The Brisbane Lions NEAFL side kick off their premiership defence in the Northern Territory this Saturday against the NT Thunder.

In September last year the Lions defeated a rampant Sydney Swans outfit at the SCG to claim the premiership.

For many in the team, the win was much more than adding a trophy to the Lions' cabinet. The team had risen above an incredibly challenging 2016 season where they were riddled with injuries and notched just three wins. 

Midfielder Liam Dawson remembers the team’s final game of the 2016 season, where they played against GWS. 

“We had about four or five listed players and they smashed us by about 180 points,” he told

“That was the trend throughout the year.”

In 2017 with a new Senior Coach Chris Fagan, Mitch Hahn stepped in as coach of the NEAFL side. 

Ruckman Archie Smith said the change had an immediate impact.

“Mitch Hahn took over the role of NEAFL coach and there was a massive change in the perception of NEAFL,” Smith said.

Dawson agreed, “Hahny was really big on spirit.”

Morale had been low in the 2016 season. For Hahn, it was about getting back to basics as a team and getting around each other.

“It was about, ‘ok how do we get the best out of this group',” Hahn said.

“In terms of wins and losses that was never a big thing for me or something I looked at the previous year. It was more about what’s the process to get this team to be playing the football we want to be playing at the Lions.” 

“The way that after a goal was kicked, no matter who kicked it, the players would get to him. Those type of things we tried to instil in the team. 

For midfielder Ben Keays, the simple joy of playing football was brought back in.  

“Games where everyone was getting on the scoresheet and kicking goals. That’s why you play footy, for the enjoyment,” he said.

The team had a dream start in 2017, beating the Sydney Swans in Round 1 on their home ground.

“It just started the belief that we could go alright this year,” Smith said.

Suddenly, the wins kept coming. The Lions went on to a record 10-match winning streak.

“It was unusual. Coming from three wins in 2016 to then winning 10 in a row at the start of 2017 was a weird feeling as we’re not used to that,” Dawson said

The Lions defeated Sydney University in a preliminary final at the Gabba to book a ticket to the Grand Final against the Swans in Sydney. 

“I was pretty nervous going into it actually,” Keays said.

He admits, he knew he would need to step up to the occasion and lead the team forward on the Grand Final stage. 

The Lions enjoyed a strong start and headed into the final term in front.

“Our third quarter was brilliant. I think we got a 20-point lead,” Hahn said.

But Hahn knew the Swans would not go quietly and told his men so. 

“They will come at us. That’s what good clubs and cultures do.”

And that they did.

“I think in the last quarter there were 20 inside 50s to 8 (the Swans' way),” Hahn said.

But the Lions had a dogged determination to not let this one go.

“They had so many opportunities to bury us at some stage but we just kind of held on,” Smith said.

Matt Eagles, in his first season with the Club, was brilliant in the backline, and saved many would be goals. 

“It was the first one I’ve ever been in,” Eagles said.

“I remember having the ball in my hands when the siren went. It was the best feeling knowing I had taken a mark. There were a few seconds to go and everyone’s just yelling at me ‘hold it, hold it.’"

When finally the siren sounded, the Lions were champions and in just 12 months they had redeemed themselves from wooden-spooners to premiership players.

“To really get that success at the end of the game, we were ecstatic,” Dawson said.

“It was a game I’ll never forget.”