We’re back in yet another footy festival/bonanza/streak (whatever word you wanna use).
Since the Gold Coast Suns entered the AFL as the 17th team all the way back in 2011, it has been anything but a success.
Outside of the 2014 season where they started 7-2, things have not been kind to Gold Coast with their best season in terms of ladder position being 12th.
Constant bottom-four finishes have left many to think it’s time to put an end to the Gold Coast experiment. They were gifted so much to get the club off the ground in terms of money, draft picks and access to players already in the AFL system but nine years in and it is evident that the club failed to maximise any chance of early success.
Everything seemed doom and gloom when Rodney Eade was sacked, it appeared that everyone wanted out of this sinking club, which made the decision of who was next to take over the reins as coach all the more important.
Stuart Dew was given the task of coaching a side that looked as though they had no direction. Before Dew even arrived, they had lost the club’s greatest player Gary Ablett after he requested to go back to Geelong to finish off his career and things weren’t looking good at Gold Coast.
The task of rebuilding this club wasn’t going to be easy but it appears Stuart Dew is the right man for the job, his first goal was to get rid of everyone at the club that didn’t want to be there. Tough calls had to be made and that started with the co-captains of the club Tom Lynch and Steven May. While they would have loved to keep them they both had requested trades and wanted a fresh start.
Heading into the 2020 season Gold Coast have lost seven players from their top ten in the 2017 best and fairest – a massive number regardless of where a team finished, but especially big for a team that have finished bottom two for the past three seasons. While it isn’t ideal losing most of your best players, it needed to happen for Gold Coast to move forward. They refused trades for a few contracted players, the most noteworthy being Gary Ablett, but history suggests unhappy players don’t perform well.
Player retention was becoming a real problem for Gold Coast so when a player actually requested to go to Gold Coast they have to get the deal done. The first big one was Lachie Weller requesting a trade out of Fremantle with a year to run on his contract. Fremantle stood firm and demanded pick two to be a part of the deal, which seemed a bit excessive for Weller at the time but it was a line in the sand moment at Gold Coast. A talented kid wanted to join them, which was very different to what was becoming the norm of the young kids requesting a trade out as soon as their rookie contract ended. It was time for Gold Coast to stand up and force a deal to happen even if it meant they had to part ways with pick two.
Adding a few more bigger bodies and leaders around the club was a necessity. Two-time premiership player Brandon Ellis was their target this off-season and they landed him as a free agent. Hugh Greenwood was another target as he chased more opportunity. These senior players can help keep them competitive and even win a few games throughout 2020 while the younger guys develop.
Due to constant finishes down the bottom of the ladder, Gold Coast applied for a compensation pick for the 2020 AFL draft. This was granted, which was one of the most important days in the history of the club. It is rare to get the top two picks in the draft but it is even more rare to snag two best mates in the same draft.
Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson first played together when they were 12, then went to high school together and played for Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup together. The bond is already there and both have shown great signs of loyalty to stick it out and build Gold Coast into a contender.
They have a young core of players like Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine and Ben King, who are all under 20 years old and will be future stars of the competition. Player retention has always been a problem with Gold Coast and all five of these players aren’t from Queensland, so that go-home factor is there, but if they manage to hold onto these five, who’s to say they can’t be playing finals within the next five years?
Throw in players that have already proven to be quality players and around the 24 or under age bracket like Alex Sexton, Touk Miller, Lachie Weller, Peter Wright, Brayden Fiorini, Darcy MacPherson, Will Brodie and Ben Ainsworth then suddenly you can be bullish that this club can rise to the finals faster than you might think.
Despite losing quality players the rebuild at Gold Coast looks to have turned the corner. Player retention is the key and building a winning culture is paramount to keeping these youngsters around throughout their careers. Gold Coast’s success this season won’t be measured by wins or losses but it will be getting 15 to 20 or more games into these kids floating around the 18-23 age bracket. It’s been seen before how much improvement comes from players hitting the 50-70-game mark and Gold Coast currently have plenty on that bubble.
It is up to Stuart Dew to build a culture at Gold Coast that actually resembles an AFL club. It is no secret the club has made plenty of mistakes since they came into the league but it appears they now have the right people in the right places to build a successful culture and keep this young core together contending for finals and hopefully even premierships.