Bris­bane and Gold Coast fin­ished 15th and 17th re­spec­tively in sea­son 2018, but there’s hope for the bat­tling Sunshine State clubs. TERRY MALLINDER names seven ris­ing stars to take them for­ward

Warwick Daily News - - SPORT -


Lived up to the hype and sta­tus as No.1 draft pick from 2017. Played every game, av­er­ag­ing 13.5 dis­pos­als, and kicked a healthy to­tal of 20 goals. Missed two that could’ve clinched his side the four points against North Mel­bourne and Gold Coast. But the kid is a bull who plays like Dustin Martin and could one day join him as a Brown­low Medal win­ner. No pres­sure.


Yet to find con­sis­tency, but the bean­pole key for­ward con­tin­ues to im­prove as a bea­con in at­tack. A to­tal of 37 ma­jors in his third sea­son is up from 30 the pre­vi­ous year and makes him the Lions’ lead­ing goal­kicker for the first time. There was a ca­reer-best bag of six against Carl­ton in round 16 and he kicked four against the Hawks in round nine.


With Har­ris Andrews, Darcy Gar­diner and the re­born Josh Walker stand­ing tall in de­fence, McStay is back where he should be – as a dan­ger­ous mark­ing tar­get up for­ward. One of the strong­est play­ers on the Lions’ list, the ath­letic tall led the club for con­tested marks (31), was sec­ond for marks in­side-50m (36) and booted 22 goals. Won­der­ful foil for Hipwood.


With Luke Hodge along­side, the promis­ing “quar­ter­back” is en­joy­ing a fast-tracked de­vel­op­ment. No Ris­ing Star con­tender gained more me­tres for their club than Witherden (8619). Next best was Port Ade­laide’s Ri­ley Bonner – 2km be­hind on 6684. Witherden was sec­ond to only Dayne Zorko at Bris­bane, but was No.1 at the Lions for to­tal marks (152) and fourth in the en­tire com­pe­ti­tion be­hind Shan­non Hurn (174), Michael Hur­ley (156) and Cale Hooker (155).


The one-time No.3 draft pick will re­ceive his first Brown­low Medal votes this sea­son – the first of what will be many through­out his ca­reer. Dom­i­nated in the two wins against the Hawks, gath­er­ing a com­bined 56 dis­pos­als (in­clud­ing 30 con­tested) to help boost his av­er­age to 19.3 across the sea­son as a smooth-mov­ing out­side mid­fielder. Also im­pressed in a 26-pos­ses­sion, three-goal game against the Kan­ga­roos in round 20.


In­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile, he started the year in at­tack, tak­ing eight marks and kick­ing three goals in the open­ing round, then moved into the mid­field to take up the role of run-with player on su­per­stars such as Pa­trick Cripps, Rory Sloane, Nat Fyfe and Tom Mitchell. At 193cm, he will ul­ti­mately be­come a dom­i­nant mid­fielder that ri­val teams will need to curb. Grabbed a ca­reer-best 28 touches in round 20 against the Roos and av­er­aged 18 for the year, up from 13 in his de­but sea­son. Was also third at the Lions for tack­les (100) and No.1 for goal as­sists (20).


Hard to be­lieve he’s still only 21, but the big Queens­lan­der has be­come the rock-solid full­back he promised to be – and was even re­warded with a spot in the ini­tial All-Aus­tralian squad of 40. Sec­ond in the com­pe­ti­tion for one per­centers (spoils, smoth­ers etc) with 205, be­hind only Dou­gal Howard (231) and ahead of Alex Rance (203). Led the club for in­ter­cept marks (120) and fin­ished sec­ond for con­tested marks (25).


Aside from Josh Schache (pick 2 in 2015, now at the Bull­dogs), every high-end draft pick has been a win­ner for the Lions. In fact their pro­gres­sion has been out­stand­ing – Rayner and Zac Bai­ley in 2017; McCluggage, Witherden and Berry in 2016 and Hipwood, Ben Keays and Rhys Mathieson in 2015. Ku­dos to the re­cruiters and to the de­vel­op­ment coaches.


The Cairns’ prod­uct and top-10 draft pick is one of the best emerg­ing tal­ents on the Suns’ list. Bowes is in only his sec­ond sea­son but has shown class and com­po­sure be­yond his years. Will de­velop into a solid mid­fielder but has spent most of his time work­ing off half­back. Fin­ished the year with a ca­reer-high 26-dis­posal, 10-mark game against reign­ing pre­miers Rich­mond and 25 touches (in­clud­ing 13 con­tested) against Gee­long.


A highly rated mid­fielder whose progress has been slowed by in­juries. But Fior­ini showed the AFL world his qual­ity in 11 games. Re­ceived a Brown­low vote in his sec­ond out­ing in 2016 and should col­lect a cou­ple more. Picked up 27 touches and kicked two goals in the round-five Q-Clash and gath­ered a ca­reer-high 32 dis­pos­als against the Lions in round 22. Also led the way with 29 against the Tigers in round 21. Surely a fu­ture best and fairest win­ner if he can play a full sea­son.


The fu­ture cap­tain – maybe even as early as next sea­son if Steven May chooses not to com­mit. Miller is best known for his stoushes with Lions star Dayne Zorko. But the for­mer Vic Metro un­der-18 skip­per is the hard­est-work­ing player on the Suns’ list and can not only blan­ket the op­po­si­tion’s best mid­fielder but win plenty of the ball him­self. In still only his fourth sea­son, Miller led the club for dis­pos­als, with an av­er­age of 22, and was No.1 for tack­les (123).


The Suns academy grad­u­ate has be­come a reg­u­lar in the Suns’ 22. The Gold Coast lo­cal has built a rep­u­ta­tion for his kick­ing ac­cu­racy and de­ci­sion­mak­ing while con­stantly im­prov­ing his de­fence. Was third at the club for dis­posal ef­fi­ciency (73.6%) and fourth for in­ter­cepts (an av­er­age of 5.79). Played 19 games, sav­ing his best for last with a 21dis­posal, seven-tackle ef­fort against the Lions and 20 pos­ses­sions against Gee­long.


The Suns gave up pick No.2 in last year’s na­tional draft to Fre­man­tle af­ter the Queens­land prod­uct wanted to re­turn home, so the pres­sure was on. With that se­lec­tion the Dock­ers chose An­drew Brayshaw. What the Suns have is a hard­work­ing mid­fielder, still only 22, who will only get bet­ter. Not a high pos­ses­sion win­ner, but he led the club for me­tres gained (av­er­ag­ing 408).


Af­ter play­ing all 22 games and kick­ing 31 goals in 2017, the big key for­ward was re­stricted to just seven games in 2018 due to firstly a calf in­jury and then a knee com­plaint. With Tom Lynch gone, Wright needs to be­come the fo­cal point in at­tack, and the Suns will be hope­ful he can fol­low in the foot­steps of a Ben Brown as that 200cm-plus pow­er­house goal­kicker. Av­er­aged more con­tested marks than Lynch, with his four a high­light in the round-18 win over Syd­ney.


An­other re­stricted by in­jury (calf and ham­string) in 2018 – play­ing just eight games. But the No.9 pick from the 2016 draft showed his class in the win over Syd­ney when he gath­ered 27 dis­pos­als, then backed up with an­other 27 the week af­ter against Carl­ton. At 189cm, the big-bod­ied in­side mid­fielder ranked first at the club for av­er­age cen­tre clear­ances (2.7) and fifth for av­er­age con­tested dis­pos­als (9).


The Suns haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced any­where near the level of ad­vance­ment as the Lions, but they do have some kids who will be­come stars if their bod­ies hold up. We need to see more from first-round draftees Cal­lum Ah Chee (No.8, 2015), Ben Ainsworth (4, 2016), Jack Scrimshaw (7, 2016), and Will Pow­ell (19, 2017).

Pho­tos: Getty Images

THREE OF THE BEST: The Lions’ Cameron Rayner shapes as a Brown­low Medal win­ner. In­set top: Hugh McCluggage av­er­aged 19.3 dis­pos­als this sea­son. In­set bot­tom: Jack Bowes is one of the best emerg­ing tal­ents on the Suns’ list.

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