Lions' season review: A near-perfect season, with plenty to celebrate

FALLING agonisingly close of a second premiership, Brisbane's season was near-perfect.

Boasting the competition best and fairest for the second straight season, and a record-breaking leading goalkicker, it was just four points on the final day of the season that prevented the Lions from claiming another piece of silverware. is looking at each of the 18 AFLW teams' seasons in reverse ladder order.

Ally Anderson poses with the AFLW best and fairest medal for season seven. Picture: AFL Photos

Head coach: Craig Starcevich

Leadership group: Breanna Koenen (captain), Natalie Grider (vice-captain), Ally Anderson, Emily Bates

Ladder position after home and away season: 1st, nine wins and one loss, 282.4%

Ladder position after finals: 2nd, 11 wins and two losses, 251.0%

Debutants: Mikayla Pauga (AFLW debut), Dee Heslop (club debut)

Milestones: Shannon Campbell, Kate Lutkins (50 games), Dee Heslop, Tahlia Hickie, Courtney Hodder, Taylor Smith (25 games)

Rising Star nominations: Nil

Retirements: TBC

Emily Bates and Courtney Hodder after Brisbane's win over North Melbourne in round seven, AFLW season 7. Picture: AFL Photos

Best team performance

In round eight's then-top of the table clash against Adelaide, Brisbane proved its credentials as one of the most dominant teams in the competition.

A tight first quarter was what most expected of the matchup, with both teams working really well defensively, but the Lions totally broke the game open in the second quarter, showing their ability to shift gears and swing momentum wholly their way. Kicking 4.2 (26) while keeping the Crows scoreless, Brisbane flexed its muscles in the second term.

Brisbane not only won the disposal count by 26, but also laid 20 more tackles than the Crows. Sophie Conway and Jesse Wardlaw each kicked two goals for the game, while eventual competition best and fairest winner Ally Anderson had 22 disposals and kicked a goal of her own.

AFLW S7 Highlights: Brisbane v Adelaide

05:20 Oct 14. 2022. 10:18 PM

The Lions and Crows clash in round eight of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance

Last season's competition best and fairest winner Emily Bates put on a show against Greater Western Sydney in round two. After a slow start, Brisbane surged back into the game to ultimately win by 47 points, much of that thanks to Bates.

The midfielder evidently enjoyed the Manuka Oval deck so much that she used her 20 disposals at an elite 85 per cent efficiency, while also laying six tackles and winning four clearances. Not typically a goalkicker, she snuck forward to kick a career-best two goals as well.

Bates the great simply can't be stopped

00:41 Sep 4. 2022. 4:22 PM

Emily Bates scores two goals in quick succession to stamp her authority on the contest

Most improved

Ruby Svarc's move into the forward line this season was a revelation for the speedster, who looked to be teetering on the fringes of the side during the preseason.

Using her speed not only to attack, but to offer great defensive pressure was vital to a Brisbane side that was built on forward pressure. Svarc kicked five goals for the season, including an impressive run from half back which was followed up by a strong tackle to win a holding the ball free kick.

Svarc averaged 3.8 tackles (1.2 inside 50) and 1.9 score involvements in an important supporting role.

Star recruit

Delisted by Gold Coast, Dee Heslop came to the Lions and not only played 11 games including a Grand Final but pushed Lucinda Pullar out of the side.

Not a big stat winner, Heslop played a structurally important role as a small defender in the second-best defence in the competition this season. She was focused on stopping opponents and setting up her teammates to rebound out of the back half.

When she did win the ball, she used it well, and still averaged 1.2 score involvements as a small defender.

Dee Heslop tried to break away from Karen Paxman during the S7 AFLW Grand Final between Brisbane and Melbourne at Brighton Homes Arena. Picture: AFL Photos

Unsung hero

One of the best wingers in the league, Sophie Conway's incredible endurance and desire to work hard is crucial to Brisbane's ongoing success.

She works back to support the defensive line, while also getting forward to hit the scoreboard, and her positioning around the contest makes her side's midfield group better.

Conway kicked seven goals this season while averaging 13.2 disposals, 2.5 inside 50s, 3.2 intercepts and 2.6 score involvements.

What went well

Forward pressure was the backbone of Brisbane's game this season, averaging a record 16.5 tackles inside 50 per game and registering double-digit forward tackles in every game.

That forward pressure allowed Brisbane to be highly efficient inside 50, registering both the highest scoring efficiency (48.7%) and goal efficiency (20.1%) of the season. Essentially, this means that the Lions were the most dangerous side in the competition once the ball was in their forward 50 arc.

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Because of the trust they as a team have developed, the Lions' defensive line had a license to play quite high up the ground in an effort to make the ground really small and increase pressure on opposing defences. In doing so, they were able to maintain exceptional territory control and became the first AFLW side to kick more than 200 points across the opening three rounds of a season.

Wardlaw opens show with terrific tackle and finish

00:33 Oct 14. 2022. 8:47 PM

Jesse Wardlaw snares the opening goal of the game after laying a solid tackle

What needs improvement

The only time Brisbane was really caught out this season was when they were under enough pressure to prevent them from neatly moving the ball outside the contest. That pressure around the ball was able to break down the Lions' system through the middle of the ground, and by shutting that down, their attacking ball movement was limited or far less efficient.

Losses to Richmond in round five and Melbourne in the Grand Final were examples of this one chink in Brisbane's armour. So reliant on their outside runners, if opponents could shot down the connection to those wingers, the Lions struggled to get the game on their terms and, in turn, score.

Brisbane players look dejected after losing the AFLW S7 Grand Final to Melbourne at Brighton Homes Arena. Picture: Getty Images

Off season focus

The Lions have all the pieces at their disposal to continue to succeed, from here it once again just comes down to retaining those players to keep developing as a unit. Their list profile is still incredibly young yet experienced, which is the ideal balance for long-term success.