Alex Witherden of the Lions (centre) celebrates scoring his first goal in round 18.
Alex Witherden of the Lions (centre) celebrates scoring his first goal in round 18. DAN PELED

Brisbane wants wins of change over draft pick

BRISBANE rising star Alex Witherden says he and his teammates are treating any talk of tanking as a joke.

The Lions host North Melbourne at the Gabba today, with the loser to finish last and claim footy's double-edge sword - the wooden spoon and the No.1 pick in the national draft.

It's a "prize" the Lions are determined to avoid.

"It does come up. (Coach) Chris Fagan brings it up in every meeting pretty much," the 18-year-old said.

"He's been saying it for the last month. We want to finish this season as strongly as possible.

"He's really big on momentum.

"We beat Gold Coast the other week. We gave Melbourne a red-hot crack. We'll be going out against North Melbourne with every intention of playing some good footy and beating them - put a few things in place that we're looking to implement next year.

"The whole tanking debate is a bit of a laugh really. The game's gone past that nowadays."

Melbourne and Carlton infamously played off for the "Kreuzer Cup" in 2007 when the loser of their final-round clash got the opportunity to snare the talented young ruckman Matt Kreuzer.

 

Jamie Cripps of the West Coast Eagles and Alex Witherden of the Brisbane Lions.
Jamie Cripps of the West Coast Eagles and Alex Witherden of the Brisbane Lions. TONY MCDONOUGH

With no clear-cut top selection this year, the No.2 pick could be as good as the No.1.

Regardless, for the Lions and Roos, it's more important to finish the season on a high.

"I know a few of the boys at North Melbourne," said Witherden, ironically a Kangaroos supporter growing up in Victoria. "They've been getting stuck into me, letting me know they're pretty keen to get the win as well.

"It's a couple of young groups coming up against each other, so it's important to win these games.

"In the next couple of years we might be playing for something a little bit more important in the last game of the season."

Brisbane can testify to not requiring the top draft pick to obtain some quality youth.

Think Josh Schache (at No.2), Eric Hipwood (14), Hugh McCluggage (3), Jarrod Berry (17) and Witherden (23) himself over the past two years when finishing second last.

Witherden has become a revelation for the Lions in the second half of the season, slotting in across halfback.

 

Alex Witherden of the Lions looks to pass the ball.
Alex Witherden of the Lions looks to pass the ball. Will Russell/AFL Media

A hallmark of his game has been his deadly accurate kicking coupled with a willingness to take the game on from his debut.

"Fages has always backed us in to play our natural game, back your ability," he said.

"Having the support of the coaching staff and the players, it didn't really leave me with a lot of nerves.

"A couple of times it (risky passing) hasn't come off and it's burnt my teammates the other way. I've just got to make sure I get that balance right.

"It's about me just picking the right option to take at the right time.

"In some circumstances, it's better to just go long down the line than trying to create something."

Of all 22 Rising Star nominees, Witherden is a clear No.1 for average disposals (23), collecting 29 against Essendon in just his second game and a couple of hauls of 28.

Witherden honed his kicking ability while growing up in Barwon Heads along Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula.

"It's a pretty important skill of the game and I knew if I wanted to play at the highest level it was something I had to get right," he said.

"I'm still working on it now. I'm not even close to where I want to be in terms of how I kick the ball. There's still a lot of improvement to come."

 

Alex Witherden of the Lions (second from left) is showered with sports drink after the round 15 match against the Bombers.
Alex Witherden of the Lions (second from left) is showered with sports drink after the round 15 match against the Bombers. JULIAN SMITH

Witherden was part of the Geelong Falcons TAC Cup production line, and probably could have gone a lot higher in the draft if not for suffering a broken leg last year.

"Initially I was pretty frustrated about it all, not knowing how it was going to unfold," he said.

"But as the weeks go by and a few recruiters get on to you ... they are pretty good are reassuring you that you'll get picked up.

"It was just about doing the rehab and ticking all the boxes off field.

"The main goal was to get on a list and hopefully come to a footy club in decent nick."

Witherden had no problem being recruited by Brisbane, where he has settled in with alongside McCluggage, Berry and Hipwood.

"It was just about getting that opportunity in the big time," he said.

"Whether you're moving from Geelong to Melbourne or Geelong to South Australia or wherever it might be, it's going to be different not living at home and out of your comfort zones early days.

"But as the day, weeks, months, roll on it becomes a little more normal."

Witherden will play his ninth game today.

"I didn't have any expectations going into this year, so everything that has come so far has been a bonus, something to build on for next year," he said.

"The club is in a pretty strong position."

News Corp Australia


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