The form and presence of Brisbane Lions star defender Kate Lutkins after an early return from an ACL rupture is inspiring the club's quest for a second AFLW premiership.
When the 34-year-old hero of the Lions 2021 premiership win sustained the injury in January against Adelaide there was little hope held out that she would be back this year.
The resilient Lutkins recovered to return mid-season and help lift Brisbane to the minor premiership.
Lions captain and defender Bre Koenen said Lutkins loomed as a pivotal figure in the preliminary final clash Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium on Friday night.
"It definitely helps having good players around you, but Kate Lutkins is obviously a general," Koenen said.
"She instructs so well and is so confident in the way she goes about it. It has been awesome having her back. It was a shorter than expected (injury) return and she has done an amazing job getting to where she is now."
Lutkins was best on ground in the 2021 title win over Adelaide and Koenen said she hoped that form was on show in the grand final qualifier.
"She is getting better every game," Koenen said.
"Obviously she just needs footy under her belt. I think she is growing every game and hopefully she finds some real Kate Lutkins form this week…and hopefully the next."
The Lions had six players named in the AFLW All-Australian squad. Koenen was one of them and said the improvement in the side from last season was across the board.
"There are a few players I think have had their best seasons. (Forward) Jesse Wardlaw has had a massive year. She had a good strength-building pre-season and she is a lot stronger in her contest this season," Koenen said.
"(Wing) Jade Ellenger has had one of her best seasons, and Tahlia Hickie in the ruck. I can rattle off half our team. Coming off the back of last season everyone has worked harder and got fitter, stronger, faster and worked on their craft more."
Due to the unavailability of Metricon Stadium and the Gabba next week, there is still doubt as to where the AFLW grand final will be played if minor premiers Brisbane beat Adelaide. Melbourne and venues in Queensland are in the mix.
"It would be huge if we got a home advantage in Queensland," Koenen said.
"I haven't put too much thought into it. We are just focusing on getting (to the grand final) at the moment. Wherever we play, whenever we play it doesn't matter. If we get there we will give it our all."