Bre Koenen is a Brisbane Lions Premiership captain, two-time premiership player, 2023 Grand Final best on ground, 2022 All-Australian and most importantly, reliable defender.
Much to the surprise and horror of equally well credentialed vice-captain, Nat Grider, Koenen was thrown into the midfield in the midst of one of the AFLW’s toughest assignments, North Melbourne in Tasmania.
“There was a joke with our defensive coach, Paul Henriksen, that I’d cracked it when Bre was moved on ball,” Grider joked.
“It was upsetting for me, in the sense that I love playing with her and trust her with my life.
“She makes everyone around her a better player, including myself.”
For Koenen it wasn’t a plan going into the year to leave her great mate in defence and head into the Lions’ engine room at crunch time throughout the season.
But it proved a masterstroke from Lions AFLW senior coach, Craig Starcevich, with Koenen arguably the match winner in two key games, ironically against North Melbourne on both occasions.
“It wasn’t on my bingo card, during pre-season,” Koenen remarked.
“We wanted to throw the change things around and I’d been thrown into it in pre-season but I didn’t think it would ever happen.
“Craig always does this in pre-season, it’s a little card in the back pocket but didn’t think it would actually be used.”
It is safe to say the ‘Koenen experiment’ was a success.
The proof was in the pudding with a tide-turning performance in Round 4 against the Roos, which saw the Lions become the first AFLW side to travel to Tasmania and win against North Melbourne.
Along with an unforgettable performance on the biggest stag in a Grand Final, Koenen walked away from 2023, a premiership captain, best on ground winner and a reliable midfielder/defender.
However, with Koenen jumping between roles on-field, it left Grider to hold the fort in defence.
Much to delight of the Lions skipper, who returned to her natural habitat in defence, it seemed her second in command had truly thrived as the leader of the pack.
“I went back into the back line and seeing the growth and the difference in that line, the way they gelled towards the end of the year was awesome,” Koenen recalled.
“The way they grew through the year over such a short period of time was incredible.
“Poor Natty; but she grew as a leader immensely, to ensure everyone in that backline felt connected.”
It was a situation Grider had never been in before with the talent and experience that Lions have possessed in their backline since inception.
But it was opportunity she grabbed with both hands.
“When I first came into the team I was surrounded by all these experienced campaigners and I was always the baby, looking up in awe,” Grider said.
“It was a weird change for me so I had to step up, I was with new players and remember saying, ‘I’m not just the 19-year-old kid anymore,’ now the girls are looking at me and having that extra responsibility took a while to get used to.
“To see those girls achieve a premiership, I thought I don’t know how lucky you are to do it and to be part of that journey was pretty special.”
The Lions are to remain in good hands with Koenen and Grider at the helm with both as versatile and reliable in their performance as they are as leaders.