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Will the Brisbane Lions be hunted or overlooked in 2022?

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The ESPN Footy Podcast's big calls for the AFLW season (2:28)

The ESPN Footy Podcast's Marissa Lordanic, Anna Harrington, and Marnie Vinall run through their predictions for the upcoming AFLW season, (2:28)

As the AFLW matures, unique storylines emerge and develop, distinctive rivalries between clubs are created, stereotypes cultivated and narratives fostered.

One of these, that has been brewing since the league's inception, is that the Brisbane Lions have been widely underrated with many experts not casting them in top spots or clubs seeming to fear them going into seasons.

This is somehow despite them being one of the most successful teams in the AFLW.

In the previous five seasons, the Lions have made finals four times and played in three Grand Finals, narrowly losing in 2017 to Adelaide and 2018 to the Western Bulldogs, before finally nabbing a well deserved cup in 2021.

Perhaps only the Crows, with two cups in their trophy cabinet, can claim more accomplishment. Yet, Brisbane persist as perennial underdogs. This narrative is one that can be traced back to the league's beginning.

After making the inaugural Grand Final in 2017, ahead of the 2018 season, not a single opposing club captain pegged Brisbane as making the decider that year and very few experts forecast them making the top two in preseason predictions.

Then-Lions player Brittany Gibson, who now plays for North Melbourne, said she wasn't surprised they were being dubbed underdogs going into that Grand Final against the Bulldogs.

"We've been rated as the underdogs and lacking that little bit of respect," she told afl.com.au. "All we can do is keep winning and build that respect."

Backing this up, now-retired former Lions skipper Emma Zielke commented that it wasn't luck that they were in the premiership decider and that they worked hard to be there. "At the captain's media day, no-one tipped us to be in the top two again, which is completely fine with us, we thrive off that," she said.

"We love the thought that we're the underdogs all the time."

Some fault the club's underrated status to the wider Melbourne media bubble paying them less attention than other clubs, especially in comparison to Victorian-based teams.

Lions midfielder Emily Bates once told Triple M that the Melbourne football media "don't pay attention to us, so we can go under the radar".

The club and its players seem to appear less in wider media coverage despite their on-field success. For example, in a recent tongue-in-cheek video by the AFLW on the promo shoot ahead of the season, six Melbourne-based clubs featured players -- Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond, Melbourne, Geelong and St Kilda -- yet no interstate teams. Perhaps the league was bound by COVID restrictions, but not even a head nod in the direction of the reigning premiers is odd to say the least.

Another potential reason for being overlooked is that the club seemingly have a higher team-focus attitude rather than placing too much importance on individual star power. This is, of course, despite having some big names spending time in Lions guernseys over the years. As a club, they are known to put their heads down and get to work, grinding the ground up in Queensland, away from that main football bubble in Melbourne.

So, this all begs the question: how will the Brisbane Lions be rated going into 2022?

After winning the 2021 premiership, Lions womens CEO Breeanna Brock responded in an interview last year: "We don't know whether we're going to have that tag of being ... I mean, obviously, we'll have the tag of being premiers ... but whether we'll really 'be the hunted' or if people will just dismiss us again."

Now, on the cusp of the season's opener, predictions are giving a better indication of what that answer will be.

In the 2022 captain's survey, five opposing skippers tipped Brisbane to reach the Grand Final. Yet notably, no Brisbane players were predicted to take out the AFLW Best and Fairest or Rising Star award. Dakota Davidson did get one nod for leading goal scorer, though.

Further, in the 2022 coaches' survey, the Lions were the collective favourite to win the year's flag and were selected as one of the toughest teams to beat at home.

As a young team with a lot of remaining premiership players, known for ferocious contest, a solid defensive structure and an exciting forward line, there is no reason this team can't back it up and win the flag again. As reigning premiers with growing respect, surely some, if not most, must see them as a real threat in the new season, at last.

Yet throughout the years, they have proved their competitiveness and somehow remained underrated. Now, as they enter the 2022 season with the most recent cup in their cabinet, this youthful, high-pressure team that we have all seen dominate throughout the AFLW's short history warrants expectation.