Season Overview Preview
Some timely performances from the Lions youth brigade and a string of wins saw the struggling 2001-2003 premiers find some late form to finish 13th in 2012.
Considered to be something of a pretender team for several years now, Lions fans started to claw their way back out of their hiding holes, as a plethora of injuries saw many key players out for large chunks of last season. The shining light for the club was the way in which the likes of Dayne Zorko, Tom Rockliff and Daniel Rich in the midfield stepped up a gear to support the veterans and new players.
The gaping holes in the backline left by Josh Drummond and Matt Maguire for the majority of the year, as well as limited support in the forward line for big man Jonathan Brown, left a lot to be desired.
A resurgence in the second half was far more positive; the Lions became a bit inventive and experimented with different line-ups, including throwing core backman Daniel Merrett into the forward line mix. The rise of the young guns will be a massive boost heading into 2013, with Brown and club legend Simon Black into their twilight days.
Brent Staker: the former West Coast Eagles utility has had the unluckiest of unlucky runs since switching to the Lions. Multiple knee reconstruction set the running utility back in his career. His first season in 2010 (and only full season so far with the Lions) yielded results that marked him as a vital cog in the Lions rebuild. Then injuries hit, and Brisbane have sorely missed his run and versatility around the ground. Staker is looking fit for the start of 2013, and with Drummond now retired, he could just prove a very handy backman.
Matthew Leuenberger: Resorting to players not suited to the primary ruck position in 2012 was a big blow. Leuenberger has taken great steps to recover from his 2012 injury and will relieve huge pressure on the Lions ruck stocks when he returns. He can also play up in the forward line as a tall option, and his ruck work improves every game.
Young Guns to Watch
Dayne Zorko: Zorko hit the scene with a bang in 2012 and his impact in the midfield was immediate. Starring with his run and possession gathering, Zorko quickly became both a fan favourite and slotted into the midfield team. Before the Lions, Zorko was already making a name for himself, including captaining the Queensland Under 21 side, leading to his selection in the 2011 National Draft by Gold Coast, before being on-traded to the Lions. Got better as last season went on; expect more of the same.
Sam Docherty: The young Gippsland backman had a rough 2012, recovering from a hip operation which forced him to change pre-season rehabilitation routines and undergo surgery. After being rested for the start of the season, Docherty began to shine for the Lions Reserves, playing across both the half-back and midfield. The senior AFL berth didn’t come his way, but 2013 spells another bigger chapter for the young man
On The Outer
Simon Black: The man seems to be ageless, still running rings around his opponents at 33. Talk has been around that his time to retire is soon, but Black will push on for as long as he can. With the departure of Luke Power to GWS at the end of 2011, Black stepped up to take charge of the midfield as well as helping the young players develop. As the Lions push ever closer to re-entering the finals, Black is now more important than ever in the rebuild.
Jonathan Brown: Injuries (mostly facial) have peppered Brown’s campaign over the past two seasons. A lack of forward support has also been a big hindrance for the lions. However, after pushing Merrett forward, as well as pocket rocket Ash McGrath, Brown’s load is starting to be shared. With his body taking lots of knocks, the big question will be how long he can hold up at the top level. His leadership, though, is fearless.
Patrick Karnezis: Has come on in fits and spurts, but the talent displayed so far has already meant the fans like him. A tall forward option is going to greatly alleviate pressure, and Karnezis can read the play very well. Turns 21 in April and will get better as he plays more. Biggest part of his game to work on in 2013 will be working on form translation from the NEAFL and reserves to senior level.
The New Boys
Sam Mayes: The Lions top draft pick of 2012, Mayes is the perfect choice for the budding Lions cohort. Developed primarily as a forward but has recently developed midfield skills. Turning 19 this year, and already a clever reader of the play, Mayes will hopefully quickly adapt to football at senior level.
The word hope might be the best way to describe the Lions fans emotions as they struggled to kickstart last season. Wins against West Coast and Adelaide at home were major highlights, and ten wins by season end suggested that brighter things were on the horizon for 2013.
Stringing series of wins together and being able to run with opponents for the whole game is one thing I, and probably the majority of fans want to see after some nightmare seasons. We have the team, now we just need to press hard.