Bombers get home but Lions prove they're much-improved
THEY won just six games between them last season. One couldn't buy a goal; the other sold out their defence to try to put up a score each week.
But the signs were clear in the Brisbane Lions' clash with Essendon on Saturday night. These are two much better teams.
The Bombers ran out 27-point winners but the result wasn't as important as seeing both of these clubs play exciting, attractive and competitive footy.
The Dons were always going to be better this season with the weight of the past four years lifted off of them and many of their stars back on the park.
But while Jobe Watson and Dyson Heppell combined for 57 disposals in the victory it was the young guns, who showed plenty in that three-win 2016 season, who continue to emerge as future stars.
Zach Merrett is a star right now - his 32 disposals helped him continue to prove that. Orazio Fantasia - the man who is happy to call himself "Razzle Dazzle" on live TV - is proving he's one of the most exciting young players in the game.
Fantasia bagged five goals taking his season total to nine - it took him 15 games from his debut to reach that career total. He's electric in open play and a deadeye from set shots, a tremendous combination.
He pointed to those big midfield names as deserving of credit after Saturday night's win.
"I think it's just the way our mids are moving the ball. Their ball use has been great, they're putting it on my plate," Fantasia said.
"The composure, the leadership and they way they go about it during the week are absolutely fantastic."
But in many respects it was the Lions who were more impressive given where they were expected to be this season.
Brisbane were likely the worst team of the last three seasons as a whole; but they didn't actually win a wooden spoon in any of those seasons. Many favoured them to finally break that drought in 2017.
And while they're not 2-0 as could have happened the Lions certainly aren't punching bags under Chris Fagan.
The stars who were able to fire in recent seasons continue to do so - Tom Rockliff had 28 touches, 11 clearances and 11 tackles while Stefan Martin finished with 42 hit-outs and eight clearances.
But it was the lower-level players who showed growth as well as the youngsters. Rafael Nadal lookalike Eric Hipwood and underrated key defensive pillar Harris Andrews are providing the Lions with a heck of a spine.
Hipwood has height - and you can't teach that - and he used it to clunk three contested marks and four marks inside 50. He kicked 2.2. Andrews doesn't jump out on the stat sheet but was good enough to head forward on Saturday night, marking and goalling when the Lions really needed it.
With just two games gone in this current season it's hard to tell where exactly both clubs will finish - the small sample size alert is in full effect. But at the very least they're much better to watch now. That's a plus for everyone.