With rumours circulating this week that Adelaide are willing to trade for South Australian prospect Jack Lukosius, a winding path back to relevance has suddenly been illuminated for the struggling Gold Coast Suns.
The idea of trading the number one pick is seemingly floated at this stage of the season every year as media pundits astutely identify that the bottom team on the ladder needs immediate help, and an 18-year-old key forward might not be the person to provide it.
The trade has never eventuated. Since the introduction of the current draft format the bottom team has always retained the first pick, unconvinced by the potential of a ‘ready-made star’ or a group of depth players and instead committing to the long-term upside.
You would then presume the Lukosius’ rumours are pure speculation, spread at a time when we’re in need of long-term storylines to distract from the mediocre footy being played of a weekend.
But the Suns present a unique case. With the seemingly inevitable departure of co-captain Tom Lynch and the consequent compensation, they could end up with two picks at the very top of the draft order.
If they managed to finish in last and net the first pick, a trade with the Crows would appear to make a terrific amount of sense.
Jack Lukosius projects as the clear number one prospect, as has been the case all season. He’s a versatile, mobile big who could be a generational talent. But do the Suns, a franchise on the brink of disintegration, really want another interstate, long-term project?
We’ve seen time and time again that relocating an 18-year-old to the most irrelevant club in the league in a state with only a partial interest in the sport is not a recipe for success. The Suns struggles with retaining young talent have been rivalled only by their Queensland counterpart, and the issues of location and relevance are clearly the common denominator.
If they were to land the number one pick – and it is still a big if – the Suns might be better off trading for a package of mature players more prepared to relocate to the Gold Coast and undertake the herculean task of resurrecting the club from football obscurity.
Adelaide’s other first-round picks, currently projected at eight and 13 (from Melbourne in the Jake Lever deal), would also tempt the Suns. But considering their circumstance, they should push for ready-made talent akin to the acquisition of Jarryd Lyons a few seasons ago. With the amount of top-end South Australian prospects in the upcoming draft, I’m sure Adelaide would also be happy to keep the picks and rejuvenate with a whole new batch of local kids, proactively addressing their own retention issues in the process.
Mitch McGovern already has a foot out the door and by all reports he’s not yet set on a move back home to Western Australia or to the bright lights of Melbourne, only that he needs to get the hell out of Adelaide. At 23, McGovern projects as a potential five to ten-year player just entering his prime, the perfect demographic to target. Perhaps he could be convinced to venture north if the Crows pushed him in that direction.
In addition to McGovern, there are a plethora of other fringe candidates to sweeten a deal. Rory Atkins and Riley Knight have both found themselves on the outer this year despite being an integral part of the grand final run last season and could benefit from a change of scenery.
Paul Seedsman has looked good in patches this year but could again find himself relegated to the SANFL once Brodie Smith returns, and other fringe players like Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Curtly Hampton could prove to be handy acquisitions.
Whatever the package might be, it’s certainly worth consideration as a step closer to playing competitive football while still getting the chance at a more ready-made young gun with pick two, such as Sam Walsh or Bailey Smith.
One would also assume that Adelaide wouldn’t be the only club to come calling if news spread that the pick was available, potentially creating a bidding war to secure Lukosius’ services.
The compensation that could set this in motion suddenly feels like an extremely valuable asset. While I’m sure the club would ardently say they’d rather keep Tom Lynch, perhaps Gold Coast would be better off getting a handful of best 22 players than breaking the bank for a key forward who can’t change the club’s misfortune by himself.
However, the path to set up this series of hypotheticals requires some very favourable results in the coming weeks.
Gold Coast are currently two games ahead of Carlton with a similar percentage, and backing the Blues to start winning games of football seems like such an outlandish proposition it hardly warrants speculation.
But there is hope. The two teams square off in three weeks in Round 19, a game that will effectively be an eight-pointer in the race for the spoon. If Gold Coast successfully tank their way to a loss, they would only need the Blues to win one other game out of their last seven to clinch 18th spot.
Friday night’s much-anticipated blockbuster against St Kilda is the other most winnable game in Carlton’s run home. The Saints have looked better in recent times but will be without a forward line as Paddy McCartin joins Josh Bruce and Josh Battle on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
While the Blues struggles have been well documented, the return (hopefully) of key personnel and a more favourable run with injuries could help make this dream a reality. Provided Kade Simpson plays, the door is ajar for an upset win.
The other key determining factor in the race for the top pick is the motivational force behind each club. Gold Coast truly have nothing to play for: the doldrums in which they dwell are an accepted part of contemporary football. The team representing the sunshine state has lived more commonly in a dark pit akin to Bane’s birthplace in The Dark Knight Rises, and while Carlton have recently adopted the darkness, Gold Coast were born in it.
And they were moulded by it too. The result of growing accustomed to this environment is to avoid the knee-jerk sackings that are often the first order of business for cellar-dwelling teams and indeed has been for Gold Coast in the past. Expectation means that Stuart Dew is in no position to lose his job despite the terrible year, unlike his counterpart.
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Carlton have been painted as a club in crisis by the Victoria-centric media, with one win for the season and tens of thousands of disenchanted fans. Brendon Bolton is in the unenviable position of coaching a struggling Victorian club and his job security is under question as a result.
A couple of wins to end the season would mean a whole lot more to the historically proud Carlton Football Club and its key personnel than it would to the infantile Gold Coast Suns, whose fan base has become very accustomed to losing.
A Carlton upset this weekend would likely make the Round 19 game between Gold Coast and Carlton at Metricon Stadium the Lukosius – or the ‘whatever we can get from Adelaide’ – Cup, and while Stuart Dew strikes me as a man of character, his moral fortitude may be tested when the potential benefit of a loss far outweighs that of a win.
But before we reach that potentially enormous Round 19 match-up (only partially sarcastic), Gold Coast’s long climb out of the pit and into football relevance starts this Friday night. After the rest of us have long since flicked over to Wimbledon or Le Tour, Suns fans, if they exist, should be watching intently with the knowledge that the next few weeks could shape the clubs long and short-term future.
The difference between pick one and two may seem small, but with a clear number one prospect and Adelaide lurking, the ramifications of wins and losses at the bottom of the ladder could dramatically change the fortunes of a struggling franchise.
For the greater good, in hope of restoring some mythological parity or to simply throw a dog a bone, Gold Coast should unashamedly tank through the remaining seven games of the season and we should all wholeheartedly hope that Carlton can conjure a small miracle on Friday night.