Old and the new causing problems for the Suns
Gold Coast's Karmichael Hunt lays another tackle against Fremantle (Slattery Images)
Another 100 point loss. The Gold Coast Suns are now sitting last with no wins from their first 13 games. The AFL’s new boys have dispelled any estimates that they would improve on their tally of three wins in their debut season.
Right now, it’s virtually impossible to see when their breakthrough win will come. The blame has come thick and fast for their disastrous second year.
The coach has copped criticism (but has been re-signed). Many of their young stars are suffering from second year blues and the majority of their senior players have been little more than woeful.
The two biggest problems for the Suns come from the opposite ends of the age scale, the form of their senior players and the stuttering improvement of their youngsters. Suns supporters will see little joy until these problems are fixed.
Firstly, to their senior players, who have dropped off even further from the form they showed in their debut year.
Apart from Gary Ablett who is again carrying the Suns team on his shoulders, only the injured Nathan Bock could be given a pass mark on his injury shortened year.
Michael Rischitelli who had a decent first year with the new side, has completely dropped off, collecting a total of 14 possessions in his last two games. That’s not an average of 14 possessions, that’s 14 in total. Those are ridiculously low numbers from a former best and fairest winner at Brisbane.
Compile that with very little output from Campbell Brown, more injury problems to Jarrod Harbrow and form so poor that Jarred Brennan and Josh Fraser can’t even get regular spots in the side and the Suns are being severely let down by their experienced players.
Aside from Ablett and maybe Bock, none of their senior players strike you as being supreme leaders who can lift the younger players out of the trenches. This hasn’t just been since they arrived on the Gold Coast, none of them were leaders at their former clubs.
The poor example shown to the younger players from the senior players leads nicely into the second major problem and that is the lack of progress shown from their second year players. The dreaded second year blues are a common occurrence for many young players and the syndrome has certainly spread throughout the Suns locker room.
The Suns only second year player who has shown any form of remarkable improvement has been Harley Bennell; he has taken giant strides in his second season and has gone a long way in justifying being taken number two in the draft. Throw in strong improvement from Karmichael Hunt and consistent performances Dion Prestia and David Swallow, who are now both injured, and it largely makes up the full extent of any sort of progression from the Suns younger players.
Such a small showing of improvement would be extremely frustrating to Guy McKenna and the rest of the Gold Coast coaching staff. Even more alarming is the fact that not only has the form of their many youngster stagnated, some have gone backwards.
Trent McKenzie has suffered from a lack of pre-season and hasn’t gone close to his first year showing, Zac Smith is struggling under the increased time put into him from opposition coaches, Brandon Matera has missed a large chunk of the season and there has been little improvement from guys that struggled in their first year, including Josh Toy.
It’s certainly not panic stations yet in the Sunshine State and many of these players will have long careers ahead of them, however Guy McKenna must have believed going into the season that there would be greater signs of improvement.
The overall lack of improvement could easily be attributed to the natural development most players endure throughout their careers and it certainly doesn’t help that the side features over a dozen players going through it on a weekly basis. Compare the Suns to a side like Collingwood who has the luxury of slowly easing four or five young players into their team each week and the development of their players is going to be a much slower process.
However, other factors may also be to blame, one being the roles given to the Suns younger players. Gold Coast entered the competition playing a free brand of football, the first year players looked to have been given a license to roam free and just attack the ball like they had throughout their junior footy. While the team may have suffered from blowouts, it provided excitement to not only their fans, but the players as well.
This brand of football may have helped ease the Suns players into the league; however it could also have severely hurt them in their second year. The players look to be struggling to adapt to having an increased defensive role on the ground. McKenna gave them free reign in their debut seasons, knowing a greater structure would have to be employed for his team in their second year. The sudden change could be a large reason behind their lack of growth.
Although the teams are quite different, compare the Suns to the other expansion team in west Sydney. Kevin Sheedy has clearly come to the helm of the Giants with a clear direction of developing their defensive side and has given his players clearly set objectives.
Now it’s probably fair to assume that the Giants players will suffer a similar fate in their second year, but for now it seems they will find it easier to maintain the defensive roles placed upon them in year one, while the Suns are still learning to put greater emphasis on defence.
All players, no matter what age, have to shoulder the blame for the Suns disastrous start to the season and their steady rise up the ladder will most likely take longer than many expected. While this may be frustrating for fans, it is all part of the unique challenge facing the Suns to integrate so many youngsters who are finding their feet.