Unlucky Lions vow to roar again
Royals will need to account for the loss of a host of key players in their quest to end a six-year premiership drought as they enter a fourth season under coach James McRae.
The Lions fell agonisingly short of victory in last year’s grand final and last tasted premiership success in 2011.
But the task of winning back the cup will be tough given the magnitude of their player outs.
Star young midfielder Tyron Smallwood, who won the Alan Barnett Medal in a losing grand final side, heads the long list of omissions as he embarks on playing WAFL football with Claremont, and is joined by Tom Baldwin and Corey Linthorne.
Ben Watson has joined that trio at Claremont, while Ben Gray and Lochy Jones won’t travel this season and Peter Mark has returned to Perth.
A total of eight players from the Lions’ losing grand final side will not be there in 2018, meaning a raft of changes to their senior team can be expected in the early rounds.
Veteran big man Andrew Ruck, who played 76 league games for Claremont, is a terrific inclusion for the Lions in the absence of McMorran and Mark, while talented midfielder Michael Offerman, who played colts for Claremont in 2015, has also returned to his junior club.
Brothers Nathan and Jesse Small will also return, while Shane Willmott has made the move from Gnowangerup.
The Lions had lodged a clearance for key ball-winner Corey Byrne from Mt Barker but McRae said the booming left-footer had already moved up north and would not play at all.
“We’ve lost five to Claremont, Jones and Gray won’t travel and Mark has moved back,” he said.
“What will cover us well is our blokes in the reserves. There is plenty of improvement in them.
“We will have to adapt and we will be slow starters but once we get going I think we can be a very formidable side.
“It was always going to take three or four years to get a group to contend and I think once we can get our best players out on the park then we will definitely be contending.”
McRae expects the likes of Joel Flick, Harry Broomhall, Coel Hunter, Brayden Parker and Nathan Powell to get more league opportunities and said youngsters Rivah Bocian, Nic Finlay and Mitch Ballard were among an exciting colts group coming through.
Utility Taylor Powell will miss the early part of the season, while midfield duo Henry Hodge and Dave Parker are still coming back from injury.
The Lions open the new season against Mt Barker on Saturday before a NAIDOC round fixture against Railways in round 3 and then a grand final rematch against the Kangas in round 4 to cap a busy start.
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