THE Brisbane Lions are preparing their cub forwards for the wilds of the AFL and vice-captain Daniel Merrett is loving every minute of it.
Full-back Merrett and fellow defenders Matt Maguire and Joel Patfull have been "narky and aggressive" in training while matching up to young pretenders to play alongside captain Jonathan Brown in the upcoming season.
Merrett said there were a number of players in the race to join Brown in the forward line but said whether it is Jordan Lisle, Aaron Cornelius, Melbourne recruit Stefan Martin or rookies Marco Paparone and Michael Close, the defenders were not ready to give ground, even in training.
"At times it can get narky and aggressive but that's exactly what you want because you want to drive high standards," Merrett said.
"It's only going to make us better.
"Where our group's at, we're developing and breeding that into the young guys to be aggressive, it's perfect.
"We're all over the forwards at the moment."
For most of last season Merrett played alongside veteran Brown as coach Michael Voss struggled to find someone to partner the skipper and take some of the burden of goalkicking off the veteran's shoulders.
He didn't do too badly up forward, either, kicking 26 goals in 17 starts in the forward/ruck role he was given.
But the 28-year-old said his preferred position was full-back and in that role he was able to assess just who was best equipped to take up the forward spot up for grabs.
Voss has even had Irishman Niall McKeever in the forward 50 as he searches for the answer to the goalkicking problem which has blighted the team for the past couple of seasons.
However, Merrett said it was a Lion in his second year who was standing out in pre-season.
"Probably Jordy Lisle at this stage," he said when asked who would be his choice to play forward at this stage.
"He's really stepped up, definitely matured, talking a lot more and he's improved his fitness.
"From my point of view, at this stage he's up there.
"Also Stef Martin.
"We've got him across for that reason, to try and fill that void, so we'll be looking for Stef to step up.
"It's all about options, that's where the game's headed.
"So plenty of competition and plenty of options.
"That spot will be up for grabs all year I reckon."