DAYNE Zorko has seen just about everything at Brisbane, but never a group of teammates as fit as his current lot.
In the early stages of his 11th pre-season, the Lions skipper was in a reflective mood on Friday morning following the club's penultimate training session before they split for the Christmas break.
Zorko was buzzing about the enthusiasm of draftees Darcy Wilmot and Kai Lohmann, the professionalism and skill of future father-son prospects Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher, and the general conditioning of the Lions' list.
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It's a far cry from his early years at the club where pre-Christmas training was all about building fitness – and hope – for a team battling near the bottom.
"Although COVID has been an issue, one thing it's allowed the boys to do is stay back (in Brisbane during the off-season) and really concentrate on their football," Zorko said.
"The fitness levels of the majority of the group have come back at is something I haven't seen before.
"I talk about blokes taking control of their own careers and a large portion of our playing group have certainly done that in the break."
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Zorko praised Hugh McCluggage and Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale, saying the midfield maestro was in his best shape since heading to Brisbane three years ago.
And then there's Cam Rayner, the former No.1 draft pick who had his 2021 destroyed by a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.
Rayner is back in full training, and his captain loves it.
"He's a real energiser for us," Zorko said.
"Last year his injury was devastating for the whole group.
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"Because he's such a caring person it's hard to see someone go through what he had to go through, but he's come back and done all the training, which is really pleasing.
"It'll just be a management thing until round one, but the whole playing group is really excited to get him back."