IT WASN'T that long ago Brisbane had trouble defending opposition small forwards. 

In the first eight rounds of 2019 Connor Rozee kicked five goals, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti seven, Jordan de Goey three and Tom Papley four. 

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Whether it was poor defence, a lack of speed or poor ball movement that hurt them on turnovers – or in reality a combination of all three – it was a problem.

The Lions halted the flow of small forward goals as the year went on, largely due to unearthing draftee Noah Answerth, who took the role of shutdown small defender.

But there was always another player Brisbane had its eye on using as well. 

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After a string of injuries halted any flow in his first two seasons, Brandon Starcevich is having a breakout 2020, mixing lockdown defence with an ability to run off and create with his penetrating kick. 

Starcevich was taken with the 18th pick in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft, and after five games in his first two years, has not missed one to date this year.

Brisbane's Brandon Starcevich tackles West Coast's Dom Sheed. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

He again looms as a crucial cog in today's match against St Kilda, who are blessed with a fleet of quick, clever small forwards. 

"He does bring that speed and he can play on those types," Brisbane coach Chris Fagan said. 

"I would have been hopeful he would have played more games of footy than he has by now, but his first couple of years he's had a lot of injuries. 

"This year, touch wood, he's been injury free, lined up on a number of good opponents and been able to get the job done, as has Noah Answerth.

"With those two boys I feel like we've got capacity on those small forwards for the opposition to hopefully do a good job at negating their influence." 

Starcevich played on Fremantle's Michael Walters in the first match back following the COVID shutdown, West Coast's Liam Ryan the following week, and from then on has often got one of the opposition's most dangerous weapons. 

"Part of my game going back to when I was a mid-forward was the contest, playing inside, and that relates to playing back and being hard to play against, making life tough for opposition forwards," Starcevich said. 

"Playing back, I have the versatility to play tall and small and athletically I can use my speed." 

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Starcevich, who turned 21 in July, is a powerhouse athlete who stands 188cm. 

He could defend Saints Dan Butler, Nick Hind or even Tim Membrey (unlikely, but plausible) if the situation demanded.

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"It's never down to one person to lock down on a small forward," Starcevich said. 

"We work together and it takes the whole group. Having Noah there is great though.

"I'm not quite so conscious of my man and can think about getting involved in the offence a bit more and use my weapons … my power and drive with my legs.

"The Saints are really dangerous.

"We've got to make life pretty tough for them, they've got a lot of pace and some good talls as well with Max King looking pretty good. 

"It'll just be about us little blokes doing our jobs to make sure they don't do some damage."