With the excitement of two premiership midfielders arriving in trade week and the banishment of the ‘Paddle Pop’ lion from Brisbane’s jumper, the Lions suddenly became far more appealing in 2015.
However, this isn't the only reason the Lions will be climbing high into the top eight come August.
Dayne Beams and Allen Christensen arrived in Trade Week with great fanfare, but it is a quartet of young Lion cubs that should see Brisbane fans feeling a confidence that has been missing for over a decade.
Midfielders Daniel Rich and Jack Redden both missed large portions of the season, while Brisbane's big men in the middle, Matthew Leuenberger and Trent West, were also unavailable, which stretched a team already without an abundance of talls.
Established inside midfielder and 24-year old Rich suffered a ruptured ACL to his right knee in Round 3 of 2014, writing him off for a year where he could have lifted an already talented midfield to the next level.
Weeks later Brisbane’s captain, Jonathan Brown, retired due to repeated heavy concussions and 24-year old Redden was felled and missed the final eight matches of the season.
Leppitsch’s hands were tied, as emerging star Tom Rockliff carried the midfield load for much of the season, with Irish prodigy Pearce Hanley relocated from his preferred half-back flank into the middle of the ground in order to spread the load.
While both players were standouts for the Lions, the reduced attention they will receive from the opposition due to Rich and Redden’s return, along with Beams and Christensen, will only help them to improve further.
The Lions first choice ruckman, 26-year old Matthew Leuenberger, managed only five matches in 2014 and is now entering his prime as a ruckman, while then-new recruit Trent West suffered the same season-ending injury as Rich in Round 11.
The sole advantage of long-term injuries to a playing list is the opportunities it will provided to previously untried players. This is another factor that will benefit Leppitsch’s charges in 2015.
The absence of the two big men paid dividends for Stefan Martin, who relished the responsibility of being Brisbane’s first choice ruckman.
Martin made a late push for All Australian selection and will only prosper by having to carry less of the rucking load.
All of Leuenberger, Martin and West will now be able to fight for positions, but more importantly drift forward to rest. This will only help a Brisbane forward line lacking in key targets and provide more avenues to goal for a stacked midfield.
In Brisbane’s final match for 2014, a ten-goal drubbing in Geelong, the midfield group consisted of Ryan Lester, Lewis Taylor, Jackson Paine, Claye Beams, James Aish, Pearce Hanley and Jack Crisp.
For Round 1 against Collingwood, the ‘Gabba crowd should see Rockliff, Beams, Christensen, Redden, Rich, Taylor and Hanley all spend time in the guts, with Martin, West and Leuenberger to fight for two ruck spots.
Perhaps the Lions are winding up for another early 2000’s dynasty.
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