By half time in the loss to Adelaide to start its season, Brisbane found itself without its two best key position players.
Kate Lutkins and Dakota Davidson both fell in very similar actions. Completely innocuously changing direction, the pair sat the remainder of the game out.
It proved to be a death blow to the Lions who were already struggling to get their game going in the blistering South Adelaide heat, going down by five goals.
Now moving forward, it leaves two crucial parts of their premiership spine exposed for the rest of the competition to take advantage of.
Lutkins’ absence nearly speaks for itself. The veteran won the best on ground medal in last year’s premiership, the standout star in a clinical defensive group.
She had 18 disposals in the grand final, 16 of those kicks, while also taking six marks. The 33-year-old is a prime interceptor, and crucial to the Brisbane defensive game plan.
“Losing two key players in consecutive quarters obviously throws you into chaos,” Lions coach Craig Starcevich told media post-game.
“Kate doesn’t look too good. Change of direction, no one around her, the knee buckles, so that doesn’t look great. Dakota, pushing back and twisting her foot at a funny angle doesn’t look good either.”
It will take a monster effort, but the Lions will need to look to both their new and old personnel to step up.
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Phoebe Monahan shone on debut today, winning one-on-ones against players stronger and in better positions than her.
Though a classical rebounding defender, she showed off that capability to play key. Monahan finished her day with 10 disposals at 80 per cent, nine of those contested, eight intercept possessions, three marks and two rebound 50s.
Shannon Campbell similarly stood up in Lutkins’ absence, finishing with 13 disposals, five marks, five rebound 50s, and four intercept possessions. Her reading of the play to cut off and intercept and then turn that into offensive ball for her side is regularly underrated.
But without the strong aerial target that is Lutkins to cut off the ball in the air, the Lions leaked goals behind the contest, giving up four to Ashleigh Woodland waiting out the back.
The Lions similarly struggled to turn their rebounding ball into scores, only taking four scoring shots to result in a dismal 1.3 scoreline, and were held goalless to three quarter time for the first time in their history.
Even though wingers Orla O’Dwyer and Sophie Conway were industrious in their ball use and delivery inside 50, finishing with 36 disposals, eight inside 50s, four clearances and a whopping 610 metres gained between them, this only resulted in two score involvements.
Add onto this Jade Ellenger’s five inside 50s, and the Lions were clearly a team that were missing their most dangerous tall target up forward, badly.
Fellow tall target Jesse Wardlaw managed four marks, but didn’t put any score on the board, not even a behind. While she managed three score involvements, as a key forward, she should have been putting goals on the board when the Lions so desperately needed them.
Davidson’s replacement looks to be 21-year-old ruck/forward Taylor Smith. While she originally came into the squad as a chop-out for number one ruck Tahlia Hickie, her strong hands were impressive in the second half, finishing with five marks, three of which were contested.Embed from Getty Images
She could play a role at either full forward or centre half forward, taking on a powerful opposition defender and providing support for Wardlaw and another key target for the likes of Courtney Hodder to crumb off.
Whatever the solution, it’ll be one that Starcevich will have to come up with quickly. The leadership void is something he’s confident will be easily filled, though.
“Key back and key forward, it’s a pretty good day at the office when you lose those two players. It’s going to be an opportunity for someone else more than likely,” he said.
“Kate’s part of the leadership group, but Bre [Koenen]’s the captain and we’ve got six other leaders out there as well. We’ve got plenty of other leaders on the team.”
Brisbane hosts its first home game of the season against Carlton on Saturday, January 15 at Maroochydore Oval.
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