Pride of Brisbane town: How the Lions continue to re-tool and challenge

Over the last few seasons, Brisbane has been one of the hardest hit teams in the expansion and trade space. This off-season alone, the Lions lost premiership players Emily Bates, Greta Bodey and Jesse Wardlaw.

But the club continues to prove it has the right systems and depth, which allows them to cover just about anyone, even if it's an AFLW best and fairest winner. The Lions currently sit in the top four after knocking off the previously undefeated Crows over the weekend.

Coming in as underdogs, Brisbane was able to hold on in what was one of the games of the round. It was simply a must win game for the Lions, given they could have dropped out of the top four with a loss and an Essendon win.

If there was any pressure in that game, Tayla Smith was able to shake it off. She kicked two opening half goals that allowed the Lions to create a handy buffer. Adding speed and class was Sophie Conway, Orla O'Dwyer and Jade Ellenger through the middle of the ground.

Belle Dawes stood up when her team needed her, nailing a 40-metre set shot. She then put her body on the line inside forward 50 in the dying minutes of the game and won a free kick, which drained important seconds off the clock.

It's the second time this season the Lions have beaten a top four side by under a goal, with Brisbane having defeated North Melbourne in Round 4 by two points. With that said, the Lions have let a few wins slip, with close losses to Richmond and Collingwood by a combined total of 11 points.

Speaking post-match, Brisbane Coach Craig Starcevich said being on the losing end of a couple of close games had been the driving factor for his side's performance.

"They've been burned a couple of times this year," Starcevich said. "So I think that memory makes you a bit stronger, but it's also a place you don't want to go again. So if that helps drive you in the last little few minutes and gets a little bit more out of you, then so be it, and that's how it should be."

In the absence of Bates, Dawes has stepped up and flourished in a more permanent midfield role. Dawes, averaging 17 disposals per game this season, has created a strong pairing with teammate Ally Anderson in the middle. Against the Crows she was again amongst her team's best players, finishing with 15 disposals, six score involvements and a goal.

In the forward line the Lions have one of the in-form goal kickers in Dakota Davidson (13 goals) as the main target, with the likes of Courtney Hodder, Lily Postlethwaite and Smith supporting her. All have risen to the occasion during different parts of the season.

You only have to go back two weeks to the Q-Clash where Hodder took that spectacular mark. She provides the spark inside forward 50 and turns half opportunities into important moments for the Lions.

The other standout in Brisbane's game is their versatility, with coach Starcevich having the ability to switch the magnets when needed. Captain Breanna Koenen spent more time in the midfield, moving from the backline. While Shannon Campbell has been moved forward and hit the scoreboard.

The Lions have that strong core that has been together for several seasons now; most notably Hodder, Anderson, Davidson, Conway, O'Dwyer, Nat Grider and Cathy Svarc. These are players who were a part of the club's inaugural AFLW premiership back in 2021.

Having that core group and continually being able to challenge at the pointy end despite losing key personnel is a testament to the culture Starcevich has created and his ability to get the very best out of his players.

Looking to the final two games, the McClelland trophy comes down to the Lions and Demons. If Brisbane defeat St Kilda this week, it could set up a monster clash that will also have ramifications on the top four.