Sophie Conway, Natalie Grider and Dee Heslop celebrate after winning the 2023 AFLW Grand Final against North Melbourne at Ikon Park. Picture: AFL Photos

CRAIG Starcevich expects Brisbane's premiership defence to be a battle, but has a warning for the rest of the AFLW – the Lions can get significantly better.

The reigning champions kicked off their pre-season on Monday morning with a 2km time trial that saw Irish winger Orla O'Dwyer retain her crown as the club's distance queen, followed by Sophie Conway and draftee Evie Long.

Twenty-eight of the Lions' 30 listed players ran the endurance test, with Jade Pregelj (recovering from a knee reconstruction) and Jennifer Dunne (playing gaelic football in Ireland) the only duo to not take part.

It's the healthiest list Brisbane has had at this stage of its pre-season.

Following some off-season upheaval and change of personnel heading into the 2023 season, Brisbane stormed home in the back half of the year to win its second flag by defeating North Melbourne on Grand Final day.

Craig Starcevich and Bre Koenen hold the 2023 NAB AFLW premiership cup. Picture: AFL Photos

After watching his players on day one, Starcevich said he was delighted with the attitude and preparation of the team and expected them to play at a higher level this season.

"We've still got a big chunk of the group that is under 25 years of age, still in their growth phase as players and athletes," he said.

"There's huge scope for improvement in our group in a lot of areas.

"We can get better."

The Lions again have the services of veteran Kate Lutkins after she missed last season to give birth to her first child, while also adding West Coast duo Shanae Davison and Eleanor Hartill.

Dunne and youngster Poppy Boltz should be better after being thrown into the key defensive posts last year, while Lily Postlethwaite and Charlie Mullins are among the young players on the rise.


Starcevich is on high alert though, reminding his team that six of their 13 games last season were decided by a goal or less.

"It's a very sobering, back to earth, let's get to work, type of feeling," he said.

"We confront some seriously strong teams early in the piece … and you look across all 11 games and think 'god, every one of those is going to be a battle'.

"Sure, we've got the title, and people will come after that, but we're an aggressive team that goes after the opposition."