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Small steps, but necessary ones

Brisbane is yet to win their first match of the season, but the statistics are showing significant signs of improvement in 2018.

After finishing with the wooden spoon in 2017, the acquisitions of Luke Hodge from Hawthorn, Charlie Cameron from Adelaide and No. 1 draft pick Cam Rayner upped the hype around the club during the off-season.

But as Coach Chris Fagan is quick to remind us, development in other areas is as important at this stage can be as important as wins and losses and ladder position.

And fair enough, too. Brisbane has the second youngest list in the AFL.

Brisbane's defence has improved markedly. The Lions are conceding 98 points a game, down from 114 last year and 130 in 2016. That’s a decent start.

The Lions’ work at clearances has also improved. They've lost the clearance count just once in five rounds and are an average five better than their opponent each week.

Compare that to last year, when they won the count eight of 22 times and were an average of two clearances down each week.

Their contested footy has also improved.

Melbourne (in Round two) and Richmond (Round four) convincingly beat the Lions in parts of those matches. But even with those lopsided efforts factored in, Brisbane is averaging only seven fewer contested possessions than its opponent each week.

Last year, the Lions averaged 11 fewer across their 22 matches.

Yes, these are just raw numbers, but numbers that are indicative of improvement in areas where the game today is won and lost: the contests.

Perhaps another reason to think this season and the next under Fagan still have so much promise is the profile of the list.

Against the Suns last Sunday, the Lions played seven players aged 20 or younger.

Alex Witherden, Jarrod Berry, Hugh McCluggage and Eric Hipwood were among the team's best. They also played Jacob Allison, Rayner and Zac Bailey.

Hipwood is the eldest of the group at 20 and has played just 35 games. Those players average a paltry 15 games apiece yet make up one-third of the squad.

Rayner almost pinched a draw with his shot on the run from 50m on the siren.

If his kick was a little straighter and Allen Christensen had snapped truly from 35m against Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval in Round 3, Brisbane would have a win and draw from five rounds.

They're not far off.

Assuming Dayne Beams recaptures his 2017 form, Dayne Zorko learns to consistently break tags and Daniel Rich returns from injury and plays as we know he can, the blend of top-end talent and exciting youth should result in continued honest performances and some wins.

This year, they had chances to win in four of the opening five rounds, without getting over the line.

Small steps, but necessary ones.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs