IT'S BEEN four seasons, so we should all know by now to never write off the Brisbane Lions.
Decimated by expansion after a poor 2019, the Lions were expected to once again sit at the bottom of the ladder, but some shrewd recruiting and a stable core of players helped the side to qualify for finals.
It wasn't quite the Grand Final berth of 2017 that caught most off guard, but it was still a decent season from a team picked to struggle in 2020.
Over the next two weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams, kicking off proceedings with Adelaide and moving alphabetically from there.
Coach: Craig Starcevich
Leadership group: Emma Zielke (captain), Sharni Webb (vice-captain), Emily Bates, Breanna Koenen, Kate Lutkins
2020 finishing position: Third in Conference A, three wins, one draw and two losses, 107.0 per cent. Lost semi-final to Carlton.
Knocking off Adelaide and Geelong were both strong results, but it was the complete domination of GWS that gets this win over the line. The Lions led from go to woah, with Cathy Svarc – who up until that point of the season had been found in defence – dominating in the midfield.
Best individual performance: As mentioned above, Svarc had a well-rounded day out against the Giants, finishing with 23 disposals, 11 tackles, six clearances and two goals.
Club best and fairest candidates: Emily Bates, Kate Lutkins, Jesse Wardlaw, Jess Wuetschner
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Jesse Wardlaw (round two)
Debutants: Lucy Bellinger, Greta Bodey, Dakota Davidson, Belle Dawes, Tahlia Hickie, Maria Moloney, Orla O'Dwyer, Lily Postlethwaite, Cathy Svarc
Most improved: A decorated junior who was both her state's captain and under-18 MVP, Nat Grider had a quiet-ish debut season in 2019 but hit her straps this year. A very reliable defender who played every game, Grider shut down smalls and provided steady disposal out of the backline.
Star recruit: Only the one recruit for the Lions this year, but Rheanne Lugg was a very stable addition across half-forward. The former Crow was unable to break into Adelaide's line-up in 2019, but played every game for the Lions, booting three goals and averaging 11 disposals and three marks.
Unsung hero: She's one of the toughest players in the AFLW, and Shannon Campbell often doesn't get the recognition she deserves. The defender regularly throws her body on the line and isn't afraid to back into a pack.
- The successful integration of new players. It's no secret Brisbane has had an enormous turnover of strong players to expansion clubs, but the likes of Svarc, Moloney, Davidson, O'Dwyer and Bodey all played important roles without having come through the talent system.
- Without Gold Coast-bound Sam Virgo and Leah Kaslar, the Lions were down a few valuable defenders. The move of Emma Zielke to the backline was a good one, the skipper able to add a steadying influence and dictate play well behind the ball.
What needs improvement:
- Consistency across the season. It was probably no surprise given the amount of new AFLW players brought into the team, but the Lions tired as the season progressed, and aren't yet able to match it with the stronger teams.
- Taking advantage of opportunities inside 50. It's something that will develop in time, given the youth and inexperience of most of the forward line, but particularly against the top teams the Lions struggled with that final kick to set a teammate up for a shot on goal.
Season in a song: I'm Still Standing (Elton John). Having lost 16 players to other clubs over the past two seasons, it was expected Brisbane would seriously struggle in 2020. Once again, the Lions proved the doubters wrong.
Early call for 2021: While it's difficult to see Brisbane breaking back into the top echelon just yet, the team should once again qualify for finals in 2021.
Season rating: 6.5/10