 players has an ordinary game, it could be at the risk of being dropped.

      I’m more optimistic than the others and am predicting eighth position, but then they’ll lose their final match the following week against whichever team finishes fifth.

      • December 13th 2017 @ 4:29am
        RM said | December 13th 2017 @ 4:29am | ! Report

        If the Lions make the 8 this season I will be beyond ecstatic. Hope you’re right.

      • Roar Guru

        December 15th 2017 @ 7:58am
        DingoGray said | December 15th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        The 8?

        You tell me last time a wooden spoon team went from 18- 8th………

        Let’s not get carried away, if we manage to reach Josh’s heights of 14th we would of had an
        improved year on last season.

        • December 15th 2017 @ 9:27am
          Martin Doyle said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

          Last season they defeated Essendon in Melbourne and the Bombers finished in eighth spot. Like it says in the article above, Bewick played in this game and kicked three goals and so if over the season they don’t lose too many of their top 22 with injury then I think they will do better than what the supporters are expecting.

          I don’t have the statistics, so perhaps a leap from bottom to eighth spot has never happen before. So I’ll be more realistic and revise my prediction for the Lions to finish tenth spot instead.

        • December 15th 2017 @ 12:33pm
          Stephen said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report


          Essendon 18th – 2016
          Essendon 7th – 2017

          End of home/away

          • Roar Guru

            December 15th 2017 @ 12:47pm
            Cat said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

            They would have never finished 18th if they hadn’t got caught juicing their players and had half a list out suspended. It deserves a giant *

        • Roar Guru

          December 15th 2017 @ 1:07pm
          DingoGray said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

          Sorry, other than Essendon who has ever finished Last one season and then made finals the next????

          P.S As Cat says it’s a Giant * it doesn’t count to most

          • Roar Guru

            December 15th 2017 @ 1:22pm
            TomC said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

            West Coast did it a few years ago. Brisbane did it back in 1999.

            They won’t do it next year though.

          • December 15th 2017 @ 1:22pm
            Stephen said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

            Dingo, I can only go from memory. Collingwood finished season 1976 with the ‘wooden spoon’.

            Tom Hafey took over and coached the Pies to the famous drawn Grand Final 1977 – against North Melbourne. NM went on to win the premiership the following week in the GF replay.