IN their search for a player to cover the post Jonathan Brown era, the Brisbane Lions have unearthed two running machines in rookies Marco Paparone and Michael Close.
Despite coming to the club with big running reputations, no-one could have expected the results churned out by the pair of tall forwards.
In the Lions’ most recent 2km time trial, Paparone finished first and Close third, split only by second-year rookie Richie Newell, who was an elite schoolboy distance runner.
The Lions have made no secret they are after someone to fill Brown’s boots as the 31-year-old captain comes to the tail end of his career.
So in last year’s National Draft, they went for West Australian Paparone with pick 23 and country Victorian Close with pick 32.
At the time, Lions national talent manager Rob Kerr said 193cm Paparone would be a good “connector” between backs and forwards because he “runs and runs”, while 195cm centre half forward Close had a few rough edges but stood out because he had a competitive nature.
Since coming to Brisbane a little more than two months ago, Paparone has quickly become the talk of the training track with his phenomenal aerobic ability.
“Marco’s obviously got a very good aerobic capacity and ability to push himself,” Lions physical performance manager Brett Burton said.
“The big thing I like about him is just his attitude to push himself to the limit. All the new boys we’ve got, Sammy Mayes and Michael Close are the same.
“We asked them when they got here to push themselves and give it their best effort, and all three of those boys have not put a foot wrong, their attitude has been fantastic.”
Paparone said he had surprised himself with his progress.
“I thought coming here I’d be middle group of the fitness, but to my surprise I was at the top and I love being at the top. I push myself even further so it’s been good,” he said.
Burton said the injection of youth to the front of the running group could only be a good thing for the club.
“It pushes the older guys that were up the front, and they’re back a few pegs and it gives them something to chase,” he said.
And as for filling the boots of Brown one day, Paparone has taken the first steps to learning the ropes from his champion skipper.
“I’ve played defence on him in a couple of drills and been able to watch his running patterns and it’s been good to understand where to run, when to run, he’s been a great teacher,” he said.
“I definitely have to build my frame up a bit to get better at one-on-one marking and get my body right to play AFL footy. If it happens (this year) and I get an AFL game, that’ll be wicked.”
Michael Whiting covers Brisbane Lions news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_mikewhiting
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