Welcome back to another year of AFL season previews here at The Roar.
This is an exercise fraught with danger given we are starting our series four weeks from the season proper, and even before any JLT Trophy matches. Heck, they haven’t even played AFLX yet, whatever that is.
But the one thing all football followers can seem to agree on in 2019 is that Gold Coast have a mortgage on the wooden spoon. Footy is rarely predictable, and the last three premiers bear that out, but in recent times it hasn’t been hard to identify those to prop up the ladder.
Gold Coast Best 22
B: S.Collins, J.Hombsch, C.Ellis
HB: P.Hanley, R.Thompson, J.Harbrow
C: J.Bowes, T.Miller, L.Weller
HF: A.Sexton, S.Day, J.Martin
F: I.Rankine, P.Wright, J.Lukosius
Foll: J.Witts, D.Swallow, A.Miles
Int: B.Ainsworth, W.Brodie, A.Young, G.Horlin-Smith
Em: N.Holman, C.Ah Chee, B.Fiorini
Often the poorer the team, the harder it is to lock down what the best 22 actually is. This is because the bottom 6-8 spots could generally be filled by 12-15 players of similar ability, which is probably a cut below AFL standard.
The Suns are a case in point here, with the experience further complicated by an influx of players from other clubs and the draft.
The above 22 sees seven new faces at the club for 2019, five of which bring previous AFL experience. The thing is, none of those five could command a regular game where they came from, and were all willingly traded or de-listed.
Corey Ellis and Anthony Miles come from the successful Richmond system but were bit-part players at best with 16 games between them in the last two years. George Horlin-Smith and Jordan Murdoch come from a Geelong that has played finals the last three seasons. Clearly, these types were identified to set standards, but also in the hope they can make the most of opportunities not given them in the past.
Sam Collins was discarded by Fremantle and Jack Hombsch by Port, but both can fill a key post in defence. There is a big hole there left by Steven May’s departure.
The fact is, a team of ex-Gold Coast players would start hot favourite against this current squad.
There isn’t a single household name on the list. Alex Sexton could well be the best player at the Suns, yet how many footy followers could pick him out of a police line-up?
Sexton was a bright spark in a forward-line bereft of opportunity and class, neither of which are helped by Tom Lynch utilising his free agency rights to land at Richmond.
Peter Wright and Sam Day will be asked to fill the key forward posts, but both have had injury troubles. Wright played seven games last year, and Day has played 12 across the last two seasons.
Outside those two, Gold Coast’s key forward stocks are very much with the future in mind – Brayden Crossley looked lively at stages last year, but is only 19. Jack Lukosius and Ben King were top-six draft picks only a few months ago so can’t be expected to make a huge impact so early, especially remembering the quality of ball coming in will be from an embattled midfield.
Aaron Young and Nick Holman are the pressure forwards every club needs in modern footy, but hardly inspire. Jack Martin was pick 1 in 2014 and Ben Ainsworth pick 4 in 2016, but both are still works in progress and might always be – they’ll push through the midfield and forward-line and provide class rather than bullocking.
Touk Miller is probably the captain of the midfield, their best two-way player and capable both inside and out. David Swallow gives his all, and is to be admired for sticking it out at the Suns when so many of his contemporaries have gone elsewhere, but in truth is no more than an honest soldier.
Miles will be expected to be on the bottom of every pack, but the new rule changes are designed to open the game up, which works against him. Will Brodie is also an inside mid who just started showing his promise late last year, before injury struck. It wouldn’t surprise to see him record a breakout season.
Jack Bowes and Lachie Weller were the designated wingmen in 2018, but can’t kick, which is a problem for outside runners. Jarrod Witts is an outstanding competitor in the ruck, and has elevated his standing in the game since heading north from Collingwood. He at least gives his team a better than even chance at stoppages.
The Suns backline is going to be under pressure all year. Hombsch and Rory Thompson don’t appear to be quite what they were, or perhaps what they are producing is just who they are. Collins may provide some yeast in the intercept marking category, based on his numbers at state level over the last two years.
Jarrod Harbrow is a reliable running defender and may well go down as the least heralded 300 game player in history four years from now. Can Pearce Hanley get fit, stay fit, and provide that run and dash he made his name with at Brisbane? Corey Ellis is the type of player that has proven too good for the VFL, but not up to AFL standard. He’s still young and may improve in a different environment with more responsibility.
Brayden Fiorini, Callum Ah Chee and Jesse Joyce are all from the same draft and enter their fourth year in the system – they’ve played some reasonable footy and may be in the side from Round 1.
There are so many new components for the Suns, and Stuart Dew is tasked with finding a way to make them all click. He just has to hope he doesn’t have a list of square pegs trying to fit into round holes. To use another cliché, you’ve got to have the clay before you can shape it, and it’s still hard to tell what sort of long term material Dew is working with.
Gold Coast aren’t going to win many games. We know that. But their opening month is as friendly as it could get on paper, with St Kilda, Fremantle, Western Bulldogs and Carlton to kick off their season. If they can’t snare a victory from that grouping, we’ll likely be hitting June asking if they’re going to be winless this season.
It’s going to be a long year for the Suns. Competitiveness for as long as possible is the best they can hope for.