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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

AFL season preview 2018: Why the Lions’ prospects are getting brighter

For a club which has spent the past four seasons in the bottom four and finished last in 2017, there is a sense of optimism surrounding Brisbane.
The Lions were the kings of the AFL jungle when they won a hat-trick of flags from 2001-03 and were runners-up in 2004. But they haven’t reached finals since 2009.
Brisbane have won a modest 29 games in the past five years. No side has experienced a leaner run in that period.
For all the positivity surrounding the club, it would be premature to expect it to challenge for a top-eight berth as early as this year.
That said, there is light at the end of the tunnel and, for the first time in a long time, it is not an oncoming train.
The Lions took a long time to recover from Sam Docherty, Elliot Yeo, Jared Polec, Billy Longer and Patrick Karnezis walking out at the end of the 2013 season. And despite Tom Rockliff (Port Adelaide) and Josh Schache (Western Bulldogs) packing their bags after the 2017 campaign, there has been a clear shift in attitude from a core group of key youngsters. No.1 draft pick Cameron Rayner has already signed on until the end of 2021, joining Hugh McCluggage (2021), Harris Andrews (2021), Eric Hipwood (2020), Jarrod Berry (2020), Alex Witherden (2020), Rhys Mathieson (2019) and Lewis Taylor (2019) in committing to staying in Queensland.
They have the chance to build something special together.
Hipwood and Andrews will be Brisbane’s bookends for a long time.
Hipwood is only 20, yet kicked 30 goals last season and has athletic traits very few in the game possess.
Andrews turned 21 last December, has played 58 games and is deputy vice-captain.
While most key defenders his age are just finding their way, he is accustomed to playing on the opposition’s best tall forward.
Luke Hodge’s arrival after a stellar career at Hawthorn will be enormously beneficial for such a young squad.
Fiercely competitive and driv-en, Hodge commands on-field respect like few others and can be expected to be an extension of coach Chris Fagan during the course of games. A four-time premiership hero and dual Norm Smith medallist, he will demand high standards and only the foolish won’t fall into line.
Hodge isn’t the only senior Lion, however. Captain Dayne Beams, Dayne Zorko, Allen Christensen, Stefan Martin, Mitch Robinson and Daniel Rich have been around the block sufficient times to provide the necessary level of leadership and stability.
Zorko took his game to a new level last season, claiming a third club champion award and maiden All-Australian jumper.
Beams was banged up at stages in 2017, but soldiered on and more often than not, reminded everyone of his talent.
On four occasions, he collected at least 30 possessions and kicked multiple goals.
The Lions bolstered their stocks at the end of last season when they struck a deal with Adelaide to acquire Charlie Cameron. The speedster from Swan Districts is capable of having a profound impact close to goal.
It’s taken a long time, but the Lions have the building blocks in place. The next challenge — winning more often — needs to be embraced.