Story of the Summer
The Lions had a huge trade period, managing to lure some high-profile top-end talent, as well as saying goodbye to some of their most beloved veterans.
Perhaps the biggest off-season signing across the competition was the addition of Dayne Beams to the Lions’ setup. After 110 games, a premiership and a best and fairest in six seasons at the Magpies, Beams requested a surprise trade to Queensland to be alongside his ill father. After a fair bit of tension between all parties, Beams made his way to the Lions as part of a mega five-way deal, which ultimately saw the Lions lose picks five, 25 and young gun Jack Crisp.
The Lions didn’t stop there, going all out and acquiring 23-year-old Allen Christensen from the Cats for pick 21 and controversial former Blue Mitch Robinson as a delisted free agent.
After losing some high draft picks during the trade period, the Lions were left with four picks outside the first two rounds (44, 61, 65, 73). They managed to secure two academy players in Liam Dawson and Harris Andrews, both of whom are key position prospects. The inside word is that these boys may not be ready for senior footy for at least another season or so. Tasmanian Josh Watts is also a big defender and Jaden McGrath is a pocket rocket with elite endurance and speed. It’s hard to see any of these guys cracking into the Lions’ best 22 in season 2015, but they are certainly some to keep an eye out for this time next year.
200-game premiership players Jonathan Brown and Ash McGrath hung up the boots, as did Brent Moloney after just 21 games at the Lions after leaving the Demons at the end of 2013. Two-time best and fairest winner Joel Patfull requested a trade to GWS after letting the club know Sydney was his desired location for life after football.
In more recent news, the Lions have announced gun midfielder Tom Rockliff as their new skipper, replacing defender Jed Adcock after two years at the helm.
Where They Excel
The time is now for the Brisbane Lions to show what they are capable of. As previously mentioned, they have compiled a core group of midfielders that have developed into the top tier in the AFL. Competition for midfield time is fairly strong within the club’s inner sanctum. The likes of Robinson, Zorko, Aish and Christensen will be battling it for midfield time throughout the year, all adding a unique dimension to the lineup. A perfect mix of outside runners and hard nut extractors has led to some suggesting the Lions have the best midfield in the competition.
The ‘mozzie squad’ will cause headaches for opposition sides all year, as Lewis Taylor, Dayne Zorko and Josh Green are only getting better. Their scoreboard impact will be a huge barometer in 2015, as will the contribution of goalkicking midfielders in Beams and Christensen.
Perhaps the biggest upside to the Lions’ outfit last season was the reemergence of ruckman Stefan Martin. After dominating around the ground for the latter half of the 2014 season, the agile 198-centimetre ruckman has assured himself a spot in the Lions’ line-up, which means that both he and returning ruckman Matthew Leuenberger will combine for one deadly combination. These men will pinch-hit up forward all game, with Martin being the one to likely play a higher percentage of game time in the forward half.
Where They Struggle
Although the midfield is stacked with talent, the vitally important bookends at Brisbane still seem vastly underdeveloped. Down back there are the experienced likes of Matt Maguire, Daniel Merrett and Brent Staker, all of whom are solid contributors, but at the age of 30 both of these men aren’t going to be improving. Goals may be hard to come by at times and a significant weight will be left on the shoulders of the small forwards throughout the year. Don’t be surprised if a Josh Green or Lewis Taylor takes out the goal-kicking award by season’s end.
Michael Close will get the opportunity to prove himself as Jonathan Brown’s long-term replacement, as he enters his third year in the AFL system. At 195 centimetres tall, Close has elite running ability and is still considered a long-term-project player for the Lions. Patience is a virtue for these young players and with the likes of Stefan Martin, Luke McGuane and Jackson Paine, the Lions will be desperately hoping they can provide enough support for each other to kick the winning score.
Highly rated youngsters Darcy Gardiner and Justin Clarke need to step up in 2015, as the Lions prepare to transition into a new era. Defending will be tough at times for the Lions this year, but these young men have to continue to gain significant game time in order for their development to continue. Whilst the midfield is clearly not an issue, the key talls aren’t fully developed to enough to suddenly take the game by storm. At this stage it is hard to see Michael Close holding off the likes of Cale Hooker or Daniel Talia.
The Year Ahead
The Lions have had the perfect preparation for the season proper, finishing top of the NAB Challenge ladder after winning two games and drawing against rivals Gold Coast. A positive vibe has certainly been hovering through the club during the off-season, and many feel as though the Lions aren’t far from becoming a powerhouse once again.
The Lions will be desperate to get off to a good start to the year, with four of their first five games in Queensland, three of those coming against bottom eight sides from last season. It would be fair to suggest that two wins would be required here to even contemplate a surprise finals appearance and a competitive outing against the Pies in round one would be the perfect start. Their draw is much easier than last year as they finished in the bottom four, as a result of this the Lions only play one top eight side twice in 2015 (North Melbourne).
With an impressive midfield the Lions will be hoping for more luck on the injury front this season. The addition of Beams, Robinson, and Christensen, as well as the return of Jack Redden and Daniel Rich, will undoubtedly add plenty of options. Last year Brisbane were a poor contested possession team, ranking bottom in the competition. In fact they haven’t ranked inside the top 10 for contested footy since 2009. With Rich, Redden and Robinson slotting into the line up, things will certainly change in this regard.
Players around the age of 19 to 21 are also entering a crucial stage in their development, as spots on the list become a whole lot harder to retain, let alone spots in the side. Nick Robertson, James Aish, Sam Mayes, Claye Beams and Tom Cutler will be battling it out with each other for spots in the starting line-up come round one.
The Lions will undoubtedly improve on last year’s 15th placing, but making the eight may be a stretch at this stage. 2015 will be a key indicator to the Lions’ future outlook as a side, as well as a good measuring stick for Justin Leppitsch’s development as a senior coach.
Ladder range: 10-14
B: Jed Adcock, Matt McGuire, Justin Clarke
HB: Ryan Lester, Daniel Merrett, Daniel Rich
C: James Aish, Dayne Beams, Allen Christensen
HF: Lewy Taylor, Daniel McStay, Dayne Zorko
F: Josh Green, Michael Close, Stefan Martin
Foll: Matthew Leuenberger, Tom Rockliff, Jack Redden
Int: Mitch Robinson, Claye Beams, Sam Mayes
Sub: Rohan Bewick
Note: Trent West, Pearce Hanley, Ryan Harwood and Jonathan Freeman not considered due to injury.