By JESS WEBSTER
It was a fairytale ending for the Brisbane Lions in 2017 as last year’s wooden spooners rose to the top of the competition with a thrilling Grand Final triumph over powerhouse Sydney.
Here is the Lions’ season in review.
By the Numbers
Ladder position: 1st
Last year: 10th
2017 Neville Fallon Award Winner
Top 5 NEAFL MVP votes
27: Michael Close
27: Rohan Bewick
26: Archie Smith
22: Liam Dawson
21: Oscar McInerney
Snapshot: What a difference a year makes. The Lions – who finished last in 2016 – began this year with four straight victories, one more than their entire 2016 tally. Finishing the regular season in second spot behind the Swans, Brisbane overcame Sydney University in the Preliminary Final before heading to the SCG to take on the mighty Swans. They led for the first half, stood firm when Sydney challenged late, and created history with an epic three-point win.
Highlight: A premiership-winning season is often full of highlights, but you can perhaps look at Brisbane’s bookend matches to really sum up their season. In Round 1, Brisbane beat Sydney by 26 points – the first time they had defeated the Swans since the 2013 NEAFL Grand Final. It was a precursor to the season they were about to achieve. By the final match of 2017, Brisbane beat Sydney for the third time this year, and in doing so, won their third NEAFL flag – making the Lions the most successful premiership club in the competition’s history.
Lowlight: There wasn’t much that went wrong for Brisbane this year, but they potentially could have added a minor premiership achievement to their list if they didn’t lose to Gold Coast in Round 20. The Lions led by 18 points at half-time but the Suns stormed home, winning a thriller by seven points at the Gabba with Jarrad Grant booting seven majors and Mitch Hallahan starring in the midfield.
Star Power: The Lions were blessed with a near full-strength list nearly every week, with an average of 20 AFL-listed players hitting the field. Oscar McInerney was rewarded with the Lions’ NEAFL best-and-fairest award after the first-year ruckman came along in leaps and bounds, ranking second in the competition for contested marks, and a total of 61 inside 50s – the most of any ruckman in the competition. McInerney was joined in the NEAFL Team of the Year with forward Jono Freeman. Defender Matthew Eagles got better with every match, highlighted by a superb performance in the Grand Final.
Next Generation: The Lions Academy are set to produce a couple more AFL draftees this year, with key position prospect Connor Ballenden and defender Jack Payne headlining the list. Both were members of the Allies side and tested well at the AFL National Combine, with Ballenden registering a perfect 30/30 kicking score, and Payne recording 29/30. The talented duo can also add a premiership medal to their list of achievements in 2017 after featuring in the Lions’ Grand Final victory alongside fellow academy members Luke O’Sullivan, Campbell Walker and Jack Clayton.
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