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Burning Questions for 2014: Brisbane

Will 2014 be a successful year for new Lions coach Justin Leppitsch?
Will a new board give incoming Lions coach Justin Leppitsch the base from which to launch a run for the 2014 finals?
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Will stability lead to success?

With one former club champion in Michael Voss unceremoniously sacked as coach in August, another will take charge, with a third alongside him. Justin Leppitsch, who spent three years as an assistant coach at Richmond, will lead Brisbane, with Simon Black as his forwards coach after the veteran midfielder retired following the 2013 campaign.

Leppitsch is well-placed to make an impact, and although we would have said the same thing about Voss, the Lions might just come out of the pre-season with a bit of stability. Leigh Matthews is back at the club as both a football director and a board member, and Leppitsch will lean on his former coach heavily, just as he has done since his retirement.

The five years under Voss never seemed to have a true direction, with finals the aim but their young stars like Tom Rockliff and Daniel Rich only able to take over when the 'win now' attitude failed in 2010. So many players have left since then, including Lachlan Henderson, Mitch Clark, Michael Rischitelli, Jared Brennan and Justin Sherman.

With Black, Todd Banfield and the go-home five of Sam Docherty, Elliot Yeo, Jared Polec, Patrick Karnezis and Billy Longer all departing, the 2014 season will bring a renewed focus on developing the team around a fresh batch of youngsters and free agents. The Lions have helped No.7 pick James Aish and his fellow draftees settle in Brisbane as their first pre-season begins, while picking up Luke McGuane to help out in defence and up forward as well as Trent West to combine with Matthew Leuenberger should bring more success than trades under Voss.

Where will the goals come from?

When your team misses out on the eight and a new coach comes in, change is inevitable. Leppitsch has plans to play ageing star Jonathan Brown deeper in the forward line. And it makes sense. Brown has led Brisbane's goalkicking in five of the past seven seasons, but his 28 goals from 15 games in 2013 were a far cry from the dizzying heights of the 78 in 2009, or even the 53 in 16 games in 2010.

Just as Nick Riewoldt showed for St Kilda last season, being a veteran doesn't mean your production is lowered. The Saint, who kicked a club-high 50 goals, led the league in marks with his highest average per game since 2009. With more help coming from midfield and the half-forward line, Brown can focus on drawing defenders deep and kicking some bags.

Will Hanley reach another level?

Despite failing to rate too well in the Brownlow, Pearce Hanley played like a star in his sixth AFL season and just missed out on his club's Merrett-Murray Medal. The Irishman averaged almost five marks and inside-50s per game, and his 71 per cent disposal efficiency was higher than that of Brent Stanton, Dane Swan, Patrick Dangerfield, Kieren Jack and even Gary Ablett. Hanley is a hard runner and somehow just knows where to be on the football field, but his ability with the ball in hand must play a greater part in his 2014 campaign. Thankfully, he knows it.

"I'd like to play through the midfield more. I'm going to work closely with Andrew Raines, who tags for us, to learn how to deal with taggers and how to work through it."

Hanley works just as hard off the field as he does on it, and with some of the departures freeing up space in the middle, there's every chance he will lead the club there and confirm his status as the league's best Irish expat.

Can they finish above the Gold Coast?

Brisbane won just two games more than their Queensland rivals in 2013, but sat below Gold Coast on the ladder for much of the season. The Suns are obviously on the up with a number of talented players reaching their potential, but the Lions are probably still a step ahead in key areas. This will be a subplot worth watching, with the Suns trailing 5-1 in the poorly-named 'Q-Clash' since 2011.

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