15/04/2024

Can the Brisbane Lions bounce back from prelim heartbreak to be contenders again in season seven? (Photo: Brisbane Lions; Design: Will Cuckson)

While they couldn’t go back-to-back after a stellar 2021, the Brisbane Lions look primed to make another flag tilt after keeping their premiership list together once again.

Last season:

Third (Eight wins, two losses)

The Lions continued their post-season streak in season six, having only missed finals once since the league moved away from the top-two automatic grand final qualification.

One of their only two losses came against eventual premiers Adelaide, in which they lost defensive star Kate Lutkins to an ACL injury, and forward spearhead Dakota Davidson for the better part of the season.

The second came at the hands of star Demons recruit Tayla Harris, who clawed her side back to victory in what was an early preview of the preliminary final.

Brisbane handed the likes of West Coast and Carlton heavy defeats, while proving its dominance over fellow finalists Collingwood and North Melbourne at crucial points in the season.

The midfield, led by league best and fairest Emily Bates, looked as good as it ever did, with wingers Orla O’Dwyer and Sophie Conway developing into arguably two of the best in the competition.

Bates exploded in season six, averaging 21 disposals, 10 contested possessions, six tackles, and five clearances.

With captain Bre Koenen holding rock solid in defence, even without Lutkins and the retired Emma Zielke, Brisbane was characteristically stingy, giving up the equal third lowest points for.

While a qualifying final thumping of Collingwood had fans daring to dream, a preliminary final loss to Melbourne ended Brisbane’s season.

What to look forward to:

Brisbane fans can look forward to knowing that they have the same strong list to rely on in season seven, after the club suffered minimal losses in the expansion and signing period.

Promising young defender Indy Tahau has departed for Port Adelaide, and has been joined by Maria Moloney. Tahau stings more in an aging backline, but Moloney was struggling to crack into a strong midfield brigade.

With the likes of Jade Ellenger and Nat Grider taking on bigger running roles though, while draftee Kiara Hillier has the combination of size and speed that coach Craig Starcevich loves in his backs, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong in defence.

The backline could be even more bolstered with Lutkins’ return. The veteran key defender is tracking well ahead of schedule in her ACL recovery, and could find her way back into the 21 before season’s end.

With teams below them like Fremantle, North Melbourne and Collingwood looking weaker than last season, the Lions are primed to challenge the very best again and push for another flag.

Biggest unanswered question:

There’s very little to worry about for the Lions coming into season seven, with a proven premiership list once again at Starcevich’s disposal.

However, looking at the losses last season, the defensive group appeared vulnerable to being exposed by more mobile key forwards.

Alyssa Bannan and Tayla Harris both had game-defining performances against Brisbane in the preliminary final and home and away season respectively.

Bannan kicked an equal career-high three goals, utilising her pace to push off whoever she was matched up against and break fast towards goal.

Harris meanwhile flew at everything against her former side, kicking two goals and taking seven marks. She silenced all critics as she dragged her team over the line against a genuine contender.

With a match-up against the first time grand finalists in Round 4 at Casey Fields, Starcevich will no doubt be planning out his defensive structures for the hardest ground to travel to in the competition.

The Lions have faced the Dees at Casey twice, and have lost both times.

More AFLW Season Previews

AFLW Season Seven Preview: North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos

AFLW Season Seven Preview: Fremantle Dockers

AFLW Season Seven Preview: Gold Coast Suns

It’s a big year for:

Jesse Wardlaw had a lot to contend with in the forward 50 without Davidson for three games last year. With a modest return of three goals in those fixtures, the Lions needed more from her.

Becoming the primary target in the match up against Adelaide after Davidson went down, Wardlaw only managed three disposals and three marks for no scores.

She kicked a goal in the preliminary final, but once again didn’t shine.

The Lions need Wardlaw to find her 2021 form, especially if she’ll be spending permanent time as a forward and not pinch-hitting through the ruck.

Taylor Smith played all but one game last year, and we expect she’s ready to fully combine with Tahlia Hickie in the role in season seven.

How the Lions go at ground level inside 50 with the departure of Jess Wuetschner will be another interesting question.

Courtney Hodder spent more time running through the middle in season six, so Luka Yoshida-Martin may find more weight on her shoulders.

Fixture highlights:

Brisbane gets the chance to start off season seven with a bang, hosting two of its first three games at the Gabba against Fremantle and Gold Coast.

The Lions rarely host the Dockers at home, having not done so since 2018, so they’ll relish the opportunity after beating them in Western Australia in 2021.

Supporters will generally get treated to high quality experiences, as four of their five home games will be hosted at either the Gabba or Metricon. The ‘nomads’ of the competition, it will be a nice settler for both fans and the team to get some consistency in season seven.

Across the middle patch of the season, the Lions will have to travel to Melbourne three times in four weeks, including off a six day turnaround after facing the Demons.

This will be make-or-break time in consolidating a spot at the top end of the ladder.

Full fixture:

R1: vs. Fremantle, August 28 (Gabba)

R2: vs. GWS, September 4 (Manuka Oval)

R3: vs. Gold Coast, TBC (Gabba)

R4: vs. Melbourne, September 18 (Casey Fields)

R5: vs. Richmond, September 24 (Punt Road)

R6: vs. Essendon, October 2 (Moreton Bay Sports Complex)

R7: vs. North Melbourne, October 8 (Arden Street Oval)

R8: vs. Adelaide, October 14 (Metricon Stadium)

R9: vs. Hawthorn, October 22 (SkyBus Stadium)

R10: vs. Collingwood, TBC (Metricon Stadium)

Ins/Outs:

In: Ella Smith (Lions Academy), Dee Heslop (Gold Coast), Charlotte Mullins (Aspley Hornets/Lions Academy), Kiara Hillier (Maroochydore)

Out: Indy Tahau (Port Adelaide), Maria Moloney (Port Adelaide), Jess Wuetschner (Essendon)

Inactive: Gabby Collingwood (knee), Maggie Harmer (personal reasons), Bella Smith (knee)

Predicted Round 1 line-up:

(Design: Will Cuckson)

Ladder range:

First-fourth

With the quality at their disposal, the Lions should be contending for another flag in season seven.

While they have the crucial match-up with Melbourne to worry about, the majority of the rest of the fixture should favour them. Adelaide and Collingwood at home in particular gives Brisbane the best chance of leapfrogging its competition.

Another preliminary final at least should be the pass-mark for Starcevich’s women, who have all the potential and promise to create a dynasty of their own.

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