Recap of last season

Last year looked to be going swimmingly for the Lions, as they started with eight wins from nine games, with all parts of the ground hitting their straps.

Aside from a few individual matches where performances didn't stack up, the Lions placed themselves in the upper echelon of the competition and were consistently among the premiership favourites.

The first two weeks of finals saw the Lions dispatch the two previous premiers, winning a thriller against the Tigers, and outplaying the Demons to reach the preliminary final. There, they ran into a Cats outfit that wasn't stopped by anyone and were demolished by 71 points.

How they can improve

For a side that was right at the top of the competition for most of last season, and then ran into a runaway freight train in a preliminary final, it seems blasé to say that the way the Lions can improve is not to run into a team like Geelong in a preliminary final.

There were a few matches last year where the Lions were blown off the ball, and blown out of the match. The preliminary final was the most disappointing of those, but the existence of the pattern is concerning. Can the Lions find a way to fight back into those matches and prevent blowouts going forward?

Added midfield depth like Josh Dunkley and Will Ashcroft is expected to help with this, as it allows the Lions to change the look at centre bounces and at the coalface of the contest.

List changes

IN: Will Ashcroft (draft, father-son), Shadeau Brain (rookie), Josh Dunkley (Western Bulldogs), Jaspa Fletcher (draft, father-son), Jack Gunston (Hawthorn Hawks), Darragh Joyce (PSSP), Darryl McDowell-White Jr (rookie), Conor McKenna (PSSP).

OUT: Tom Berry (Gold Coast Suns), Mitchell Cox (delisted), Connor McFadyen (delisted), Dan McStay (Collingwood Magpies), Mitch Robinson (retired), Ely Smith (delisted), Deividas Uosis (delisted).

Biggest strength

The Lions have one of the deepest midfield in the competition. Inside stars like Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko, Jarryd Lyons and Jarrod Berry have been complemented this offseason with the additions of Will Ashcroft and Josh Dunkley.

The Lions are also not wanting for outside midfield class, with Hugh McCluggage, Callum Ah Chee, Cam Rayner and Zac Bailey, who can turn a split-second gap into a scoring opportunity halfway down the field, before opposing teams have time to react.

That midfield depth is the envy of the competition and allows the Lions to be confident that they can match it with anybody, as long as they intend to do so.

Biggest weakness

Finals performances. It's hard to nitpick too much about a side that has finished in the top four multiple years in a row and continues to add top-grade talent.

One criticism of the Lions, that they will have to bear until September is that the finals performances in the last few years have let them down. Losing to the Bulldogs in 2021, and the Cats in 2022 hurt, especially when the Lions would have expected to perform better in both matches.

It looked as if the Lions might have crested that hill and put their demons to rest with the win over Melbourne in the semi-finals last year (pun intended), but a week later, the Lions bowed out as meekly as a house cat against a barnstorming Geelong outfit.

Rising Star

Will Ashcroft isn't just the Lion's rising star in 2023, he's the favourite to take out the NAB AFL Rising Star. A ready-made inside midfielder, Ashcroft has already drawn comparisons to some of the elite players of the competition, for his ability to win the ball on the inside, take it to the outside and distribute it to teammates.

If Ashcroft delivers on half of his potential this season, he will become another blue-chip player in the Lions' midfield rotation, and another weapon that can be thrown into the fire when matches are close late in the season.


The Lions will once again be part of the cream of the competition. With a strong engine room and elite bookends at each end of the ground, in Joe Daniher and Harris Andrews, the Lions have all the necessary elements of a championship team.

Those elements will hold them in good stead in the top few teams most of the year, as they dominate from week to week during the home and away season.

The big question will be can they achieve their potential? There are doubts about the Lions' ability to get the job done when it is crunch time. If the pressure of a tight final doesn't get to the Lions, they will be able to write their place in history, but with several battle-hardened sides who have a track record in tight finals, there are worrying signs for the Lions.

Ladder prediction: 1st

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