Digby Beacham’s AFL Season Preview

PREMIERS – Brisbane @ $6.50*

With a slither of good fortune, Brisbane would be entering the season chasing back-to-back flags. But professional sport is an unforgiving business and unless you take opportunities when they present, you often walk away empty-handed.

That has been the case for the past five seasons for Brisbane. Needless to say, time is of the essence. The Lions have lived in the top four for the past five years, yet have been unable to get their hands on the premiership cup. Will that change this season? Chris Fagan and his players certainly hope so and you can certainly make a strong case that this current group is poised to deliver the club its first flag in more than two decades.

Not content with their status, the Lions bolstered their stocks in the off-season. There are no weak links now. Tom Doedee was acquired from Adelaide and will strengthen the key-position stocks in defence once he recovers from a knee reconstruction.

Will Ashcroft was on track to win the Rising Star award had he not torn his ACL. Expect him to return mid-season and be influential once more, adding to a Lachie Neale-led midfield that more than held its own as the season progressed.

Forward of centre is where the Lions strike fear into their opposition. Joe Daniher, Eric Hipwood, Charlie Cameron, Zac Bailey, Cam Rayner and Lincoln McCarthy have spent several years together and can hurt you in a variety of ways.

Much of that pain comes from rival teams making the trek north. The “Gabbatoir” has claimed a lot of victims of late, especially last year when Brisbane won all 13 games on home soil. They have won no less than 14 home-and-away games a year for the past five seasons and last year’s tally of 17 victories equalled a club record achieved in 2002 when they won the second of their third flags under Leigh Matthews.

BROWNLOW MEDAL – Marcus Bontempelli @ $11*

Barring injury, you just know you are going to get a run for your money. How did you know, you ask. Well, history says Marcus Bontempelli is a darling in the eyes of the umpires.

The influential Western Bulldogs skipper polled 29 votes last year to finish runner-up to Lachie Neale. It was the second time in his glittering career that Bontempelli had filled second spot.

In 2021, he landed 33 votes, three shy of Port Adelaide ball magnet Ollie Wines. It’s hard to think that 33 votes doesn’t get it done in the most prestigious individual award in the game. On four occasions in his career, Bontempelli has polled 20 votes or more in a season.

And unlike some other big names in the league, Bontempelli will hit round one in excellent nick. Not only has he navigated another pre-season successfully, he goes into the Bulldogs’ opener next weekend full of confidence after amassing 32 possessions, six clearances, eight tackles and a goal in a community series demolition of Hawthorn.

Fellow midfielders Nick Daicos, Tom Green and Errol Gulden are in the Brownlow Medal market for good reason. But you could make a mighty strong argument that Bontempelli is, right here and right now, the best player in the land. Let’s hope the umpires view him that way in six months’ time.

COLEMAN MEDAL – Charlie Cameron @ $51*

Brisbane games at the Gabba = entertainment and plenty of goals. A forward line laced with matchwinners underlines why Brisbane were second (narrowly) to Adelaide in 2023 as the highest scoring side in the competition.

The man who hit the scoreboard more than any other at the Lions in the regular season in 2023 was Charlie Cameron. The experienced livewire booted 53 majors despite going goalless in four matches. That left him 25 adrift of eventual winner Charlie Curnow, but was still good enough to finish alongside Jeremy Cameron and Oscar Allen in a share of fifth position.

As the two-time reigning Coleman medallist, Curnow is the logical $6.50 favourite with TABtouch ahead of Jeremy Cameron ($7.50) and Nick Larkey ($8). The price on offer about the Brisbane goalsneak is too enticing to ignore.

Cameron has led Brisbane’s goalkicking in four seasons and that tally would have been five had Joe Daniher not booted 10 majors in three finals last year to shade his teammate 61 to 59.

And it’s not as if Cameron is on the wane. He was selected to the All-Australian side last year for a second time and played in all 26 matches. You don’t have to have much on to find out whether Charlie and the Coleman are a good fit.

RISING STAR – George Wardlaw @ $4.75*

Harry Sheezel was a deserving winner of the AFL Rising Star award in 2023. The North Melbourne rookie did everything and more in a bleak year for the Kangaroos to earn the accolades and, more recently, a contract that made him a multi-millionaire.

There are those at North Melbourne though who feel wrecking ball George Wardlaw could be every bit as good, perhaps even better, than Sheezel. In a small sample size last year, we witnessed a young midfielder with an insatiable work ethic, defensive prowess and a level of physicality seen from some of the game’s great midfielders like Michael Voss, Joel Selwood and Patrick Cripps.

Injuries were an issue leading up to his drafting and while they again restricted him to eight matches last season, there was sufficient evidence to know that the fourth player selected in the 2022 national lottery was going to be a special player.

North have stockpiled some elite young talent in recent times and teammates Colby McKercher and Zane Duursma could well challenge Wardlaw as the game’s best youngster by season’s end.

Many believe that title will rest with Harley Reid. It’s easy to see why. A standout junior player, he was taken with pick one by West Coast in last year’s national draft and has been ultra-impressive in a summer of intense scrutiny.


1: Brisbane

2: GWS

3: Collingwood

4: Carlton

5: Western Bulldogs

6: Sydney

7: Essendon

8: Gold Coast

9: Melbourne

10: Port Adelaide

11: St Kilda

12: Fremantle

13: Geelong

14: Adelaide

15: Richmond

16: Hawthorn

17: North Melbourne

18: West Coast

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