On paper, Brisbane captain Tom Rockliff reckons the Lions have a roster that can surprise a few people in 2016.
Now if only they could get them on the field.
Last year’s star arrivals included Mitch Robinson and premiership players Dayne Beams and Allen Christensen.
However, Rockliff said the class of 2016 was just as good.
Now he is keeping his fingers crossed their stars align on the field.
So far, not so good.
Beams will miss the start of the season with a knee injury and his return date is up in the air.
Highly-rated draftee Rhys Mathieson (cheekbone) went down in Brisbane’s final AFL pre-season hit-out.
Rockliff (hamstring) didn’t play a NAB Challenge match.
It would be enough to drive the uninitiated nuts.
Sadly, Lions coach Justin Leppitsch is very initiated.
At the start of 2015, Leppitsch lost key midfielder Pearce Hanley (hip) for the first nine games.
Rockliff broke his ribs not once, but twice.
Then Beams missed the final five games with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Brisbane had just four wins and only avoided the wooden spoon on percentage.
But Rockliff reckoned he liked what he saw on the Lions list.
“Pearce, myself and Dayne Beams only played one game together last year,” Rockliff said.
“We haven’t had a chance to develop as a group.
“I am sure we will surprise a few teams along the way if we keep a fit, healthy list.
“The most important thing is that we start playing footy together again.”
The signs were again ominous ahead of the 2016 season when star midfielders James Aish and Jack Redden asked to be traded.
However, Rockliff believes the club have more than made up for their loss.
Along came North Melbourne’s Ryan Bastinac, former Blues midfielder Tom Bell and ex-Geelong forward Josh Walker, while the draft produced midfielders Mathieson and Ben Keays plus teenage forward Josh Schache.
Rockliff said the Lions roster was now stable after Leppitsch turned over 34 players since taking over the reins in 2014.
Ten players have re-signed in the past six months with Daniel Rich and Josh Green expected to follow.
In all, a dozen of Brisbane’s first-choice 22 are now locked away until 2018 and beyond.
“You can see the future of the football club now,” Rockliff said.
“Last year you had Dayne Beams and that crew but this year I think we have matched that.
“Josh Walker as a key forward will be vital to our success and will help develop Schache.
“And Ryan Bastinac is one of the comp’s most under-rated midfielders.”
Add a fit Rich, ruckman Stefan Martin and Lions Academy graduate Harris Andrews and the elements do appear in place for a Lions revival.
The Lions board agrees – Leppitsch has been re-signed until the end of 2017.
“You can’t beat around the bush, we haven’t had the success we wanted,” Rockliff said of the Lions, who last played finals in 2009.
“We are recovering from past mistakes the football club has made.
“I know we are two or three years away from really having a crack at holding up that cup.
“But we want sustained success.
“We want an empire up here in Queensland again.”
Coach: Justin Leppitsch
Captain: Tom Rockliff
Last five years: 15-13-12-15-17
Premierships: 3 (2001-03)
Key five: Tom Rockliff, Dayne Beams, Daniel Rich, Stefan Martin, Josh Walker.
One to watch: Josh Schache. Expectations don’t come much bigger than being the next Jonathan Brown at Brisbane. The Lions are crying out for a key forward and the No.2 draft pick and son of former Brisbane Bear Laurence Schache might just be the man to answer their prayers.
Ins: Ryan Bastinac (North Melbourne), Tom Bell (Carlton), Eric Hipwood (Aspley, NEAFL), Jarrad Jansen (Geelong), Ben Keays (Redland, NEAFL), Rhys Mathieson (Geelong U18), Josh Schache (Murray U18), Sam Skinner (Gippsland U18), Reuben William (Wilston Grange, Qld).
Outs: Jed Adcock (Western Bulldogs), James Aish (Collingwood), Jordon Bourke (delisted), Mitch Golby (delisted), Matthew Leuenberger (Essendon), Matt Maguire (retired), Luke McGuane (retired), Zac O’Brien (delisted), Jack Redden (West Coast), Brent Staker (retired).
B: Dan McStay, Daniel Merrett, Justin Clarke
HB: Tom Cutler, Harris Andrews, Pearce Hanley
C: Ryan Bastinac, Daniel Rich, Lewy Taylor
HF: Dayne Zorko, Josh Schache, Mitch Robinson
F: Allen Christensen, Josh Walker, Jono Freeman
R: Stefan Martin, Tom Rockliff, Dayne Beams
I: Tom Bell, Sam Mayes, Josh Green, Rhys Mathieson
Predicted finish: 16th
Betting (William Hill):
To win the flag: $201
To make the top eight: $12