AFLW season previews: Brisbane

THE Brisbane Lions have come so close to winning an AFLW premiership, being runners-up in both years of the AFLW. They would love to go one step further in 2019, but it will be hard considering the mass exit of players to North Melbourne. They will field a new-look side in 2019 dominated by exciting youth rather than experienced guns, which has been the theme of the Brisbane line-up in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Last season: 2nd- four wins, three losses.

Changes:

In: Lauren Arnell, Paige Parker, Natalie Grider, McKenzie Dowrick, Lauren Bella, Tori Groves-Little, Jesse Tawhiao-Wardlaw, Jacqueline Yorston, Jade Ellenger.

Out: Kaitlyn Ashmore, Brittany Gibson, Tahlia Randall, Jamie Stanton, Nicole Hildebrand, Renee Cowan, Kalinda Howarth, Molly Ritson.

Brisbane was dealt with a mass exit of players with the introduction of expansion team, North Melbourne. The Lions saw four of their players head down south, as Kaitlyn Ashmore, Brittany Gibson, Tahlia Randall and Jamie Stanton opted to don the blue and white in 2019. On top of that, Nicole Hildebrand jetted down to the Pies, spending the 2018 Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s season with them, leaving a massive hole in Brisbane’s defence. But the Lions had a big advantage heading into the draft, with coach, Craig Starcevich coaching the Queensland Under-18 representative side and identifying the top talent that could slot into the Brisbane line-up. Six players from the Under 18 side made their way onto the Lions’ list after a successful Under 18 Championships campaign in which the side beat Vic Metro for the first time in its history. In addition, gun Western Australian, McKenzie Dowrick made the decision to take her footy up north, presenting a huge boost for the Brisbane line-up in 2019.

Area of strength: Midfield

Despite the loss of Ashmore, Gibson and Stanton in the middle of the ground, Brisbane drafted well enough to cover the loss. Tori Groves-Little is a clever footballer that is guaranteed to go hard at every contest. Her tackling is quite impressive, as is her run and carry. Jacqueline Yorston is likely to complement her well in the middle of the ground, as she is a natural ball-winner. Expect Jade Ellenger to also contribute, as her speed is quite impressive and will help her to burn opponents. Combine these exciting youth prospects with the experience of players like Nat Exon and Ally Anderson and Brisbane’s midfield looks quite potent. Exon had a wonderful VFLW campaign for Darebin, being named either the first or second best player on the ground in six of her seven games. Expect her to continue to turn it on for the Lions in 2019.

Area of weakness: Forward line

The Lions’ forward line still remains a problem in 2019. They’ve based their game in the past two seasons around their strong defence, which has managed to work considering the form of players like Kate Lutkins and Leah Kaslar. But they might find it difficult to play this style of football this year, with other clubs such as North Melbourne boasting potent forward lines. Sabrina Frederick-Traub has been the focal point up forward for the Lions in the past two seasons, but if she had a bad game, it would often spell trouble for her side. She will need some more assistance in 2019 if the Lions are to score more. Bella Ayre will need to return to the form that saw her get nominated for the Rising Star in 2017, while Kate McCarthy’s X factor will be even more important than ever in AFLW 3.0. The loss of the exciting Sophie Conway for the 2019 season hurts the forward line even more, as she had a sensational 2018 campaign inside 50.

Players to watch:

McKenzie Dowrick

Craig Starcevich and his coaching group would have been licking their lips when McKenzie Dowrick nominated to play her 2019 football in Queensland. Dowrick is originally from Western Australia and has played all her junior football there. A member of the AFL Women’s Academy, Dowrick hardly puts a foot wrong when she sweeps across the backline and through the midfield, as her booming left foot kick and reliable hands often got her side out of trouble. She has been a star for Western Australia in the Under 18 Championships, being named in the All-Australian side at half-back for the past two years. Expect her to add composure and class to Brisbane’s defence in 2019.

Nat Exon

Nat Exon is coming into the 2019 season off the back of some scintillating form for Darebin in the VFLW season. She came second in the Falcons’ best and fairest count despite only playing half of the season. She impressed with her ferocity at the contest for Darebin, averaging 5.9 tackles in her seven games. Her disposal average was also impressive in the VFLW, racking up an average of 18.4 disposals per game. She should be a key ball winner for the Lions in 2019, and will add some aggression to the midfield.

Jordan Zanchetta

Zanchetta showed promise in the 2018 AFLW season for the Lions after missing the inaugural season with an ACL tear. She showed good intent through the midfield and was a strong tackler. If she can match her aggression with disposals, she could be a dangerous player for Brisbane in 2019.

2019 prediction: 2nd in Conference B

The conference system becomes an interesting situation in this instance, because Brisbane certainly have the easier conference group. If the Lions were in conference A alongside teams like the Bulldogs, Demons and Crows, it would be likely that they would miss the finals. But in conference B, they sit alongside 2018 bottom side, Carlton, a depleted Collingwood outfit as well as the unknown side in Geelong. Greater Western Sydney (GWS) is likely to be Brisbane’s biggest challenge this year, with the GIANTS finishing 2018 strongly. Brisbane still has the line-up to be a strong side in 2019, despite the loss of experience.

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