The first thing that hits you about the Suns’ line-up is that it’s absolutely stacked in defence.
Leah Kaslar was one of the Lions’ best in the backline for the past several seasons, Sam Virgo was Brisbane’s best defender in the inaugural year, Tiarna Ernst has been very good down back for the Dogs and youngster Serene Watson was a standout for Queensland in the under-18 championships, possessing height, agility and skills.
Gold Coast have such a large surplus of defenders that it’s hard to see that some of them won’t need to be reinvented for the much less stacked forward line. In the case of Page Parker and Kitara Whap-Farrar, the reinvention could even happen on a wing – both are seriously fast and could break lines through the middle if their ball skills and endurance stand up to the new position.
A couple of fast wingers could turn the midfield unit into a much stronger combination than already exists. Led by the excellent Jamie Stanton via North Melbourne, there’s also former Crows co-captain Sally Riley and under-18s standout Ellie Hampson, who is physically powerful for a midfielder and a hard-bustling, tackling player unlike most of the small, young midfielders seen elsewhere.
Hampson’s got good skills and could make a significant contribution in her first season. She’ll need to, because after those three there’s not much in the way of recognised midfield talent. Dee Heslop and Jacqui Yorston were good juniors but not to Hampson’s level, though it’s always possible that young players will surprise.
At 188 centimetres, Lauren Bella is one of the tallest players in the competition and a genuine athlete, so Stanton, Riley and Hampson will get plenty of good service at the stoppages at least.
Up forward things look also a little thin. Jasmyn Hewett is a tall athlete from the Northern Territory, formerly a development player with Adelaide before an ankle injury saw her sidelined last year. She’s got tremendous potential as a tall leading forward, but at AFLW level at least that remains purely hypothetical.
Kalinda Howarth is a 21-year-old who’s been prominent in Queensland football for a while and won the QAFLW goalkicking award in 2019, while Jordann Hickey is a former Demon who loves a contest. Charlotte Hammans is another of the club’s strong juniors, 18 years old and having impressed at under-18 level, but, again, this is a forward line consisting mostly of players who might and could. Until we’ve actually seen them play at AFLW level, ‘might’ and ‘could’ aren’t much to hang your hat on.
Like all of the expansion teams this year, there’s a lot of potential here. The Gold Coast region has produced lots of strong juniors, which should see the Suns get significantly stronger in the next few seasons. It’s also been a surprise to see none of the expansion teams bar West Coast go chasing after Irish imports – those two extra quality players could make all the difference for a developing team.
But it’s hard to see a team with this little established talent in the midfield and the forward line winning many games in their first season.
This sometimes gets interpreted by a team’s angry fans as saying the team isn’t any good, but that’s not the case here at all. The thing with sporting competitions is that you can’t just look at teams in isolation; you have to match them up against the other teams and ask yourself who you think they can beat.
The Suns this year have got lots of good players, but most other teams have better.