Dayne Zorko announcement stuns AFL world on eve of 2023 season

The Brisbane Lions' leadership group will have a new look this AFL season after Dayne Zorko opted to take a step back.

Dayne Zorko waves to Brisbane Lions fans as he walks off the ground.
Dayne Zorko is stepping down as Brisbane Lions captain, with the club to select a successor in the coming weeks. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The Brisbane Lions will have a new look in their leadership ranks for the 2023 season, with longtime club skipper Dayne Zorko electing to step down from the job. After guiding the Lions back to the finals in his first season as captain in 2019, Zorko has decided the time is right for the role to change hands.

The Lions have fallen short of a highly anticipated grand final appearance for several seasons, with last year's campaign ending in a brutal preliminary final loss to eventual premiers Geelong. Zorko gives up the captaincy having lead the Lions in 105 contests.

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Only the likes of club greats in Michael Voss (210), Jonathan Brown (128) and Roger Merrett (125) captained the Lions more times than Zorko. However the 34-year-old's stint as captain hasn't always been smooth sailing.

He resisted calls to forfeit the captaincy last season following a bitter clash against the Melbourne Demons, in which a sledge he directed at rival Harrison Petty was widely regarding has having crossed a line. He apologised for the comments in the days following, but the saga was damaging to his record as a leader.

The 34-year-old expressed his desire during the off-season to lead Brisbane again in 2023, but he announced to his teammates this week he would hand over the baton. "It's been a privilege and a pleasure to lead a club with such incredible history and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be at its helm the past five years," he told teammates.

"Over my years as captain, I'm proud to have helped the club be more respected again amongst the AFL world and to have helped lead the charge in the successes we've had on the field. I step down at a time when the club is in really good hands and entering a new chapter.

"It's something I have really, really thought about (stepping down) and wanted to do. I'm obviously coming towards the end of my career so I feel the timing is right to let the new leader find their own feet in the role. I'll be there to support them the whole way in whatever way I can."

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Zorko's tenure was lauded by Lions coach Chris Fagan, who described him as 'one of Brisbane's most influential skippers'. Harris Andrews, Lachie Neale, Jarrod Berry and Hugh McCluggage are expected to be among the contenders to replace Zorko.

"Dayne leaves an exceptional legacy after holding the captaincy at such a pivotal time in Lions history," Fagan said. "He took over half-way through my second year. His leadership and drive have been key factors in our performance improvement and you simply can't argue with what the team has achieved under his captaincy.

"His achievements have extended off the field too, Dayne is a true clubman and has always been one to put his hand up for the good of the Club. Dayne understands young leaders and I have no doubt he'll help mentor our next captain.

Dayne Zorko leads the Brisbane Lions onto the field for an AFL match in 2022.
Dayne Zorko has captained the fourth-most games in Brisbane Lions history, with 102 to his name. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

"He is a fearless player with a fierce determination in his own performance and also that of the team. Dayne will always be recognised as one of Brisbane's most influential skippers."

The Lions will enter the 2023 season with a somewhat new look, with some key additions during the AFL trade period and free agency. Heading that list is midfielder Josh Dunkley, who secured a trade to Brisbane after deciding to leave the Western Bulldogs.

Brisbane also attracted the signature of veteran Hawthorn forward Jack Gunston, the premiership Haw expected to add a key bit of experience to the mix. However the did lose key position play Dan McStay in free agency to Collingwood.

with AAP

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