Brisbane were a popular wooden spoon pick last season, and so it proved to be. They won five games and had the lowest percentage in the competition.
But North Melbourne, Carlton and Gold Coast won six games each, which was only one more than the Lions. Fremantle won eight, but finished with a percentage only a fraction higher than Brisbane’s 74.31.
The Lions were around the mark with those in the lower tier.
And there were some signs of brightness in the second half of the year, as they picked up four wins and pushed middle-class sides like Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
It’s always a good sign when a young side is on an upward curve to end a season.
B: Darcy Gardiner Daniel McStay Sam Mayes
HB: Alex Witherden Harris Andrews Luke Hodge
C: Charlie Cameron Dayne Zorko Daniel Rich
HF: Lewis Taylor Ryan Lester Allen Christensen
F: Jake Barrett Eric Hipwood Cameron Rayner
Foll: Stef Martin Mitch Robinson Dayne Beams
Int: Ryan Bastinac Nick Robertson Hugh McCluggage Rhys Mathieson
Em: Jarrod Berry Ben Keays Tom Cutler
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There’s some talent in this team, and enough reason to believe they will improve in 2018.
Tom Rockliff is a big loss from last season, but even then he was playing injured in the second half of the year and didn’t have his usual impact. To compensate, Brisbane has gained Luke Hodge, Charlie Cameron and pick one Cameron Rayner. They also effectively added Allen Christensen, who didn’t play last year, and former best and fairest winner Mitch Robinson, who only played seven games.
In fact, one of the biggest challenges for the Lions is to get all of their imports on the field and keep them there. It’s been a problem for too long.
Since arriving at Brisbane, skipper Dayne Beams has missed 29 games in three years. Robinson missed the final 15 last year. Christensen has only played 11 in the last two seasons. Tom Bell has played only 20 games in two years, having battled form as well as injury.
Getting all of these guys together playing means they can share the responsibility that comes with being a senior player, and let the more inexperienced members of the side narrow their focus, rather than having to over-contribute when they’re not ready.
The back six has a solid enough look about it, particularly with Hodge down there to steer the ship as captain of the backline. Coach Chris Fagan will no doubt be looking for about 16 games from the erstwhile Hawthorn champion.
Harris Andrews is one of the most talented tall backmen in the game, and each year finds a better balance between defence and attack. Daniel McStay has been groomed as the second tall down there, and has now clicked past that 50-game mark that coaches tell us is so important when a player is learning how to play at AFL standard.
Sam Mayes finally put together a consistent season befitting his talent, playing exclusively in the backline after being a victim of playing all areas of the field in his formative years on the list. Darcy Gardiner is the third tall, but may be usurped by a fit Marco Paparone if the latter can ever get his body right. Yet another tale of medical woe.
Alex Witherden came into the side in the second half of the year, and ended up ranking fourth at the Lions for disposals per game. His future looks bright, but there shouldn’t be too much pressure put on a second-year teenager.
Brisbane’s midfield has a complementary mix about it, with Daynes Zorko and Beams as the primary ball-winners who are just as home on the inside as outside. Both know where the goals are too, which means they’re ever dangerous in the front half of the ground. They’re a duo that can absolutely be built around.
Robinson is the cannonball, and guys like Nick Robertson and Rhys Mathieson will offer inside support and a hard edge. Kids like Hugh McCluggage will get a chance through there too. Stef Martin adds an extra clearance player when he’s in the ruck, using his big body to mobile and rugged effect in the clinches.
Charlie Cameron should see some genuine midfield time, more than he did at the Crows. He’s more than just a goal-sneak, and can add some creativity and pressure around the ball. He needs to become more prolific though; the more the leather is in his hands, the better Brisbane will be. Daniel Rich can do his thing out wide with plenty of players to feed it out to him.
The Lions aren’t over-endowed with talls up forward, so perhaps they’ll follow Richmond’s lead and go with a smaller set-up. Eric Hipwood can be the lone tall – he’s rangy and athletic, capable of Buddy-like special moments. Fagan could do worse than let him roam, and rotate plenty of guys around him, seeing if they can cause unrest against the more traditional defences.
Christensen will need time to work into the season after so long out of the game; we are yet to see his best up north, and can only hope that he hasn’t forgotten how good he can be. Lewis Taylor, Ryan Bastinac and Jake Barrett all took steps last year, in their various ways, and might be able to again.
All eyes will be on Cameron Rayner, to see if he can live up to the hype of being the number one draft pick. We’ve been promised glimpses of something special, and Dusty-like attributes.
Brisbane have enough there to be optimistic about, but their history of injuries to so many senior players makes it hard to think they can all get through unscathed. There’s still a few list-cloggers that will get games when the depth gets tested, and that’s when things will fall away sharply.
Lions fans will have to grit their teeth in the first half of the season again, with a particularly tough opening first four rounds, but their draw opens up in the second half of the year. After 30-odd games to adapt to Fagan’s gameplan by then, they should be able to reap some rewards.
Avoiding back-to-back wooden spoons should be an overarching objective this season. Anything around the six-or-seven-win mark is a pass, and they could even sneak one or two more than that if things go their way.
Prediction – 16th