Round 4 of the AFL season has just concluded. Here is what we learned.
The clash between the Gold Coast Suns and the West Coast Eagles should be considered the biggest mismatch of Round 2 when it gets underway as one of the two later matches on Saturday week.
Not only are they from opposite sides of the country, but from opposite ends of the ladder, with the Suns winning the wooden spoon for the second time in their nine-year history last year while 2018 premiers West Coast finished fifth on the ladder despite stumbling badly towards the end of the season.
However, Gold Coast’s seemingly abysmal nine-year performance – compared to that of fellow league newbie Greater Western Sydney’s eight years – should be looked at in context over the 124 years that the VFL/AFL has been in existence.
Greater Western Sydney was blessed with the presence of probably the greatest thinker in modern football from soon after they were created but still languished on the bottom of the ladder for two years and then steadily climbed the ladder for the next two years to make the finals in their fifth year.
This achievement of four years being the most years they have had without a final is only bettered by two out of the other 17 current clubs (Adelaide and West Coast).
I discussed in my article Geelong versus Gold Coast the lack of success that a number of teams now considered to be successful had in earlier times, which in the case of five clubs stretched out to two or more decades without a finals appearance.
So Gold Coast need to be given more time despite the preferential treatment they have received to date. Even if they take another five years to reach the grand final, there would still be only five clubs who have not had a longer period without a grand final appearance.
So the Suns go into this round having lost their last 19 games (only two games less than their consecutive losses record), having never beaten eight other clubs in more than two games (and Adelaide never) and having eight clubs lining up to continue their current record of consecutive wins against the Suns.
When you add to the stats mix that Gold Coast have only ever won one game against West Coast (and that was by three points), and none against an Adam Simpson-coached team, you get some sense of the task facing Stuart Dew.
However, things are not as bleak as they first appear. While still the youngest team in the competition in 2020 (as they were in 2018), they are not the least experienced, with the players on the lists of Fremantle, Sydney and Adelaide all having a lower tally of games than the Suns.
No big names left the club at the end of the 2019 season and they have worked hard to sign their talented players to longer term contracts to stem the loss of quality players to other clubs.
In all, 22 players have left the club to play for other teams, and that includes 11 of the top 20 game-players. The 2020 season saw the club introduce five players including two ready-made players in Round 1, and all acquitted themselves well despite the loss to Port Adelaide.
While I give Gold Coast little hope of beating the Eagles, they can aim to make little improvements game by game. The returning Zac Smith, Touk Miller, Jesse Joyce, Jack Bowes and others all have the opportunity to add to the history of the club.
For West Coast, Shannon Hurn has the opportunity to become the third greatest game-player for the Eagles and Brad Sheppard, Nic Naitanui, Jamie Cripps and Elliot Yeo (among others) can move up the ranks of the West Coast Eagles’ top 100 game-players.