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The decade that was: Gold Coast Suns

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Roar Guru
3rd December, 2019

After a failed bid to have the North Melbourne Kangaroos relocated from Arden Street in Melbourne to the Gold Coast in Queensland, the AFL granted a provisional licence to a bid team known as GC17 in 2009.

The AFL Commission revealed that the newly formed club would participate in the VFL season in 2010 before joining as the 17th club in the AFL in 2011. Halfway through the 2010 VFL season, it was revealed that Gold Coast’s nickname would be the Suns and that they would wear the colours red, gold and blue.

With generous concession packages awarded to the start-up club, Gold Coast were permitted to recruit an array of opposition players, with Brownlow medallist Gary Ablett the biggest signing. Ablett was named the inaugural captain of the club, with Guy McKenna the senior coach after Brisbane champion Michael Voss walked away from the role due to not being offered a long enough deal.

The Suns were scheduled to play Carlton at the Gabba in their first ever AFL match in Round 2 of the 2011 season, with 12 debutants in the team. A 119-point loss was a disappointing start, but it only took a few weeks for Gold Coast to register their first victory – a come-from-behind win over Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium.

The Suns won the first ever instalment of the Q-Clash, the biyearly contest between Gold Coast and the Brisbane Lions, but only one more win would follow for the entire year, with Gold Coast claiming the wooden spoon.

The 2012 season was just as tough, with Gold Coast having to wait until Round 16 to record their first win – a victory over Richmond following a goal after the siren from rugby league convert Karmichael Hunt. Another 3-19 record saw the Suns finish second-last on the ladder. Gold Coast improved steadily in 2013, winning eight matches as the likes of Jaeger O’Meara, Harley Bennell and David Swallow started to become young stars of the competition.


Gold Coast began to look like a genuine finals contender in the 2014 season, winning a club-record five matches in a row and sitting third on the ladder after Round 10. A win over Collingwood in Round 17 was soured by a dislocated shoulder to Ablett, who missed the remainder of the year. Gold Coast won just one more match for the campaign, finishing in 12th position. After 24 wins from 88 matches, McKenna was sacked from the senior coaching position.

Despite fierce speculation the Suns were targeting two-time premiership coach Mark Thompson, Rodney Eade became the second person to coach Gold Coast, joining his third club after over 300 games in charge of both Sydney and the Western Bulldogs. It would be a catastrophic signing for the Suns, winning just 16 games in his three campaigns with the club. He was sacked with three games remaining in the 2017 season, replaced by caretaker coach Dean Solomon.

After eight years with the Sydney Swans as an assistant, Stuart Dew was announced as the next coach of the Suns for the 2018 season. Gold Coast won just four games in his first year in charge, before losing both of their co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May to opposition clubs.

The Suns were highly competitive to start the 2019 campaign, winning three of their first four games, but they lost their last 18 games of the season to finish on the bottom of the ladder and claim their second wooden spoon and their first since their inaugural year in 2011.

Jarrod Witts

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Best wins

Round 5, 2011 – Port Adelaide 15.11.101 defeated by Gold Coast 15.14.104 (AAMI Stadium)
The Suns endured a horror start to their life in the AFL, losing their opening three matches by a combined margin of 280 points. They were widely tipped to suffer another loss when they travelled interstate to face the Power at AAMI Stadium in Round 5. Port Adelaide led for majority of the game, getting out to a 40-point advantage late in the third quarter. Three goals in succession had the Suns back in the contest, but a reply from Jackson Trengove for Port had the margin back at 28 points early in the last quarter. Gold Coast continued to fight back, kicking the next five goals of the game to incredibly grab the lead. A mark to Justin Westhoff in the final moments of the match gave Port a chance to snatch the win after the siren, but a misskick delivered the first ever premiership points to the Gold Coast Suns.

Round 16, 2012 – Richmond 13.10.88 defeated by Gold Coast 13.12.90 (Cazaly’s Stadium)
Facing a monster 21-game losing streak, the Suns returned to Cazaly’s Stadium in Cairns – the site of their last win – to take on Richmond, the team they had beaten in their last triumph. With seven of the first nine goals, the Suns were looking good early, but a stunning surge from the Tigers saw them skip out to an 18-point lead in the final quarter. Faced with a 10-point deficit with only 30 seconds remaining on the clock, Gold Coast pulled off a stunning comeback, with Jarrod Harbrow kicking a goal on the run, before a final foray forward saw Karmichael Hunt mark the ball just before the siren. The rugby league convert went back and coolly delivered Gold Coast their first win of the season in one of the most memorable finishes to a game in the modern era.


Round 18, 2018 – Sydney 8.16.64 defeated by Gold Coast 12.16.88 (SCG)
With apologies to Gold Coast’s record-breaking win over Hawthorn in Round 3 of the 2017 season, it’s hard to go past this one. Having not won in 11 matches, the Suns faced a daunting trip to the SCG to take on the fourth-placed Sydney, a team they had never gotten close to in eight attempts. With six of the first seven goals of the match, the Swans skipped out to a 30-point lead early in the second quarter and the result already seemed beyond doubt. But a determined Gold Coast outfit fought back hard, grabbing the lead at half time before extending it to 20 points at the final change, with Sydney kept goalless in the second and third quarters. The Suns ran out 24-point winners, causing one of the upsets of the season in a 54-point turnaround.

Steven May

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Worst losses

Round 6, 2011 – Essendon 31.11.197 defeated Gold Coast 8.10.58 (Marvel Stadium)
A week after securing their first ever win, Gold Coast flew to Melbourne to take on Essendon under the roof at Docklands. A stunning start from Essendon saw them set a record for the highest score in an opening quarter, kicking 15 goals to one behind. They would pile on 31 majors for the game, with the Suns no match for Essendon, going down by 139 points as they conceded the highest score in the history of the club.

Round 2, 2017 – GWS Giants 24.16.160 defeated Gold Coast 8.10.58 (Sydney Showgrounds)
After almost pinching a come-from-behind victory over the state rivals Brisbane in the opening round of the 2017 season, Gold Coast came back to earth with an almighty thud a week later against the GWS Giants. A seven-goal-to-one start would be an indicator of things to come for Gold Coast, who slumped to a 102-point defeat, with star Gary Ablett widely criticised for his on-field efforts. They would bounce back a week later with an 86 point thumping of Hawthorn, which remains their biggest ever win in the AFL.

Round 12, 2018 – GWS Giants 20.14.134 defeated Gold Coast 4.2.26 (Sydney Showgrounds)
A year later, and the Suns returned to western Sydney to take on a Giants side desperately needing to get back into form. Gold Coast were lucky to be in the contest at quarter time after losing the inside-50 count 17-7 in the opening term, and the floodgates opened soon after. With 15 goals over the next two quarters, GWS took hold of the game, going on to record their biggest ever win in the AFL, breaking their previous record also set against the Suns. It would be the second lowest score ever kicked in a match by Gold Coast.

Moments that shaped the club

Joining the AFL
With the AFL looking to expand into rugby league heartland areas in Queensland and New South Wales, the league identified North Melbourne as a team they would like to relocate from Victoria to the Gold Coast. After several years of campaigning, the Roos delivered a strong, unified ‘no thanks’ to the AFL’s lucrative relocation package. Thus, the AFL decided to bring a new team into the competition, with bid team GC17 developing into what is today known as the Gold Coast Suns.


GC17 had to meet a number of requirements to be granted an AFL licence, which included 20,000 committed supporters, 111 business partners and the redevelopment of Carrara Stadium with the help of the Queensland Labor Party. On the 31st of March, 2009, then-AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou announced that Gold Coast would be joining the competition as the league’s 17th team.

Gold Coast would compete in the TAC Cup season of 2009 before playing in the VFL in 2010. As part of their concessions package for entry into the AFL, the Suns were permitted to sign up to 16 uncontracted players from opposition clubs. Adelaide defender Nathan Bock was the first to join Gold Coast, followed by Brisbane’s Jared Brennan, Hawthorn premiership star Campbell Brown, Collingwood ruckman Josh Fraser, Western Bulldogs youngster Jarrod Harbrow, Port Adelaide’s Nathan Krakouer and Brisbane midfielder Michael Rischitelli.

The biggest fish of all was announced late in September when Geelong superstar and Brownlow medallist Gary Ablett agreed to a five-year deal worth close to $10 million. Ablett would be announced as the inaugural captain of the Suns for the 2011 season and beyond.

Gold Coast were also given a bevy of draft concessions, handed eight of the first 13 picks in the 2010 national draft, including the first three picks. The Suns selected David Swallow with their first selection, adding Harley Bennell, Sam Day, Josh Caddy, Dion Prestia, Daniel Gorringe, Tom Lynch and Seb Tape after that.

Tom Lynch

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

With the redevelopment of Carrara Stadium, Gold Coast were forced to play their first three home matches at the Gabba in Brisbane. After having the bye in the opening round of the 2011 season, Gold Coast officially played their first ever AFL match in Round 2 on a Saturday night against Carlton at the Gabba, losing by 119 points. The Suns would go through their debut season winning just three matches, claiming the wooden spoon.

Guy McKenna’s sacking
It would take four years for Gold Coast to start performing consistently on the field, with the Suns sitting inside the top four at the halfway mark of the 2014 season. However, form fell away as a lengthy injury list mounted, with Gold Coast missing the finals after winning just three of their last 13 games. On October 1, after their most successful season thus far, Guy McKenna was sacked as coach of the Suns.

The next day, Gold Coast chairman John Witheriff called a media press conference, but failed to actually go into detail as to why McKenna had been given the axe. After bumbling his way through the presser, Witheriff left Gold Coast fans no closer to knowing why they suddenly had no coach just prior to the player swap period beginning. With two-time Geelong premiership coach Mark Thompson a strong favourite to replace McKenna, it was later revealed that Rodney Eade would re-enter the coaching game after three seasons out of the AFL. Eade endured a horrid tenure, winning just 16 games from 63 matches.


The AFL steps in
After several years of being anchored to the bottom of the ladder following the exodus of some of the club’s senior players – including Brownlow medallist Gary Ablett, star midfielders Dion Prestia and Jaeger O’Meara and co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May – the AFL announced at the end of the 2019 season that they would be handing the Gold Coast Suns an extensive assistance package to help save the club and make it a competitive football team.

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Included in the package was a priority draft selection at the start of the first round in the 2019 draft, arming the Suns with picks one and two. They were also given the first pick in the second round, a mid-first round selection in the 2020 draft, and the first pick in the second round of the 2020 draft.

Further to their draft concessions, Gold Coast will now have priority access to Darwin-based talent as part of an extended academy zone, as well as an extended rookie list, allowing them to sign more players. At the 2019 national draft, the Suns selected Victorian duo Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson with their first two selections, before trading up to grab Sam Flanders at pick 11. Now boasting six youngsters drafted inside the top 15 of the last two drafts, Gold Coast have some serious talent on their list. The next step is to retain them for the years to come.


Best 22 of the decade

Back pocket – Kade Kolodjashnij
A top-five selection from the 2013 national draft, Kolodjashnij quickly established himself as a regular in the Gold Coast back line following his senior debut. In just his second season, he came two votes short of winning the Club Champion Award, but concussion issues would affect him from playing his best football over the next few seasons. At the end of 2018, Kolodjashnij was traded to Melbourne after 78 matches.

Full back – Rory Thompson
One of only four Gold Coast locals who joined the Suns prior to their entry into the AFL, Thompson has been one of Gold Coast’s most reliable defenders over the history of the club. He has managed two top-ten placings in the club best and fairest, finishing fourth in both 2013 and 2018. Thompson failed to add to his 103 senior matches in 2019 after he suffered a torn ACL in the pre-season.

Back pocket – Sean Lemmens
The dashing defender has been a valuable contributor to the Suns’ outfit when fit, playing 87 games since his debut in 2014. A trademark of his game is his ability to sell candy to opposition players, often when going for dashing runs up the field.

Half back – Jarrod Harbrow
The recruitment of Harbrow from the Western Bulldogs at the end of 2010 will go down as one of the best decisions Gold Coast made, with the rebounding defender developing into one of the club’s most loyal players. Harbrow has played 175 games with the club – 36 more than any other Sun – achieving seven top-ten finishes in the Club Champion Award, including his win in 2018. There is a strong argument for the best and fairest to be named the Jarrod Harbrow Medal once he retires.

Centre half back – Steven May
May endured a chequered history in his time on the Gold Coast, being on the receiving end of a punch from teammate Campbell Brown on a pre-season training camp that saw the latter’s contract with the Suns torn up. It came after the 2013 season where May established himself as a key cog of Gold Coast’s spine, able to play at both ends of the field. After settling as a key defender, May was again in the headlines in 2016, suspended for five games after a brutal bump on Brisbane’s Stefan Martin which sparked an on-field brawl between the two clubs. At the end of that season, May was announced as a co-captain of the Suns alongside Tom Lynch. After achieving four top-ten finishes in the club best and fairest, May departed the club in a trade to Melbourne at the end of 2018 following 123 games and 21 goals as a Sun.

Steven May

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Half back – Trent McKenzie
A member of the inaugural Gold Coast team, McKenzie made himself known across the league as one of the longest kicks in the competition, easily able to clear 70 metres with a single kick. Nicknamed ‘The Cannon’, McKenzie achieved two top-ten finishes in a productive first five seasons with the club, but after falling out of favour, he was delisted at the end of 2017 after 106 games and 22 goals.


Wing – Aaron Hall
The talented Hall started his career with the Suns as a damaging forward, kicking 24 goals and 27 behinds in just his second season. His form stagnated over the next few seasons, before a move into the midfield late in 2015 to cover the injured Gary Ablett resulted in him playing some of his best football. He carried that in 2016, famously being awarded nine Brownlow Medal votes with back-to-back-to-back best-on-ground performances in the opening three rounds of the season. After two consecutive top-five finishes in the club best and fairest, Hall managed just six games in 2018 due to form and injury, and after 103 matches and 76 goals, he left the Suns to continue his career at North Melbourne.

Centre – David Swallow
The first player drafted to the Gold Coast, Swallow has been a show of loyalty over his 139-game journey at the Suns. The midfielder became the first person other than Gary Ablett to win a best and fairest at the Suns, saluting in 2014. After missing all but six games over the 2015 and 2016 campaigns due to persistent injuries, Swallow has returned to his best football, finishing runner-up in the Club Champion Award in 2017 and 2019. Swallow is the current co-captain of Gold Coast with Jarrod Witts, taking over from Steven May and Tom Lynch after their departures.

Wing – Michael Rischitelli
One of two Lions to head down the M1 to the Suns when they joined the AFL in 2011, Rischitelli was a vice-captain of the club in the early years. A key member of a young midfield brigade, Rischitelli finished in the top ten of the Club Champion Award three times. At the end of 2019, Rischitelli hung up the boots following 132 games with the Suns, ranked third in the history of the club.

Half forward – Jack Martin
The Suns were given special early access to the extremely talented Martin in the 2012 mini-draft, with the youngster able to train with the club and play reserves, but he was unable to play at the senior level until 2014. It was a long wait for his debut in Round 1 of the 2014 season, but it did not end well for Martin, who injured his shoulder and was forced to miss three months. Once he returned, Martin became a valuable midfielder capable of going forward to kick goals. He achieved back-to-back top-three finishes in the club best and fairest in 2016 and 2017, kicking a career-high 24 goals in the latter season. At the end of 2018, Martin requested a trade to Essendon, but was forced to play one more year with the Suns after a deal could not be brokered. Martin joined Carlton through the pre-season draft at the conclusion of the 2019 season following 97 games and 81 goals.

Centre half forward – Tom Lynch
One of Gold Coast’s original draftees, Lynch quickly established himself as a player of the future in his debut season. After a successful first year playing up forward, Lynch spent majority of 2012 playing down back and in the ruck, but he soon cemented his spot at centre half forward. A breakout season in 2014 saw him win the first of four consecutive leading goal-kicker awards, winning back-to-back Club Champion Awards in 2015 and 2016. After 66 goals in 2016, Lynch became the first and only Gold Coast player other than Gary Ablett to be named in the All Australian team. He was named co-captain of the club for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but after coming out of contract in the latter year, he announced his desire to move to Richmond after a club record 254 goals from 131 games.

Half forward – Gary Ablett (captain)
The Geelong superstar made national headlines in 2010 when he announced he would be departing the Cats and joining the Suns on a five-year deal worth $10 million. The first captain of the club, Ablett played remarkable footy early in his time at the Suns, named in the All Australian team and finishing in the top five of the Brownlow Medal every year between 2011 and 2014, winning the award for the second time in his career in 2013. Ablett won the first three Club Champion Awards at the Suns, while he was named the AFL Players Association’s MVP in 2012 and 2013.

Suns player Gary Ablett takes on Kangaroos

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Injuries started to curtail his career in 2014, suffering a badly dislocated shoulder in Round 16 that forced him out for the remainder of the season. His shoulder issues continued to affect his 2015 campaign, before a season-ending knee injury occurred in Round 17. He returned to play 14 games in 2016 before another shoulder injury would end his season, with Ablett requesting a trade back to Geelong due to family reasons. After his request fell on deaf ears, Ablett relinquished his position as captain, winning a fourth club best and fairest award despite playing just 14 games in 2017. After again requesting a trade back to the Cats, Ablett departed the Suns after 110 games and 124 goals.


Forward pocket – Brandon Matera
After joining the Suns as an underage recruit, Matera was a member of Gold Coast’s inaugural side in 2011. He was instrumental in the club’s first ever win, kicking four goals against Port Adelaide. He failed to nail down a spot as a regular in the best 22 due to inconsistent form, but still remained one of the club’s most potent goal-kickers. He was traded to Fremantle at the end of 2017 following 101 games and 124 goals.

Full forward – Charlie Dixon
The hulking Dixon was the first ever player to sign with the Gold Coast Football Club, agreeing to join for their 2009 TAC Cup season. He was selected to join the Suns’ AFL list, making his debut in their inaugural match against Carlton. He created history by kicking the first ever goal for the Suns, but it would take him a couple of seasons before he asserted himself as a dependable goal-kicking option for the team. He kicked 24 goals in the 2014 season, booting all of them in the space of ten games, before a breakout year in 2015 saw him kick 41 majors. That year, he become the first Gold Coast player to kick seven goals in a match, a record Tom Lynch would later break. At the end of 2015, he was traded to Port Adelaide following 94 goals in 65 games.

Forward pocket – Alex Sexton
A zone selection for the Suns in the 2011 draft, Sexton showed his potential over his first few years with the club before becoming a regular in the best 22 in 2016. A midfielder capable of pushing forward to be an attacking option, the past two seasons have seen Sexton play predominantly forward, resulting in him winning two consecutive leading goal-kicker awards.

Ruckman – Jarrod Witts
The towering big man has only been at the Suns for three seasons, but already he has made an undeniable impact on the playing group, becoming co-captain alongside David Swallow at the start of the 2019 season. It was Witts’ best campaign in the AFL, winning the club best and fairest after being just one of two players across the competition to win over 1000 hit-outs in the season.

Ruck rover – Touk Miller
The hard-working midfielder has also come on in strides since joining the Suns as a draftee at the end of 2014. In just his first season, Miller finished fourth in the club best and fairest, going on to place in the top ten in each season since, including a runner-up finish in 2018. In 2019 he became the 14th player in the history of the club to play 100 games.

Rover – Dion Prestia
One of a number of top-ten draft picks the Gold Coast brought through the doors in their first ever draft, Prestia took a couple of years to establish himself as a young gun of the competition, finishing second behind Gary Ablett in the 2013 best and fairest award. Named vice-captain of the club going into 2014, he would follow that up with a third placing in that year’s count, before two consecutive knee injuries in the 2015 and 2016 campaigns would cut his year short. Out of contract at the end of 2016, Prestia sought a trade to Richmond following 95 matches as a Sun.

Interchange – Sam Day
Drafted at pick three in the 2010 national draft, Day has arguably failed to live up to his potential, but he has been a loyal and honest contributor for the Suns over his 120 games in nine years. Able to play at either end of the ground, Day has booted 85 goals in his career, finishing in the top ten of the Club Champion Award once. He missed the entire 2017 season after a horrific dislocation of the hip in a pre-season game.

Interchange – Harley Bennell
A fellow top-three draft pick from 2010, Bennell endured a turbulent career with the Suns, dropped for disciplinary reasons twice in his debut year. A breakout year in his second season saw him finish runner-up to Gary Ablett in both the best and fairest award and the goal-kicking, booting 25 for the season. He showed his star power in 2014 against Geelong with a six-goal haul, but it wasn’t long until he was back in the media, dropped from the senior side in 2015 after drinking alcohol in the lead-up to a game.


A couple of months later, a photo of Bennell with a white powder began circulating, resulting in him not being available for selection yet again. Following Gold Coast’s campaign, he was arrested following a drunken altercation in Surfers Paradise, with the Suns finally losing their patience with Bennell following 81 games and 92 goals. He was then traded to Fremantle.

Interchange – Danny Stanley
The former Collingwood midfielder was selected by the Suns in the 2010 pre-season draft, going on to play every game in Gold Coast’s inaugural season. He would lead the club goal-kicking with a total of 20 goals, finishing fifth in the Club Champion Award. He would improve to finish third the year after despite missing nine games, before another top-ten finish in 2013. He managed just 30 matches and eight goals in his final three years before he was delisted.

Interchange – Jaeger O’Meara
Similar to Jack Martin, Gold Coast were able to pick up O’Meara a year before he was eligible to play at senior level. Touted as one of the best young kids to come through the underage ranks in many years, O’Meara had a terrific debut season, finishing third in the Club Champion Award and becoming the first Gold Coast player to win the AFL Rising Star. He would finish in the top five of the best and fairest in 2014 and be named the AFL Coaches Association’s best young player of the year, before injury would cost him his entire 2015 and 2016 campaigns. Seeking a fresh start, O’Meara departed the Suns in favour of Hawthorn following 44 matches and 27 goals.

Are the Suns placed better or worse going into the new decade compared to ten years ago?

Better, although at the time, the draft and recruiting concessions awarded to the Suns had everyone believing that they were going to win a stack of premierships during the 2010 decade.

Hindsight tells us the exact opposite occurred, and after special assistance from the AFL in the form of extra draft picks, a wider zone and an extended list, Gold Coast are well placed to have a fighting chance in the 2020 decade, especially with Stuart Dew at the helm.

If they haven’t worked it out by 2025, however, I will have grave concerns for the Suns.