It’s less than a month until the AFL season resumes, and the attention is about to start hotting up.
The preseason competition, in the form of the Marsh Community Series, kicked off over the weekend with a few surprise results.
We’re commencing our preview series today with a look up north to Queensland.
The Lions were the surprise packets of 2019, catapulting from 15th in 2018 all the way up to second on the ladder. They injected a lot of fun into the competition with their high-scoring ways, leading the league in points for.
Unfortunately for Brisbane supporters they were knocked out of the finals in straight sets despite hosting two matches at the Gabba – one against a white-hot Richmond on their way to another flag and the other against a combative GWS unit that would also make the grand final.
The question now is whether the Lions can back up their surge and consolidate themselves in the upper echelon in 2020.
Brisbane best 25
B: Noah Answerth, Marcus Adams, Darcy Gardiner
HB: Alex Witherden, Harris Andrews, Daniel Rich
Foll: Stef Martin, Dayne Zorko, Jarryd Lyons
C: Mitch Robinson, Lachie Neale, Hugh McCluggage
HF: Cam Rayner, Eric Hipwood, Jarrod Berry
F: Charlie Cameron, Daniel McStay, Lincoln McCarthy
Int: Oscar McInerney, Allen Christensen, Grant Birchall, Cam Ellis-Yolmen
Em: Ryan Lester, Callum Ah Chee, Zac Bailey
The Lions lose their defensive general Luke Hodge, who still had a significant impact at 35, as well as a host of fringe players who may leave them exposed for depth over a long season. Grant Birchall, Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Callum Ah Chee have been acquired from other clubs to combat this but all have chequered histories in one way or another.
The Brisbane backline is built around Harris Andrews as one of the top two key defenders in the AFL. Constested marking and spoiling are the features of his game. Marcus Adams can’t be trusted to play a full season in the other defensive post and Josh Walker isn’t around this year to fill in, so there is a possible weakness there.
Daniel Rich and Alex Witherden provide the run and carry from halfback, and Birchall will be hoped for as the Hodge replacement.
The midfield is where the Lions have great strength. Lachie Neale leads the way in the clinches, having gone to another level from his Fremantle days, while Jarryd Lyons rode shotgun admirably alongside him. Dayne Zorko was ever-dangerous centre-forward, hitting the scoreboard and setting teammates up alike.
Hugh McCluggage took huge steps in his third season and is now ready to be discussed as a top 50 player in the league. His good mate Jarrod Berry wasn’t far behind, and the two often formed a lethal combination running the ball forward from out wide.
Add in Mitch Robinson patrolling a wing, Stef Martin as a ball-winning ruckman and potentially Ellis-Yolmen as another strong body on the inside, and the Brisbane midfield shouldn’t go backwards.
The Lions also succeeded in 2019 by having multiple avenues to score, with nine players kicking 15 goals or more. Charlie Cameron exploded to become the most dangerous small forward in the game and Lincoln McCarthy finally delivered on his promise with some great moments and good matches.
Eric Hipwood probably plateaued but still hit the board – his bad games still need to get a lot better. Daniel McStay and Oscar McInerny are two of the best contested-mark forwards in the league but 31 goals between them weren’t enough. It’s easy to see improvement from all three talls, and the team can become more dangerous because of it.
Cam Rayner is the player who all eyes will be on after suffering from the old-fashioned ‘second-year blues’. His confidence dropped away sharply after a bright start to the season, so let’s hope he can respond.
Chris Fagan has his team playing in the style of the Hawthorn premiership sides – control the ball by foot out of the backline, send the ball wide, then bring it forward to a multi-faceted forward-line. He has the players to deliver on that style and an opening month that doesn’t look intimidating. There is a question over depth that lingers though.
Predicted finish: 6th.
Gold Coast finished where everyone expected them to last season, in stone-cold motherless last, but to be fair to them, three wins was a lot more than most predicted. The pity is the last of them was in Round 4. It made for an encouraging opening but a long winter. Their last five losses were by an average of 74 points.
There is no hiding from the fact it’s going to be a long way back.
Gold Coast best 25
B: Jack Lukosius, Jack Hombsch, Jarrod Harbrow
HB: Lachie Weller, Charlie Ballard, Pearce Hanley
Foll: Jarrod Witts, David Swallow, Touk Miller
C: Brandon Ellis, Hugh Greenwood, Matt Rowell
HF: Alex Sexton, Sam Day, Noah Anderson
F: Peter Wright, Ben King, Izak Rankine
Int: Brayden Fiorini, Darcy MacPherson, Jesse Joyce, Jack Bowes
Em: Anthony Miles, Ben Ainsworth, Connor Budarick
The Suns lost Jack Martin from their 2019 list but no-one else they’ll miss. Even Martin was underwhelming for the most part, especially as the season wore on and he battled form and injury.
However, four players have been added that should be in their best 18. Brandon Ellis brings two premiership medals from the Tigers, 176 games of experience, and the knowledge of how a supreme club operates. Hugh Greenwood is an underrated workhorse who wins clearances, lays tackles and knows where the goals are. He should have a similar impact to what Lyons had at Brisbane last year.
Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson went pick one and two in the draft and will play straight away. Based on their opening Community Series performances, they’ll be comfortable at AFL level from the get-go. Connor Budarick may play games immediately too. Straight away this builds depth, forcing jobbers like Jordan Murdoch and Anthony Miles out of the side.
While Gold Coast don’t possess an awe-inspiring midfield for this season, they are set to build with the aforementioned names. Jarrod Witts will give them first use often enough, and David Swallow and Touk Miller will enjoy having more talent in to help carry the load.
The defence will continue to be under siege but Jarrod Harbrow, Lachie Weller and Pearce Hanley can provide a reasonable amount of run if they can stay on the park together. Jack Hombsch, Charlie Ballard and Sam Collins will once again have the task ahead of them.
Ben King showed a lot of promise in his games last season and looks set to become a topliner up forward. Alex Sexton was outstanding again and Izak Rankine is due to be unleashed. There is excitement there.
If the Suns can kick a goal a game more and concede one less at the other end, their percentage will lift from 60 to 70. Make it ten points a match better at either end and they’re looking at a percentage of 78. That’s competitive, and they’ll pick up the odd win along the way.
Gold Coast certainly cleaned up Geelong on the weekend, looking super organised while doing so, which has been a common trait early in the season under coach Stuart Dew. The young players tire quickly, though, and the senior players struggle to carry a load that’s beyond them, which is why they can’t keep it going.
The Suns are just building bricks in the wall at this stage, though, and they should lay a few more before the year is out.
Predicted finish: 18th.
18. Gold Coast