28/02/2024

Brisbane were dominant all year but fell at the final hurdle (Image: AFL Womens Twitter)

Brisbane finished a goal short of their second AFLW premiership in Season Seven, after a dominant season where they finished on top of the ladder.

Led by League Best and Fairest Ally Anderson and League-leading goalkicker Jesse Wardlaw, Craig Starcevich had a strong list under his control but narrowly missed AFL’s ultimate prize.

Finishing Position: Runners-up (nine wins, one loss)

What worked

Among a star-studded lineup, it’s hard not to single out Jesse Wardlaw for her record-breaking performance in an incredible forward line. The 22-year-old overtook Adelaide’s Ashleigh Woodland to set a new record for the most goals in an AFLW season.

She kicked 22 goals over 12 games, kicking multiple goals on eight occasions and was held goalless only once – albeit in the Grand Final. She thrived in Brisbane’s new forward setup, ensuring a breakout season, while putting herself in contention to be one of the game’s best key forwards for years to come.

Alongside her, Greta Bodey and Courtney Hodder both kicked 11 goals, while Dakota Davidson managed nine. As a combination, the fearsome forward pack ensured the Lions were easily the highest-scoring team of the season.

Outside of the forward line, a consistent midfield duo of League Best and Fairest Ally Anderson and Emily Bates handled the grunt work. Both featured in the top 10 in the league for disposals while Bates had the best disposal efficiency of anyone in the top 30.

Their definitive contested and attacking game style as devised by Coach Craig Starcevich, utilised the best talents of his players to guide them to their fourth Grand Final.

What didn’t

The Lions only had one loss in Season Seven, losing to the Tigers in a fashion that showed the blueprint on how to beat them in Round Five. To get the win, Richmond beat Brisbane in both contested possessions and disposals while operating at a higher efficiency inside 50.

Both sides had a horror night on the scoreboard, however the Richmond defenders were able to keep Brisbane’s prolific forward line to just one goal on the day.

Monique Conti outclassed the Lions midfielders in the first half, before being held quiet by Cathy Svarc and Bates. While Brisbane had a number of shots in the final five minutes but couldn’t find the goals.

In the end, Brisbane was exposed, if anyone could limit their scoring and outperform their midfield then it’s a simple task to overcome. In the end, that’s exactly how they were beaten in the Grand Final.

Breakout Stars

Backing up her standout season earlier this year, Jade Ellenger took another step into being a key player in Brisbane’s setup. Her running capacity through the centre of the ground was praised consistently throughout the year as an important part of their plans, as well as adding the club best and fairest to her list.

As well as her ball movement, her tackling increased to three per game this year. Adding higher levels of pressure to her game was integral in become more well-rounded and reliable when on the field.

Isabel Dawes is another one of their younger players that stepped up when required this season. Cathy Svarc said that Dawes was the one who “composes their midfield” and brings “calmness well beyond her years”.

Dawes had career-high averages for her disposals, tackles and inside 50s this season while playing every game. She was a big improver and one to keep an eye on over the next few seasons after developing underneath stars such as Anderson and Bates.

More AFLW Season Reviews

AFLW Season Seven Review: Richmond Tigers

AFLW Season Seven Review: Adelaide Crows

AFLW 2022 Season Seven Review – Geelong Cats

Highest Point

It’s a common phrase in football that preliminary finals are often better games than the Grand Final, because both teams know the opportunity that is at stake. The teams that win their preliminary final get to experience one of the highest highs in the game, knowing they’ve reached the last game of the year.

For Starcevich, he got to experience that moment for the fourth time when the Lions defeated the defending premiers, Adelaide in their preliminary final. A season-long effort finally achieved, the players’ elation was evident and highlighted by the contrast of the dejected Crows players.

It was a textbook performance, keeping the Crows goalless through the first half, while scoring five of their own. They simply overcame the season six premiers through incredible ball movement and applying high amounts of pressure.

They held off a third-quarter charge to run out 23-point winners to make another grand final and continue their dominance in the league.

Lowest Point

They say a week is a long time in footy, an off-season is even longer.

Just four points separated Brisbane from the ultimate goal. The high-scoring, heavy-hitting Lions were held to just 15 points in the grand final, their second-lowest of the season.

The Melbourne side had an answer for everything Brisbane had, starting with shutting down Wardlaw for her only goalless performance of the year. The Lions struggled to escape the Demons’ pressure and find any clean ball movement through the field.

Melbourne dominated the contests around the ground, earning themselves 28 entries inside 50. They ensured those entries turned into shots at goal through 16 tackles inside the forward 50.

Brisbane’s stars failed to fire on the big stage, their usually potent forward line only managed three scoring shots from 19 inside 50s. Their midfield lacked composure, looking overwhelmed and struggling to cope with Melbourne’s output.

Another disappointing finish to the season for the Lions who have made four of the six Grand Finals but only managed to win one premiership. Once again they lacked the polish and determination to follow through on the last day of the season.

Where to next

With a host of young talent, the Lions are every chance to have a strong return again next season and be poised to make another challenge at the Flag. Brisbane has a strong list and coaching staff that ensures their premiership window remains open.

They play a highly contested game style, which has proved to be the most consistent way to win games. As well as ranking top three for both tackles and marks per game, their brand is built upon consistency and recognising a game plan that will be successful for years to come.

After a stellar season featuring a minor premiership and a league Best and Fairest winner, Starcevich will be hungry to go one step further next season. They have all the tools to do it, and pending any disastrous trade mishaps, they’ll be one of the competition’s favourites next season.

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