Gold Coast should wipe the Manuka Oval deck with Greater Western Sydney when the two expansion sides do battle this weekend.

I would have nodded in agreement a few weeks ago with my Roar colleague Cameron Rose, who yesterday put his neck out and predicted a Giants win on Saturday. But that was a few weeks ago. Now, I’m a believer.

Back then, the Suns were clearly a rabble. And there were problems all over the park.

In the middle they were overwhelmed, and unable to win the contested ball. That was a startling change given last year, they were clearance kings.

Up forward there was nothing. The tall targets were Tom Lynch and a resting ruckman, quite often Tom Hickey. It’s telling that Lynch is now playing at the other end of the field, and Hickey is in the seconds.

At the back, there was a gaping, Nathan Bock-shaped hole that was exploited with ease by Taylor Walker, Kurt Tippett and Nick Riewoldt.

What capped it all off was the complete absence of one key ingredient – effort. The way the Suns were pushed aside by the Crows in round one and St Kilda in Round two was more than just a little Port Adelaide. Guy McKenna was even feeling the heat.

But things have changed.

That Bock-shaped hole will return this weekend, after he broke his leg in a collision with Fremantle’s Matt De Boer (how did De Boer not come off second best there?). But fortunately for Gold Coast, the only tall target that could have truly out-muscled their defences, Setanta O’hAilpin, is out for the season.

The Suns have massive injury concerns of their own. Gary Ablett, Michael Rischitelli, David Swallow and Jared Brennan will all face fitness tests. Even if all four don’t play, my theory might still hold true.

Losing Gary Ablett for a few weeks was the best thing that could have happened to Gold Coast. Like McKenna predicted, it forced the club’s young midfielders to grow up quickly.

When I first heard Bluey say that a couple weeks back at a press conference, I thought he was nuts. A Gaz-less Suns against North Melbourne at the Etihad slaughterhouse? Three-digit defeat, at minimum. No growing up there. But McKenna’s words came true.

Anyone who has moved away from home at a young age can attest. Without your parents, you have to fend for yourself. Cook, clean, et cetera. You literally have no choice, it’s adapt or perish.

The dreadful thought of becoming a ‘coodabeen’ would surely have crossed the minds of Swallow, Harley Bennell, Sam Day, Josh Caddy, Seb Tape and many others over the course of the past six months.

They’re far from fully developed, but – save for the blip on the radar that was the Queensland derby – they’ve finally pulled their finger out and shown some ticker. They had to.

Bennell ran the show against the Dockers. Swallow, even on one leg, kicked three goals and lent some class to the forward line.

Karmichael Hunt, clearly unsatisfied with being a mere bonafide AFL midfielder, was again brilliant. Six clearances, 10 hard ball gets – these are stats any footballer would gladly accept.

Before this recent turnaround from the Suns, I would have put my house on the Giants, a team for whom I have been open in my admiration for. They already have heart – they’re just less polished than Gold Coast.

So if Ablett plays, and his young charges don’t go back to old habits as soon as they see his shiny head darting in and around the packs, they should be way too much for GWS.

Even if he doesn’t come up, that should be the case. They’ve learned a lesson that the Giants are still 12 months from discovering.

Ablett, Swallow, Bennell, Hunt, Caddy, Prestia. This is a midfield that will win a premiership in a few years time.

Kevin Sheedy can try and shut one or all of them down, but even the might of ‘joke’ tagger Ryan Crowley and Ross Lyon’s sourpuss football couldn’t quite do that – even with the first two injured.

Sheeds can try and strangle Sam Day and overwhelm Matthew Warnock, but the Suns have now rediscovered the one thing that the Giants had going for them – effort.

The simple fact is that GWS can’t beat Gold Coast this weekend without a Gold Coast mental collapse. I’m not sure they’re capable of bringing one on.

Of course, I’m not as brave as Mr Rose – I say the Suns should win, not that they will. These are young players we’re talking about, and inconsistency is part and parcel of development. So we’re told.

But a lack of effort should never be.

And now that this glaring deficiency has been corrected – thanks largely to Gary Ablett’s knee – these four points belong to the Gold Coast.

Vince Rugari
Vince Rugari

Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for Australian Associate Press

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