Hugh McCluggage is ready to blossom in his third season.
Hugh McCluggage is ready to blossom in his third season.

Fagan’s Lions cubs ready to explode

FIVE wins in each of the past two seasons doesn't scream finals potential, but there is a lot to like about a young Lions team.

Chris Cavanagh explains why visiting teams will be nervous at the Gabba in 2019.

EIGHT REASONS LIONS FANS CAN GET EXCITED

SO CLOSE

Brisbane's win-loss record suggests it made no improvement in 2018, but that wasn't the case. Dig deeper and you can see why. The Lions recorded five wins - the same number as 2017 - but also suffered five losses by seven points or less. Of their 17 losses, only three came by 35 points or more. In contrast, the side lost 11 games by over 35 points in 2017, suggesting they are well on the way to putting more wins on the board. For a five-win team, finishing with a percentage of 89.1 in 2018 was a remarkable result and provides a base to build on.

SHOWING GROWTH

There is no doubt Brisbane got better as the 2018 season wore on. The Lions started with eight straight losses, a 93-point defeat to Richmond in Round 4 among them. However, the back half of the year provided reason for optimism. Brisbane scored four of its five wins in the final nine rounds, including a 33-point victory over semi-finalist Hawthorn and a 55-point thumping of Fremantle at Perth Stadium. Start 2019 as it finished 2018 and things will be looking up.

Brisbane recruits Marcus Adams and Lachie Neale.
Brisbane recruits Marcus Adams and Lachie Neale.

NEALE ADDITION

Yes, the Lions lost Dayne Beams to Collingwood during the trade period after he finished runner-up behind Dayne Zorko in the club's best-and-fairest. However, they have brought in a pretty handy replacement in Fremantle midfielder Lachie Neale. The 25-year-old is an out-and-out star and has crossed the country off the back of his second Dockers best-and-fairest in three years. Neale's statistics stack up with the best midfielders in the competition, having averaged 30.3 disposals and 7.1 clearances a game last season.

NOT JUST NEALE

In addition to Lachie Neale, Brisbane also picked up a few other players who could prove very handy inclusions next season. Key defender Marcus Adams joined from Western Bulldogs and at 25 years old adds a mature body to the backline if he can get himself fit, having managed just six games in 2018 due to ankle problems. The Lions also pounced on Gold Coast's Jarryd Lyons when he was delisted, and while the midfielder has his deficiencies he is a proven ball-winner who averaged 24.6 disposals from 19 games in 2018. Then there's injury-plagued former Geelong forward Lincoln McCarthy, who kicked 19 goals from 19 games in 2016 and could surprise.

Chris Fagan is entering his third year at the helm. Picture: AAP
Chris Fagan is entering his third year at the helm. Picture: AAP

FAGAN FACTOR

It's rare for a new coach to make a substantial mark straight away, especially those starting from a long way back. But Fagan is now entering his third year at Brisbane, a time when you generally start to see a brand really established from a coach and improvements in the win-loss tally. What has already been clear is the players are big fans of Fagan, who at 57 years old is a fatherly figure and is fast helping develop a host of young leaders to take the club forward.

ALL THOSE PICKS

Years spent languishing on the bottom of the ladder does have its perks. The Lions have had a host of first and second-round draft picks in recent years who all now have games under their belt as they enter their second, third and fourth seasons. Among these are forward Eric Hipwood, midfielders Hugh McCluggage and Jarrod Berry, defender Alex Witherden and 2017 No.1 draft pick Cameron Rayner. The Lions would be expecting the upward trajectory of those players to continue, all having shown plenty of promise during the early stages of their careers.

 

Charlie Cameron shapes as a key figure. Picture: Chris Hyde/AFL Media/Getty Images
Charlie Cameron shapes as a key figure. Picture: Chris Hyde/AFL Media/Getty Images

MORE CHARLIE

Charlie Cameron joined Brisbane from Adelaide with plenty of fanfare at the end of 2017, yet wasn't able to deliver on the hype in his first season in new colours. Cameron managed just 11 games due to a foot injury, kicking 17 goals. Those aren't bad figures by any measure, but the Lions would be hoping the 24-year-old can get on the park for a full year next season and double that goal tally, while also helping to lock the ball in their forward line on a more regular basis as a pressure small forward.

FIXTURE FREE KICK

By Champion Data's measurement, Brisbane has the third-easiest fixture of any team in 2019. It makes sense, given the Lions finished fourth-last in 2018, but it does not always work that way. The Lions face double-up matches against Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne, Port Adelaide and a Hawthorn side they thumped twice last year. That is almost as good a launching pad as you'll get in what is becoming an increasingly even competition.

TRAJECTORY

2014: 15th (7-5)

2015: 17th (4-18)

2016: 17th (3-19)

2017: 18th (5-17)

2018: 15th (5-17)

THE NUMBER: 3

The Lions defence is their strongest third on the ground, rating as the third-best defence in the competition. Harris Andrews has overtaken Alex Rance in the key defender rankings, ranking second behind Jeremy McGovern.

News Corp Australia


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