Lions skipper cagey but positive on preseason

AFTER a big win over St Kilda, Brisbane Lions skipper Breanna Koenen says the overall feeling amongst the group is “really positive” but with still plenty to work on. Brisbane overcame the Saints at RSEA Park on Friday evening by 26 points, 6.6 (42) to 2.4 (16), with most of the damage done in the first half of the match. Though in control for the most part, Koenen admitted the team was determined to sharpen up further.

“Yeah it was good to have two hitouts in one preseason, it was really nice,” she told Lions Media. “Still working on plenty of things, but to see the pieces starting to come together, it’s really positive.”

There is a lot to like about the Lions chances in the 2022 AFL Women’s season. Always a perennial contender, Brisbane won the flag in 2021 and reached another preliminary final last season. Led by Koenen, the defence is rock solid, with Natalie Grider and Phoebe Monahan providing the run required, ex-Sun Dee Heslop adding extra hardness and accountability and the likes of Jade Ellenger and the returning Lily Postlethwaite also getting back to play roles behind the ball.

Given the Lions still have Shannon Campbell and potentially Kate Lutkins – if she can return early from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury – it is an imposing and well-balanced defence. Opposition sides will have to play smart to get through the back five, and quite often will not get a great deal of opportunity given the Lions midfield is equally as impressive. Headlined by W Medallist Emily Bates, and with Ally Anderson and excitement machine Courtney Hodder among those who can do a lot of offensive damage in there, the midfield had a lot of control against the less experienced Saints onball brigade.

There were two new faces running out for the Lions on Friday evening with Heslop and Ella Smith both getting chances to don the Lions colours for the first time, albeit in practice match form. Koenen said it was a good test for both players, and by the looks of it, Heslop is a likely Round 1 starter.

“Dee was really reliable in one-on-ones all day off the half-back and Ella coming on later in the game still sort of finding her feet and picking up the pace of the game, but she can hold her own out there,” the Lions captain said. “Both of them are very good additions.”

One area the Lions could work on for Round 1 that Koenen identified was converting opportunities from inside 50. Brisbane had a lot of chances going forward and were able to apply scoreboard pressure early, but then the Saints defence were able to quell the Lions more in the second half and through the work of Bianca Jakobsson and Nicola Stevens – the ex-Blue split her time between forward and further afield – created some run.

“We were looking really good in that first half out of the back and hopefully we can just link up a little bit better down the field and just convert some of their scoring opportunities,” Koenen said. “To be a little more efficient inside 50 would be really good, but plenty to work on and we’ve still got a few players coming back and finding form so just continuing to develop towards Round 1.”

In the end, Dakota Davidson kicked two majors – and looked the most dangerous with several other opportunities she would normally slot – in what was an even contribution from the front five, mostly in the first half. Brisbane hosts fellow contender Fremantle on Sunday, August 28 at the Gabba from 2:10pm in what is anticipated to be a huge Round 1 clash.

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