The Lions' Cameron Rayner shapes as a Brownlow Medal winner.
The Lions' Cameron Rayner shapes as a Brownlow Medal winner.

The kids are alright: Young guns to Lions, Suns forward

Brisbane and Gold Coast finished 15th and 17th respectively this season, but there's hope for the battling clubs. Terry Mallinder names seven rising stars at each side to take them forward.



Lived up to the hype and status as No.1 draft pick from 2017. Played every game, averaging 13.5 disposals, and kicked a healthy total of 20 goals. Missed two that could've clinched his side the four points against North Melbourne and Gold Coast. But the kid is a bull who plays like Dustin Martin and could one day join him as a Brownlow Medal winner. No pressure.


Yet to find consistency, but the beanpole key forward continues to improve as a beacon in attack. A total of 37 majors in his third season is up from 30 the previous year and makes him the Lions' leading goalkicker for the first time. There was a career-best bag of six against Carlton in round 16 and he kicked four against the Hawks in round nine.


With Harris Andrews, Darcy Gardiner and the reborn Josh Walker standing tall in defence, McStay is back where he should be - as a dangerous marking target up forward. One of the strongest players on the Lions' list, the athletic tall led the club for contested marks (31), was second for marks inside-50m (36) and booted 22 goals. Wonderful foil for Hipwood.


With Luke Hodge alongside, the promising "quarterback" is enjoying a fast-tracked development. No Rising Star contender gained more metres for their club than Witherden (8619). Next best was Port Adelaide's Riley Bonner - 2km behind on 6684. Witherden was second to only Dayne Zorko at Brisbane, but was No.1 at the Lions for total marks (152) and fourth in the entire competition behind Shannon Hurn (174), Michael Hurley (156) and Cale Hooker (155).


The one-time No.3 draft pick will receive his first Brownlow Medal votes this season - the first of what will be many throughout his career. Dominated in the two wins against the Hawks, gathering a combined 56 disposals (including 30 contested) to help boost his average to 19.3 across the season as a smooth-moving outside midfielder. Also impressed in a 26-possession, three-goal game against the Kangaroos in round 20.


Incredibly versatile, he started the year in attack, taking eight marks and kicking three goals in the opening round, then moved into the midfield to take up the role of run-with player on superstars such as Patrick Cripps, Rory Sloane, Nat Fyfe and Tom Mitchell. At 193cm, he will ultimately become a dominant midfielder that rival teams will need to curb. Grabbed a career-best 28 touches in round 20 against the Roos and averaged 18 for the year, up from 13 in his debut season. Was also third at the Lions for tackles (100) and No.1 for goal assists (20).


Hard to believe he's still only 21, but the big Queenslander has become the rock-solid fullback he promised to be - and was even rewarded with a spot in the initial All-Australian squad of 40. Second in the competition for one percenters (spoils, smothers etc) with 205, behind only Dougal Howard (231) and ahead of Alex Rance (205). Led the club for intercept marks (120) and finished second for contested marks (25).


Aside from Josh Schache (pick 2 in 2015, now at the Bulldogs), every high-end draft pick has been a winner for the Lions. In fact their progression has been outstanding - Rayner and Zac Bailey in 2017; McCluggage, Witherden and Berry in 2016 and Hipwood, Ben Keays and Rhys Mathieson in 2015. Kudos to the recruiters and to the development coaches.



The Cairns' product and top-10 draft pick is one of the best emerging talents on the Suns' list. Bowes is in only his second season but has shown class and composure beyond his years. Will develop into a solid midfielder but has spent most of his time working off halfback. Finished the year with a career-high 26-disposal, 10-mark game against reigning premiers Richmond and 25 touches (including 13 contested) against Geelong.

Jack Bowes has been a revelation for the Suns in only his second season. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Jack Bowes has been a revelation for the Suns in only his second season. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images


A highly rated midfielder whose progress has been slowed by injuries. But Fiorini showed the AFL world his quality in 11 games. Received a Brownlow vote in his second outing in 2016 and should collect a couple more. Picked up 27 touches and kicked two goals in the round-five QClash and gathered a career-high 32 disposals against the Lions in round 22. Also led the way with 29 against the Tigers in round 21. A future best and fairest if he can play a full season.


The future captain - maybe even as early as next season if Steven May chooses not to commit. Miller is best known for his stoushes with Lions star Dayne Zorko. But the former Vic Metro under-18 skipper is the hardest-working player on the Suns' list and can not only blanket the opposition's best midfielder but win plenty of the ball himself. Led the club for disposals in his fourth season, with an average of 22, and was No.1 for tackles (123).


The Suns academy graduate has become a regular in Gold Coast's 22 since his arrival in 2016. The Gold Coast local has built a reputation for his kicking accuracy and decision- making while constantly improving his defence. Was third at the club for disposal efficiency (73.68) and fourth for intercepts (average of 5.79). Played 19 games, saving his best for last with a 21-disposal, seven-tackle effort against the Lions and 20 possessions against Geelong.


The Suns gave up pick No.2 in last year's national draft to Fremantle after the Queensland product wanted to return home, so the pressure was on. With that selection the Dockers chose Andrew Brayshaw. What the Suns have is a hard-working midfielder, still only 22, who will only get better. Not a high possession winner, but he led the club for metres gained (408)


After playing all 22 games and kicking 31 goals in 2017, the big key forward was restricted to just seven games in 2018 due to firstly a calf injury and then a knee complaint. With Tom Lynch gone, Wright needs to become the focal point in attack, and the Suns will be hopeful he can follow in the footsteps of a Ben Brown as that 200cm-plus powerhouse goalkicker. Averaged more contested marks than Lynch, with his four a highlight in the round-18 upset win over Sydney.


Another restricted by injury (calf and hamstring) in 2018 - playing just eight games. But the No.9 pick from the 2016 draft showed his class in the win over Sydney in round 18 when he gathered 27 disposals, then backed up with another 27 the week after against Carlton. At 189cm, the big-bodied inside midfielder ranked first at the club for average centre clearances (2.7) and fifth for average contested disposals (9).


The Suns haven't experienced anywhere near the level of advancement as the Lions, but they do have some kids who will become stars if their bodies hold up. We need to see more from top-10 draft picks Callum Ah Chee (No.8, 2015), Ben Ainsworth (No.4, 2016), Jack Scrimshaw (No.7, 2016), and Will Powell (No.19, 2017).