Despite the epic back to back scalps against the Tigers and Dees in last years finals, the Lions yet again failed to capitalize on the premiership window they’ve been in for the last few years. Worse, they had their first non Top 4 finish in 4 years having finished at a dicey 6th in 2022 behind Fremantle. Over the course of the season the Lions’ forward line was plagued by injury, inadequacy and inefficiency, Neale was left stranded without defensive cover and partners in crime and overall the side lacked an ability to take speed out of the game, control the ball and defend margins. But the Lions more than steadied the ship in the off-season with a truly phenomenal trade period: bringing in Gunston to finally offer a consistent option up forward, making sure they took both Ashcroft and Fletcher as father-son picks and emerging victorious in the Mexican standoff with the Dogs for the services Josh Dunkley. That retooling should return to the Lions to dominant H&A side flush with SC capital.
Feeling Lucky: They’re at radically different ends of their respective careers but both Daniel Rich ($531 200) and Keiden Coleman ($479 000) enjoy comfortable half back economies. Rich missed a triple digits average last season at 96.5 and Coleman doubled his 2021 average to do 87 flat in 2022 and just on trajectory he should do 90+ this year. Probably unecessary PODs given the clear 600k options and enticing midpricers however. Rich might get to a price where he can slot in a D6 at some stage though.
Money Maker: Only one of Connor McKenna ($167 500) and Darcy Wilmot ($123 900) will line up at half back come Round 1. McKenna has played at the level before, can inject some speed and offensive ball movement and would be solid for 70. Wilmot got a taste during the Lions’ final campaign last year and despite the understandably unclean use and a few errors looks to be cast from the same mould as McKenna – speed, offense and audacious decision making. We’ll pretty much select whoever out of the two of them are selected Round 1 but just note neither will have even a plurality of half back distribution with Rich and Coleman in the side. In fact, there’s even probably a risk with McKenna at that elevated price and a BE 30 if he opens the season with two quiet games while Rich and Coleman are dancing in the distribution. Watch the Lions’ practice match closely.
Lock and Load: Lachie Neale ($676 200) made a premium return to 2022 with a 122.8 average and some banger scores of 198, 187 and 164 in the first half of the season. A few more flat tons kept him from cracking 130 but nevertheless comes into the year as a Top 8 lock, with perhaps a little edge given that hunger for a flag and a second Brownlow. His reputation precedes him on match day however and does accordingly find himself drawing more tags, so take note of that early fixture.
Money Maker: A couple of sons of guns who the Lions matched bids to secure in Will Ashcroft ($202 800) at Pick #2 and Jaspa Fletcher ($157 800) at Pick #12. Fletcher won’t be ready this year but Ashcroft is raring to go: phenomenal talent and inside midfield repertoire coming out of the NAB League, slotted into training with the Lions midfield group and word is he’s ready to rock for Round 1 and firming for a modicum of MID minutes. Looking the Lions midfield options Neale and Dunks are obvious constants but Lyons and Zorko are cooked, McCluggage does his best work on a wing and Berry hasn’t recaptured his on ball prowess and remains a utility. Robertson (gutted West Coast didn’t get him) should still see exposure as they develop him as a defensive midfielder/stoppage player and they could also persist with giving Rayner and Bailey exposure, but not to an extent that they deprive a generational draftee of becoming an inside bull as quickly as possible. Recent Pick #1’s (which he basically is) have pretty much all panned over the last few years and the latest word on Ashcroft is golden – at this stage there’s no reason not to select him.
Feeling Lucky: Had that really strong 2021 backend where he was close to R1 behind only a rampaging Darcy but since then Oscar McInerney ($487 000) hasn’t taken that next step. Regressed on his average last year and still ranks as one of the work overhead marking and around the ground rucks in the competition. Opens the season against Port, Dees, Dogs, Pies, Roos and Giants – not the worst early fixture, but probably better options out there.
Lock and Load: The Lions are letting me keep this Preview succinct, next up is: Josh Dunkley ($596 400). You’re simply not playing SuperCoach if you’re not selecting him. Will be F1 in his sleep and a pure midfield role at his age without having to chop out with Bont, Libba, Macrae and the lot gives Dunks scope to improve. Select and enjoy.
Feeling Lucky: Been made relevant by the acquisition of FWD status over the last few seasons but the fun is probably over for Dayne Zorko ($453 200) as an SC pick. Dropped from 109.4 to 82.3 last year and will face a declining CBA load as the Lions list profile and midfield priorities change. Maybe 50k cheaper and without those niggles we’d consider but think it’s best to tip out hats and say goodbye. A quick mention to Zac Bailey ($421 100) who fell well short of last year’s midfield hype but is reportedly training with the midfield group right now – maybe a draft sleeper?
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