New dawn for Queensland AFL teams has success on the horizon
AS GOLD Coast and Brisbane embark on their bold bids to make finals - and, in turn, get Queensland footy back on the map - two of the more interested onlookers will be Jonathan Brown and Nathan Bock.
But, if they had their way the two former All-Australians would still be out on the park leading the charge for the Lions and Suns, respectively.
Both champion key position players were cut down ahead of time, Brown, 33, forced to retire midway through last season after one too many head knocks, Bock, 31, calling it quits after having never fully recovered from a broken leg suffered three years ago.
Instead, it will be up to a collection of promising talls to act as beacons for what Brown describes as "two of the best young midfields in the competition".
Under new coach Justin Leppitsch, Brisbane unleashed some of the most promising 18-year-olds in the country last season, headed by Rising Star winner Lewis Taylor, and topped its list off by trading in premiership players Dayne Beams (Collingwood) and Allen Christensen (Geelong) this year.
Brown, who played 256 games, is beginning a multi-media career, most notably joining the Fox Footy team, but admits: "There's a big part of me that would love to be part of the revival" at the Lions.
"I'd certainly love to be playing out there as the side gets better," he tells APN. "The club's come a long way in 18 months. It's a really exciting time. There's a lot of positivity."
Bock, now coaching Southport in the NEAFL after playing just 27 games in his four years with Gold Coast, is equally glowing about the Suns' prospects.
Gold Coast looked headed for an historic first finals berth last season until the wheels fell off when Gary Ablett suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. But, the skipper's back, All-Australian defender Nick Malceski has arrived, and the kids are another year older, stronger, and wiser and will be kept more in line by veteran coach Rodney Eade.
"If I hadn't have broken my leg, I would have loved nothing more than to still be playing," Bock tells APN. "They're getting close to being a pretty powerful side. They should be a top-six side, no doubt."
Since Brisbane contested its fourth grand final in a row in 2004, only once has a Queensland outfit featured in an AFL finals series - back when Brown combined with Brendan Fevola in 2009. That's one from a possible 14 attempts.
Having made his home in the Sunshine State, Brown is just excited for Queensland footy, but is acutely aware Gold Coast is the more advanced of the two.
"The key position guys are probably further along the line," he says. "They are very talented."
The players that make up the Suns' spine - Steven May (195cm) and Rory Thompson (200cm) down back, and Sam Day (197cm), Tom Lynch (198cm) and Charlie Dixon (202cm) in attack - are giants, physically and in promise.
As the franchise's first marquee signing, when considered one of the competition's premier key defenders, Bock mentored that group, which is now into its fifth season.
"The talent in terms of the big stocks they've got is probably the best in the AFL," he says.
"The game is changing. Back in the day I was 193cm and that was the key position size. Now you've got to be 200cm and 100kg and be able to move.
"They've got plenty of those types which make it pretty hard to defend against. If they can keep them on the park, I think they're going to be pretty dangerous."
Brisbane's collection of key talls, made up of second and third-year players Justin Clarke (195cm) and Darcy Gardiner (192cm) down back, and Michael Close (196cm), Jono Freeman (198cm) and Daniel McStay (195cm) in attack, are still a work in progress.
Brown believes the three forwards can all flourish together ... in time, Close the lead-up option, McStay floating and Freeman close to goal.
"You've got to be very patient with key position players, especially key forwards," he says. "They don't really flourish for four or five years.
"There is no reason why down the track they can't fit into the same forwardline - they all play different styles."
But, in true forward fashion, the man who booted 594 goals points out, "to make their development smoother" they need "plenty of supply". "As a forward, it doesn't matter how good you are, you live and die by your supply coming in."
That should not be a problem.
Both teams' engine rooms will be led by the two biggest accumulators of possessions, and fantasy football favourites, Rockliff and Ablett.
The Lions were ranked a lowly 16th for inside-50m entries last year, but this year Rockliff will be backed by Beams, who has hit the ground running, and Daniel Rich (knee) and Jack Redden (ankle) who return from injury.
While a fit Ablett is an obvious boost for the Suns, so to is the arrival of ex-Hawk Mitch Hallahan to provide extra grunt, and Malceski to provide more run and direction. Then there's the continued rise of David Swallow, Harley Bennell and Dion Prestia, and young guns Jaeger O'Meara and Jack Martin.
The Suns don't have a hard-nosed tagger, but as Bock points out "when you've got a midfield like they do, I suppose you don't have to worry about having too much of an emphasis on the defensive side.''
Port Adel $5.50,
North Melb $13,
Gold Coast $26,x
West Coast $31,
GWS Giants $101,
St Kilda $501,