Gold Coast Suns 2018 AFL season preview, best 22 and predicted finish

Josh Barnstable Roar Rookie

By Josh Barnstable, Josh Barnstable is a Roar Rookie

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    With just ten wins from their previous 44 games, Rodney Eade and the Gold Coast Suns entered season 2017 under enormous pressure to perform.

    Still yet to make the top eight in their six years of existence, the Suns were buoyed by a swathe of new young players, including four top ten draft picks as they took on Brisbane in a QClash to start the season.

    Less than 20 minutes into the encounter, the Suns found themselves down by 44 points, and what little hair Eade had left was being torn out.

    A 102-point thrashing at the hands of GWS in Round 2 saw the entire football club, including under-siege champion Gary Ablett publically criticised.

    A week later, Gold Coast responded with an emphatic 86-point win over Hawthorn, before a strong win over Carlton.

    In Round 7, they upset premiership contenders Geelong with a 25-point win at Metricon Stadium, before making history by playing in the first AFL game staged in China. However, the Suns were embarrassed there by Port Adelaide, losing by 72 points.

    Consecutive upset wins over West Coast and Hawthorn kept the critics at bay, but it wouldn’t be long until they returned, as Gold Coast lost ten of their remaining 11 matches in the season to plummet down the ladder.

    After the Suns’ 23-point loss to Fremantle in Round 20, Eade was sacked as coach of the football club, replaced by assistant coach Dean Solomon.

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    The on-field performance didn’t improve, as Gold Coast suffered a monster 115-point defeat at the hands of the Power, a game in which they managed a paltry 3.2, the club’s lowest score in its short history.

    As a result of the poor season, a number of players were shown the door as the club embarked on a refresh of its list. Failed trades Mitch Hallahan, Jarrad Grant and Daniel Currie were all delisted, while Ryan Davis, Keegan Brooksby, Mackenzie Willis, Cameron Loersch, Trent McKenzie and Matt Shaw were also axed.

    The latter two gained a reprieve at Port Adelaide and Carlton respectively, while Willis was redrafted to the Suns as a rookie.

    Despite making approaches to established senior coaches Ken Hinkley and Brad Scott, Gold Coast were left with no experienced options to fill the now-vacant role as both inked contract extensions with their respective clubs.

    As a result, the Suns turned to highly-regarded Sydney assistant coach Stuart Dew, announcing him as Gold Coast’s third head coach just prior to the trade period.

    With all the talk surrounding two-time Brownlow Medallist Ablett and his future at the club, the first Sun to request a trade would be running defender Adam Saad, who landed at Essendon for a future second round pick.

    Gold Coast gave up selection 39 to the Crows in exchange for pick 54, a future fourth rounder and untried defender Harrison Wigg, before exchanging in pick swaps with West Coast.

    Out-of-favour Port Adelaide goalkicker Aaron Young found his way north to the Suns, before Ablett departed the club, reaching his former home Geelong.

    Gold Coast’s involvement in the trade period was only just starting to heat up however, when Fremantle young gun Lachie Weller sensationally declared he wanted a trade to the Suns.

    The Dockers demanded Gold Coast’s first selection in the national draft (pick two) in exchange for the talented 21-year-old. In a bigger surprise, the Suns agreed to part with their prized selection, also sending Brandon Matera across to Fremantle.

    With an end-of-first round draft selection, the Suns picked up relatively unknown Claremont product Wil Powell, before selecting Charlie Ballard out of the SANFL.

    Gold Coast’s final two selections came via academy, as Brayden Crossley and Connor Nutting joined the club.

    In the rookie draft, the Suns took Josh Jaska from the Geelong Falcons and former Blue Nick Holman. Jacob Heron and Jacob Dawson also joined the Suns as Category B rookies through the club’s academy program.

    Playing list

    1. Pearce Hanley
    2. Jack Scrimshaw
    3. Matt Rosa
    4. Jack Martin
    5. Jarrod Harbrow
    6. Alex Sexton
    7. Jesse Lonergan
    8. Brayden Fiorini
    9. Ben Ainsworth
    10. Kade Kolodjashnij
    11. Touk Miller
    12. Sam Day
    13. Callum Ah Chee
    14. Lachie Weller*
    15. Aaron Young*
    16. Rory Thompson
    17. Steven May (C)
    18. Brad Scheer
    19. Tom Lynch (C)
    20. Michael Barlow
    21. Jack Leslie
    22. Tom Nicholls
    23. Sean Lemmens
    24. David Swallow
    25. Jarryd Lyons
    26. Harrison Wigg*
    27. Wil Powell*
    28. Jarrod Witts
    29. Jack Bowes
    30. Peter Wright
    31. Charlie Ballard*
    32. Brayden Crossley*
    33. Aaron Hall
    34. Mackenzie Willis (R)
    35. Michael Rischitelli
    36. Josh Schoenfeld
    37. Josh Jaska* (R)
    38. Jesse Joyce
    39. Nick Holman* (R)
    40. Jacob Heron* (R)
    41. Will Brodie
    42. Connor Nutting* (R)
    43. Max Spencer (R)
    44. Darcy McPherson (R)
    45. Jacob Dawson* (R)
    *denotes new player

    Best 22
    FB: Kade Kolodjashnij, Steven May, Jesse Joyce
    HB: Jarrod Harbrow, Jack Leslie, Pearce Hanley
    C: Lachie Weller, Michael Barlow, Aaron Hall
    HF: Callum Ah Chee, Tom Lynch, Jack Martin
    FF: Aaron Young, Peter Wright, Ben Ainsworth
    R: Jarrod Witts, Jarryd Lyons, David Swallow
    I/C: Sam Day, Brayden Fiorini, Touk Miller, Sean Lemmens
    EMG: Alex Sexton, Rory Thompson, Jack Bowes

    The star
    It looms as a year of media scrutiny for Gold Coast co-captain Tom Lynch, as the star forward is due to come out of contract at the end of 2018.

    His signature will be one of the most hotly contested in recent years, and how the Suns perform on the field will go a long way towards determining whether their marquee player continues on for another contract.

    After a career-best year in which he booted 66 goals in 2016, Lynch’s output dropped significantly last season, booting 44.24 from 19 matches.

    However, at his best, Lynch still showed he is capable of ripping games apart, such as his performance against Carlton in Round 4 when he hauled in 12 grabs and booted seven goals from 19 disposals.

    Tom Lynch Gold Coast Suns AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    Ready to break out
    One of the many young talents on the Gold Coast list and perhaps the one with the most x-factor, originally a top ten draft pick back in 2015, Callum Ah Chee has been a constant in the senior side when fit.

    The goalsneak has played 30 games for 21 goals, including a bag of five against the minor premiers Adelaide in Round 5 last season.

    Ah Chee tackles hard and has serious speed, making him a tough match-up for most medium defenders. Coming into his third year on the Suns’ list, he looks primed to take the next step.

    Needs a big year
    After 129 games with the Brisbane Lions, Irishman Pearce Hanley made a surprising move down the M1 to continue his career on the Gold Coast at the end of 2016.

    However, his first year at the Suns didn’t get off to a great start. After a substandard debut in Round 1 against his former side, Hanley requested leave to travel back to Ireland as his younger brother Tommy sadly lost his battle with cancer.

    Hanley made a return via the NEAFL a few weeks later, where he suffered an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for the next five weeks.

    He returned to the senior line-up in Round 10 and missed just one more game thereafter, but his impact on games was not up to the high standards he set while at the Lions.

    If Hanley can return to his very best in 2018, the Suns will have a genuine playmaker on their hands. Making matters more difficult is the fact Hanley participated in the 2017 International Rules Series for Ireland where he suffered a broken hand.

    Last chance
    Coming off a disappointing year in which he failed to play a senior game, ruckman Tom Nicholls is facing a make-or-break season with the Suns.

    Approaching his eighth campaign since making his debut in Gold Coast’s foundation season of 2011, Nicholls has just 45 games to his name despite spending majority of the 2015 and 2016 seasons as the Suns’ preferred ruckman.

    Having started his career alongside fellow talls in Zac Smith, Tom Hickey and Daniel Gorringe, Nicholls is the only player of this group remaining on the Gold Coast, however his future has huge question marks surrounding it.

    He is well and truly on the outer at the Suns, as Collingwood recruit Jarrod Witts established himself as Gold Coast’s main man in the ruck this year. Coming out of contract at the end of 2018, the 203cm giant has a massive fight on his hands.

    New colours
    Arguably the biggest shock of the trade period came late in the piece when Fremantle gun youngster Lachie Weller declared that he wanted a move to the Gold Coast Suns.

    Originally a first round draft pick in 2014, Weller had quickly established himself in the Dockers’ best outfit, not missing a game in the past two seasons.

    A fast and skilful mover with a beautiful kick, Weller found his way to the Suns after Gold Coast gave up pick two in the draft, so the club will be hoping for an immediate impact.

    It will also be hoping that former Power forward Aaron Young can return to his best form that saw him kick 37.25 in 2016, while ex-Crow Harrison Wigg will be hoping to impress after seeking a trade for more senior opportunities.

    He will have to make serious inroads however after suffering a broken ankle at training recently.

    Lachie Weller Fremantle Dockers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    The kid
    A miraculous forward capable of kicking goals from anywhere, Ben Ainsworth made a dream start to his AFL career in 2017, playing 13 games and booting 14.9 after being drafted at selection four in the 2016 national draft.

    Standing at 178cm, Ainsworth lacks stature but makes up for it with a high leap and sticky hands. He showed his class on numerous occasions in his debut season with the Suns, such as when he bagged four goals in a win over North Melbourne, or when he claimed a NAB Rising Star nomination for booting three majors against Essendon in Round 22.

    Following the departure of Gary Ablett to Geelong, Ainsworth will take over the number nine guernsey, and with so many young Gold Coast fans already wearing that number on their back, it seems a wise choice that the popular 19-year-old will be the next custodian of the jumper.

    Supercoach star
    Reliable, high-scoring defenders are hard to come by in Supercoach, so look no further than Gold Coast co-skipper Steven May in 2018. The 106-gamer boasts a healthy average of 81.9 points a game across the past three seasons.

    After a relatively quiet finish to 2017, May’s price plummeted to $363,400, so you can expect to pay a similar starting price for him in the new year. It seems too good of a bargain to pass up.

    Fixture

    Round 1: North Melbourne (Cazaly’s Stadium)
    Round 2: Carlton (Etihad Stadium)
    Round 3: Fremantle (Optus Stadium)
    Round 4: West Coast (Optus Stadium)
    Round 5: Brisbane (Gabba)
    Round 6: Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
    Round 7: Western Bulldogs (Mars Stadium)
    Round 8: Melbourne (Gabba)
    Round 9: Port Adelaide (Jiangwan Stadium)
    Round 10: Bye
    Round 11: Geelong (Metricon Stadium)
    Round 12: Greater Western Sydney (Spotless Stadium)
    Round 13: St Kilda (Metricon Stadium)
    Round 14: Hawthorn (University of Tasmania Stadium)
    Round 15: Collingwood (Metricon Stadium)
    Round 16: North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium)*
    Round 17: Essendon (Metricon Stadium)
    Round 18: Sydney (SCG)
    Round 19: Carlton (Metricon Stadium)*
    Round 20: Melbourne (MCG)*
    Round 21: Richmond (Metricon Stadium)
    Round 22: Brisbane (Metricon Stadium)*
    Round 23: Geelong (GMHBA Stadium)*
    *denotes rematch

    A difficult fixture for the Suns, mostly due to the unavailability of their home venue Metricon Stadium for the first 10 weeks of the season due to the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

    As a result, the Suns will spend the first half of the season playing home matches in Brisbane, Cairns and even Perth, while they will travel to Melbourne, Adelaide, Ballarat and, for the second consecutive season, China.

    Once they return to Carrara, they can expect much less travel, however they still have trips to Tasmania, Sydney twice and Victoria three times post a Round 10 bye.

    The Suns will take on Brisbane in the QClash in Rounds 5 (Gabba) and 22 (Metricon), while they will face North Melbourne, Carlton, Melbourne and Geelong twice.

    The quirk
    Because of the unavailability of their home ground Metricon Stadium in the first half of the season, Gold Coast will play a ‘home’ game at the new Optus Stadium in Perth in Round 3 against Fremantle.

    The Suns will then stay in Western Australia the following week, playing another match at the brand new venue against West Coast, this time as the away side.

    Don’t miss it
    The AFL have conveniently scheduled the Suns’ first match at Carrara for 2018 to be against Geelong on a Saturday evening in Round 11.

    If he plays, it will be Gary Ablett’s first ever match against Gold Coast, which will spark significant interest.

    The Suns will also be hoping for a repeat of 2017’s match against the Cats, in which they produced one of the upsets of the season.

    Gary Ablett Geelong Cats AFL

    (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

    Make other plans
    A week after the Suns play host to the Cats, Stuart Dew’s men will head to Sydney to take on the Giants at Spotless Stadium.

    Gold Coast have played GWS twice at the venue in their history, both times resulting in losses in excess of 90 points.

    Given the Giants are tipped to be one of the contenders for the flag in 2018, this game could be over very quickly.

    Final word

    For the first time in quite a while, there is an air of surety surrounding the Gold Coast Suns with the appointment of Dew as coach.

    Expect the players to buy into his message and ethos early, as the former premiership Hawk and Power forward is a relationship-based coach.

    It will be interesting to see how a united Gold Coast list playing for their coach will look on the field, as this is arguably yet to happen in their existence.

    The list is inexperienced (18th in the league for average age, 16th for average games played) and not overly menacing on paper, and as a result will spend another year in the bottom half of the ladder, but the development of their younger players such as Jack Bowes, Will Brodie, Jack Scrimshaw and Ben Ainsworth will almost be as important as the wins and losses.

    Predicted finish: 18th

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • December 19th 2017 @ 3:35pm
      Carl said | December 19th 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

      Good article. Thank you.

      Both Queensland teams will find it difficult in 2018 and beyond.

      As a Lions supporter I hope they improve and can retain the players they want. Otherwise it will be another futile exercise in a few years time.

      The AFL will have to keep an eye on these teams. Unless they can perform (Gold Coast with the Commonwealth Games next year has made it much more difficult) a lot of money could be poured in without much reward.

    • December 19th 2017 @ 3:37pm
      Don Freo said | December 19th 2017 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

      That’s a pretty impressive first 22. I wonder if Stuart Dew will galvanize them. I expect the Suns will love training without not-stop Rocket abuse for the first time for 3 years.

      I can certainly see them finishing ahead of Hawthorn, NM, Carlton, probably Brisbane and locking horns with Port for next in the pecking order.

      • Roar Guru

        December 20th 2017 @ 2:32am
        Peppsy said | December 20th 2017 @ 2:32am | ! Report

        I’ve never seen Freo autocorrected to Port before but ok.

        Still waiting for that barbecue.

        • December 20th 2017 @ 9:09am
          Don Freo said | December 20th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

          What? Are you making your own date and time? Courtesy demands you come when it’s on. You didn’t even RSVP. I suppose you make your own time for Christmas.

          It’s been and gone.

    • December 19th 2017 @ 8:46pm
      Mattician6x6 said | December 19th 2017 @ 8:46pm | ! Report

      If dew can create a us vs the world attitude at GC they will steadily improve as there is huge potential within that list.

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