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Footyology countdown: Lions ready to start long climb back

Dayne Beams is a wonderful leader for the remade Lions. Now the former premiership Magpie has some more support around him. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Footyology countdown: Lions ready to start long climb back

Rohan Connolly    

2017 record: 5 wins, 17 losses (18th)
List age ranking (oldest to youngest): 17th
List experience ranking (most to fewest games): 14th
Footyology draw ranking (easiest to hardest): 2nd

Luke Hodge (Hawthorn), Charlie Cameron (Adelaide), Cameron Rayner (Western Jets), Zac Bailey (Norwood), Brandon Starcevich (East Perth), Toby Wooller (Oakleigh Chargers), Connor Ballenden (Brisbane Lions NEAFL), Jack Payne (Noosa)

Tom Rockliff (Port Adelaide), Josh Schache (Western Bulldogs), Ryan Harwood (delisted), Jarrad Jansen (delisted), Josh Clayton (delisted), Jonathan Freeman (delisted), Blake Grewar (delisted), Michael Close (delisted), Matt Hammelmann (delisted), Reuben William (delisted)

B: Luke Hodge, Harris Andrews, Darcy Gardiner
HB: Alex Witherden, Daniel McStay, Daniel Rich
C: Dayne Zorko, Mitch Robinson, Cameron Rayner
HF: Charlie Cameron, Josh Walker, Lewis Taylor
F: Ryan Lester, Eric Hipwood, Ryan Bastinac
Foll: Stefan Martin, Dayne Beams, Hugh McCluggage
Inter: Allen Christensen, Sam Mayes, Nick Robertson, Rhys Mathieson
Emerg: Jarrod Berry, Jake Barrett, Tom Cutler

Despite even the good reports on new coach Chris Fagan, Brisbane in a strictly results sense appeared to have made little progress by the mid-point of 2017, the Lions with just one win from their first 10 games.

Brisbane’s run home, however, was far more encouraging, with four more victories coming in the final dozen matches, plus a couple more narrow defeats. More than that, though, there were more tangible signs that this was a side on the up.

A greater commitment was made in selection terms to the kids with whom the Lions have loaded up, and the likes of Alex Witherden, Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Cedric Cox and Jacob Allison had significant game time. The Lions looked a lot more exciting as a result.

There’s still plenty of “ifs” about how quickly the progress continues, but having had that taste of how things could be, plus a draw Footyology has ranked the second-best in the competition this season, it’s not inconceivable to see Brisbane winning significantly more than the five victories of last season.

Luke Hodge is the biggest addition to the ranks, along with Charlie Cameron and No.1 draft pick Cameron Rayner, and it’s the former Hawk skipper’s teaching abilities as well as his own obvious talents which could have as profound an impact on a score of players.

Allen Christensen, who hasn’t played since mid-2016, is another virtual recruit, while Mitch Robinson didn’t turn out after round seven last season. In the context of what is still the AFL’s second-youngest list, they are inclusions which can’t be underestimated.

As significant as the kids whom Brisbane began to invest in more heavily last year was the gradual evolution of a game style not all that different to that of Hawthorn, not surprising given Fagan’s history.

Brisbane had a degree of success, too, playing and uncontested kick and mark game, with their disposal efficiency over the back end of the season hovering around 70 per cent. The big deficiency, however, remains in the clinches, where the Lions ranked bottom three for both clearances and contested ball.

There was still ultimately a heavy reliance, also, on the older heads in the side, Dayne Zorko, Dayne Beams, the now-departed Tom Rockliff, Stefan Martin and Daniel Rich filling five of the top six spots in the best and fairest.

The cavalry is coming fast, though, with Eric Hipwood a huge forward prospect, Harris Andrews already a leader, and Witherden, McCluggage and Cox clearly long-term prospects.

There’s been plenty of mis-steps for Brisbane since the glory days of 2001-04, but this time around, the foundations look pretty solid. Which means the Lions should realistically expect to at least improve that bottom line win-loss ratio a bit more in 2018.

15th. The Lions took some important strides in the back half of 2017. Don’t be too surprised if that improvement translates into quite a few more wins this season.

THE LADDER SO FAR (click on team to read)

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