Many believe any club’s preseason performances should be taken with a grain of salt. However, there was something impressive about the Brisbane Lions outfit which secured victories against the Hawks and Demons during the JLT Community Series.
It poses the questions:
Will the Lions give the top eight a shake in 2019? Or will Chris Fagan’s tribe remain a cellar dweller of the competition?
It could be premature to say the Lions are ripe for a final’s appearance in 2019. After all, many touted the Saints as a 2018 top eight prospect… we all know how that panned out.
On the other hand, it’s tempting to go out on a limb and predict that the Lions are going to finish the 2019 season on the upper half of the ladder.
Here are five reasons why the Gabba could be firing in September this year.
1. Off-season acquisitions
If you don’t like the Lions chances this season, perhaps you have forgotten they had a decent off-season trade period. They nabbed Lachie Neale from the Dockers, and they scooped Jarrod Lyons from the Suns. Both these players have immense upside in that they’re strong inside midfielders who have proven themselves at AFL level.
For a young team in the Lions, having a seasoned ball winning duo join the midfield brigade is crucial. Not only will Neale and Lyons provide experience and guidance to the likes of Cameron Rayner, Jarrod Berry and Hugh McCluggage, their impact will be immediate and felt from round one. It’s important the Lions hit season 2019 running and their recruiting over the 2018 trade period will go a long way to achieving this.
2. Eric Hipwood
The football world often talks of players having ‘breakout years.’ Is 2019 Eric Hipwood’s coming of age season? The tall forward is 52 games into his AFL career and has looked fit and fresh throughout the preseason. Critically, Hipwood has stacked on some muscle, a feature that will add presence and prominence to his game.
If the Lions midfield can provide adequate supply to Hipwood, the big forward could be in for a big year of clunking marks and kicking goals. If the Lions make a play for the finals, expect Hipwood to be central to their scoring capacity.
3. A friendly fixture
While the Lions may begin the season against the reigning premier in the Eagles, they’ll do so on home turf. The Gabba is slowly becoming a happy hunting ground for Brisbane. They have beaten quality opposition in home fixtures in recent years and will play finals front runners in the Magpies, who they pushed to the limit in 2018, the Demons, Power, Crows and Swans at home this season. If they can muster strong support from their loyal fans and put in strong showings, the Lions can potentially claim some big scalps in front of a growing crowd this season.
4. The solid back six
One of the Lions’ main struggles in recent years has been their susceptibility to concede huge scores. While they somewhat rectified the issue last year, they still bled goals against top flight teams. Richmond’s 80-point demolition in the early stages of the 2018 season springs to mind as an instance of the Brisbane defensive unit struggling.
Luke Hodge may be in the twilight of his career, but his seniority will be huge this season in helping marshal the likes of Alex Witherden and Harris Andrews. While that duo limits the impact of opposition forwards, the addition of Zac Bailey to the back six in the JLT Series added even more stability. If the Lions backline can pin down power forwards from opposition outfits, they will go a long way to punishing teams on the counter attack.
5. Chris Fagan
The coach is perhaps the critical piece to fill in the Brisbane Lions finals prospects puzzle. Chris Fagan’s first year as the Lions head honcho was tough. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Fagan showed great improvement last year as coach in his second season leading the Lions. Not only has he started to gel with the troops much more, he has also adapted his game style to promote more free flowing football. In 2018, the Lions started scoring with more authority, posting scores of 100 points plus, something that had been a rarity in the den years prior.
If Chris Fagan continues to foster growth amongst his playing group, the growth of the team on field will follow suit.
Of course, he probably doesn’t want them following him as he exits makeshift swimming pools.
AFL football is a funny old game. The fortunes of a team can change with one injury, or a close loss, which makes predicting future outcomes exciting but equally nerve wracking. The Brisbane Lions are a team with all the pieces – it’s just depends on how quickly and easily Fagan can get them all to fit.
There are so many questions about the Lions in 2019.
Will the Lions shed their label as an easy-beat team, or will they continue to lag in the bottom mix of the competition?
Will Cameron Rayner perform consistently in the midfield or will he only show glimpses of promise, flashing in and out of games as an unreliable forward? Can Charlie Cameron stay on the park? Will Hugh McCluggage make the leap into the next midfield bracket?
Will Chris Fagan change his game to suit his team or will he remain set on a specific, no-changes approach?
Can the Lions backline cope with pressure acts from opposition forwards or will they succumb to precision kicking and a team of seasoned forwards?
All these questions can’t be answered at this stage, but they do offer a taste of what is required for the Lions to make the eight this season.
Regardless, the Lions have a blend of talent and experience which, on paper, could catapult them up the ladder. They’ve built the team. The talent is there, and the cubs from Brisbane started to make some noise in the pre-season.
Now it’s time for the players and coach to roar for real.
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