A FIVE-goal haul to Aaron Cornelius and a Sam Michael major in the dying minutes carried the Brisbane Lions to a three-point victory over Greater Western Sydney in their NAB Cup match on Saturday night.
In a forward line missing captain Jonathan Brown, unheralded Lions Cornelius, Dayne Zorko (one supergoal, onegoal) and Marco Paparone (two goals) helped their team sneak home 1.12.19 (100) to 2.12.7 (97) at Wagga.
Cornelius and Patrick Karnezis (26 disposals) were also dangerous all night for a Lions side which has won its opening three games in an impressive start to the pre-season competition.
Cornelius, who has made just 22 appearances since his debut in 2009, could finally be fulfilling his potential.
"I guess in the past I would be reluctant to pump him up because he's got a lot of work in front of him," coach Michael Voss said.
"But to say he had a really positive step forward tonight would be really underselling him.
"He was probably the biggest influence on the match when you look at it and the way he took those clean grabs and presented the way that he did and put the work rate in, that's what we're after."
Callan Ward, Jonathan Giles (two goals) and Lachie Whitfield starred for the Giants, who fell agonisingly short of another big scalp following last week's triumph over the Sydney Swans and narrow loss to Carlton.
The result left a bitter taste in GWS coach Kevin Sheedy's mouth, who seems in a hurry for his young, developing side to learn how to win.
"Disappointing result. That's the second time in two weeks we've lost a game when we were beaten by a kick," he said.
"We should've been able to lock the game up and learn from the Carlton game last week."
Co-captain Ward, who missed round one of the competition with a minor knee issue, returned with a bang, finishing with 20 possessions and six marks.
Whitfield, the top pick in last year's NAB AFL Draft, showed he is ready for senior football, tallying 17 touches, nine marks and four tackles in front of 7,068 fans at Robertson Oval.
There was concern when Jonathon Patton was helped from the field by two trainers late in the first half, seemingly favouring his right knee, but the word quickly came back it was only a corked quad for the big GWS key forward.
While he was substituted at half-time, Patton was spotted on an exercise bike shortly after coming from the ground and it appeared to only be a minor setback for the 19-year-old.
"He'll be OK. It's just a corked leg," Sheedy said afterwards.
The lead changed hands regularly throughout the match, with the Giants holding a one-point lead at three quarter-time.
Both sides had their chances, but in the end it was a free kick for contact below the knees that allowed rookie Michael to grab the victory.
Following on from triumphs over Hawthorn and Gold Coast in week one of the competition, the Lions are well on the way to fulfilling coach Michael Voss' wishes of a strong showing in this year's NAB Cup.
"It's been pretty solid," he said.
"Last year's pre-season was average, we were almost chasing the pack, we don't feel like we're doing that this year.
"We're much further ahead than we've been in the past and will get a good challenge this week against Collingwood."
What it means: The Lions, who had a strong finish to the 2012 season, have started the new year with a bang. It's always hard to read too much into the pre-season, but it's hard to argue with three wins. With Jonathan Brown and Simon Black still to return, the signs are promising. For the Giants, Kevin Sheedy was left lamenting another game he felt his side should win. The progress is there, but there is still much to learn.
What they said: "I guess in the past I would be reluctant to pump him up because he's got a lot of work in front of him. But to say he had a really positive step forward tonight would be really underselling him." - Lions coach Michael Voss on Aaron Cornelius.
"Disappointing result. That's the second time in two weeks we've lost a game when we were beaten by a kick. We should've been able to lock the game up and learn from the Carlton game last week." - Greater Western Sydney coach Kevin Sheedy.
Drafted back in 2008, Cornelius has managed only 22 appearances for the Lions and taken plenty of time to develop his 192cm, 88kg frame. But 13 possessions, six marks and a return of 5.4 showed he could be getting closer to his potential. It also equated to a game-high 94 fantasy points. For the Giants, Adam Treloar (90 points), Jonathan Giles (89) and Callan Ward's (85) exploits are well-known. But an 89-point return for Whitfield in his first full senior game showed he is well on the way to holding down a place for round one of the season proper. Register your team here
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 0.3.2 1.8.3 1.10.7 2.12.7 (97)
BRISBANE LIONS 1.2.2 1.5.7 1.9.12 1.12.19 (100)
Greater Western Sydney: Cameron, Smith
Brisbane Lions: Zorko
Greater Western Sydney: Treloar 2, Giles 2, Frost 2, Patton, Ward, Miles, Sumner, Cameron, Greene
Brisbane Lions: Cornelius 5, Paparone 2, Lester, Zorko, Rockliff, Karnezis, Michael
Greater Western Sydney: Ward, Giles, Whitfield, Treloar, Frost, Coniglio
Brisbane Lions: Cornelius, Zorko, Karnezis, Beams, Bewick, Maguire
Greater Western Sydney: Wilson (shoulder), Patton (quad)
Brisbane Lions: Nil
Umpires: Shane Stewart, Andrew Mitchell, Andrew Stephens, Aaron Hall
Official crowd: 7,068 at Robertson Oval, Wagga
James Dampney is a reporter for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_JD