The Gold Coast Suns have been in the Australian Football League for six seasons now, and have thus far failed to have any meaningful influence on the football landscape outside the exploits of individuals like Gary Ablett and Tom Lynch.
In fact, the Suns’ most positive impact on the competition has been as a talent farm for other clubs to harvest – looking at the list from Gold Coast’s first year, players like Dion Prestia, Zac Smith, Harley Bennell, Mav Weller, Nathan Krakouer, Charlie Dixon, Josh Caddy and Tom Hickey have moved onto other clubs, where they have found varying degrees of success. The exquisitely talented Jaegar O’Meara has also come and gone since then.
However, last year saw the Suns receive the lucrative bounty of four top-ten draft picks. As far as they are concerned, the past is another country. The future starts now.
Gold Coast Suns’ best 22
|B||Jarrod Harbrow||Rory Thompson||Kade Kolodjashnij|
|HB||Adam Saad||Steven May||Jack Martin|
|C||Aaron Hall||Gary Ablett||Pearce Hanley|
|HF||Touk Miller||Tom Lynch||Will Brodie|
|F||Jack Bowes||Peter Wright||Ben Ainsworth|
|Foll||Tom Nicholls||Jarryd Lyons||David Swallow|
|Int||Michael Barlow||Callum Ah Chee||Brayden Fiorini||Alex Sexton|
Emergencies: Jarrod Witts, Matt Rosa, Brandon Matera
Gold Coast’s best season was 2014, when they won ten games and looked good doing it. They were sitting inside the top eight after 16 rounds, and had been playing in a manner that suggested their rise would continue.
Alas, Gary Ablett went down, and he and the club have never recovered. After winning ten games in 2014, they won only ten games combined across 2015-16 after Rodney Eade replaced the guillotined Guy McKenna. Ablett has played 20 of the last 50 matches, but hasn’t been able to recapture the consistency of his best form.
Relieving Ablett of the captaincy, something he was never a natural fit for, will hopefully free him up to focus on doing what he does best – winning the ball, weaving in and out of traffic, evading would-be tacklers, disposing with poise, and hitting the scoreboard regularly.
Pearce Hanley, Michael Barlow and Jarryd Lyons were recruited over the off-season to add experience and depth to the Gold Coast midfield. The beauty of this trio is they all bring different strengths – Hanley will break the lines on the outside, Barlow will help bullock and get first hands at the stoppages, while Lyons has an all-round game whose creativity will be welcomed in the front half.
Aaron Hall loves to run free, and should be allowed to do so. Touk Miller has shown he has what it takes to be a very good player, and provides another inside option for Eade. Within a year or two, he’s going to be one of those ‘he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves from the Victorian media’ players. David Swallow will be welcomed back, and all of a sudden the Suns look to have much better balance through the middle.
The midfield will be driving the ball to a forward line led by Tom Lynch, who now has legitimate claims of being in the top handful of players in the competition. All but unstoppable in the air and able to cover enormous ground, he beats his opponents with work ethic, talent and power.
Peter Wright is developing beautifully alongside Lynch, and has already had more impact across his first 20 games than any two-metre-tall young forward has any right to. Sam Day had been slowly coming of age, and will be missed as a flexible swinging tall.
Brandon Matera and Callum Ah Chee are the most likely small forwards, who will look to feed off what crumbs there are from Lynch and Wright, and also apply pressure on opposition defences.
All of Gold Coast’s top-ten picks from last year’s draft will be looking to play 16-plus games, and most will swing through the forward-line at some stage, particularly Ben Ainsworth, Jack Bowes and Will Brodie.
Run from defence, such a cornerstone of the modern game, shouldn’t be an issue for the Suns.
Jarrod Harbrow is the experienced hand, and will be forced to lock down more than he has in the past. Kade Kolodjashnij is coming off a disappointing year and must keep up his concentration and focus – he looks like he kicks the ball better than he actually does, and is prone to too many lapses.
Adam Saad is electric with ball in hand, while Jack Martin is poised to take the next step and should be elevating his game now. Being off-Broadway, he has escaped more scrutiny than he probably should have, but has oodles of talent and should be taking a key role. He can be backed in to deliver.
Steven May is one of the best key defenders in the competition, and is ready to go up a level as co-captain with Tom Lynch. His poleaxing of Stef Martin last year was one of the great moments of 2016, and shows he’s made of the right stuff. Rory Thompson rides shotgun, and keeping him fit and healthy is a priority for the club’s medical staff.
On paper, and hopefully on the field, the Suns possess an exciting blend of experience and youth which all look to complement each other. They would love to be playing the sort of football that makes it hard for Michael Rischitelli to break into the side when he returns from his ACL at some stage.
They’ll also be looking for players like Matt Rosa, Matt Shaw, Jesse Lonergan to be forced out. Tom Nichols has had the inside running on the number one ruck spot for a couple of years now, but Jarrod Witts should be piling the pressure on, and may even claim it by Round 1.
Gold Coast were showing positive enough signs in the second half of last year that they could move up the ladder this season. At the least, they should be attacking the competition with a healthier and more rounded list than before.
The aim should be to play with dash and flair, show some resilience when things aren’t going their way, and get as many games into the young talent time as they can. Finals are a realistic ambition, but matching their previous best of a ten win season will be the internal pass mark.
The Suns, at long last, might be rising.
Predicted ladder spread: 10th-13th
Predicted finish: 12th
Best and fairest: Tom Lynch
Leading goalkicker: Tom Lynch
All-Australian potential: Gary Ablett, Tom Lynch, Steven May
Rising Star candidates: Ben Ainsworth, Jack Bowes, Will Brodie, Brayden Fiorini