The deadline for academy and father-son nominations is Thursday, 25 November, which means the Gold Coast Suns will this week be naming their pre-listed rookies, with up to six places available on their expanded rookie list.
The Gold Coast Suns received a club-saving raft of concessions at the end of the 2019 wooden spoon season.
Heading into year two of the three-year assistance package, where do the Suns stand now and how will the AFL’s Covid-19 enforced list changes affect the franchise’s recovery?
Headlining the AFL Commission’s response to the Suns’ submission were the priority draft picks, which enabled the club to select both clear cut top two prospects and teammates, Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson.
In addition to a pick at the top of the 2019 Draft and the first pick of the second round, they received a mid-first-round pick in 2020 and the first pick of the second round in 2021. However, after trading the 2020 pick #11 to Geelong for 2019 pick #27 during live trading on the second day of the 2019 Draft, the AFL have now put a bar on the Suns trading out their last concession pick in this year’s draft.
There is conjecture over whether this is because the future pick would be devalued given the Suns’ strong draft points position or because the AFL retain the right to cut off the third year of the assistance is unclear.
Although the extra draft picks went a long way to addressing the clear inadequacies of the expansion franchise’s original setup, the Suns had asked for much more and received some, if not all, of their requests.
While the AFL Commission refused extra room in the salary cap, by extending the rookie list they allowed GC Academy and Darwin-based players to be rookie-listed ahead of the draft without the Suns needing to match bids or spend draft capital. This is viewed by some in the industry to potentially be even more
These concessions had come on the heels of the AFL granting the Suns and Blues the ability to pre-list tier two talent before the 2018 Draft.
Unlike Carlton, who traded their two pre-listed players for draft picks that helped them land Mitch McGovern and Will Setterfield, Gold Coast list management signed three genuine talents in the previously delisted Sam Collins, undrafted Josh Corbett (both from Werribee), plus the protege of Mark Micken at West Adelaide, Chris Burgess.
All three have made solid contributions to the Suns’ progress, with Collins winning the 2020 Best and Fairest and the other pair being retained on the senior list after a huge delisting purge.
After the dust had settled from the 2019 trade and draft period, media reporting on the state of the Suns’ list was hazy at best. What wasn’t widely reported is that the Suns in fact had a total list capacity of 53 players, with 40 senior, ten Category A rookies and three Category B rookies.
Adding to the confusion, list management had only filled 51 spots, with Papua New Guinea prospect, Hewago Oea (AKA Ace), fulfilling the final year of his scholarship as the unofficial 52nd player, with the final place being left open for a potential mid-season draft that never eventuated.
With the club delisting ten players last month, they quietly added Ace to the final Category B Rookie list spot they had left open for him.
Jarrod Harbrow’s new contract will come via being re-rookied, while Nick Holman’s fate relies on him being upgraded to their Senior list after three seasons as a rookie, or else he may become an additional delisting should a harsh decision go against him in the coming trade period.
The status of the Suns’ list as it stands is thus: 34 senior listed players, four Category A Rookie listed players,
and three Category B listed players.
Just how the AFL implements their list size cuts remains unknown, but in the event that places are cut from the Senior list, the rookie places will remain as they are.
Indications are that only two places will be trimmed from the Senior list, which means that the Suns will have only four senior places remaining. Holman’s promised upgrade to the Senior list may cut that to three places, with Harbrow taking one of seven open Category A Rookie places.
Connor Budarick played all but one match this season and received a NAB Rising Star nomination along the way, but after he and fellow 2019 U18 All Australian, Mally Rosas, were promised Senior list spots, that is no longer looking very likely.
Rory Atkins and Oleg Markov have been linked with the club, but if they come through free agency and trade, the Suns will only take one live pick to the Draft.
Even should the Suns create more spaces by trading players such as Peter Wright and/or Will Brodie, the clamour for senior spots is still going to mean the Suns’ draft night may well be over in the first round or early second round.
In the scenario where Gold Coast have only one or two live draft picks there are a number of ways things could go. The indicative draft order has the Suns picking fifth, but with Next Generation Academy bids, Father-Sons and free agency compensation picks, this place may be compromised.
Therefore, with a pair of second-round picks and five rounds worth of 2021 picks, the Suns are well armed to move up the draft order. In fact, all four clubs ahead of them may well be interested in trading places.
Adelaide has need of picks in a way that the Suns don’t, so pick #1 could be gettable, while North could be similarly amenable with pick #2. Sydney would appear the most likely of the group, as they will want to secure a pick underneath Braeden Campbell, although that could be a slight gamble if a rival club decides to bid before the pick goes live.
The Hawks pick #4 could be in the Suns’ sights on the actual night if a player on their board is still available and Hawthorn are willing to part with the selection, albeit for overs.
The Suns have other ways of climbing into the first round, with a risky future pick trade such as bundling this year’s pair of second-round picks with next year’s second or third-rounder for a mid-first round pick in 2020, which could end up being the difference between paying slight overs and massive overs.
Even trading the pair of 2020 second rounders could tempt a team with a late first-rounder. However, there have also been suggestions that the Suns should be banking points in the 2021 middle rounds just in case the AFL strip their concessions and they have to match bids on their Academy kids.
As things stand, the Suns look very likely to be adding several Academy and Darwin-based 18 year-olds. Alex Davies and Joel Jeffrey are all but signed, while Brodie Lake absolutely smashed the SA draft combine and was a stand out in the SA U18 All-Stars match.
Small forward, Josh Gore, has been impressive across several seasons of junior and tier two football, while fellow U19 and Broadbeach teammates, Michael Selsby, also staked a claim in the QAFL this year.
The Suns have several more Academy prospects to choose from in Jack Johnston, Max Pescud, Aiden Fyfe, Rhys Nichols and Bailey Reeves. A total of as many as six of these players could be pre-listed.
Finally, there may yet be further opportunities for players to be part of the Suns VFL-NEAFL squad. An U19s squad will be announced after the draft and the AFL will also be announcing how it will enable clubs to bring in top-up players in the case of injury.
Undrafted Suns Academy graduates and delisted players also have the opportunity to play for Southport, who have applied for a place in the new East Coast second tier competition. List management may again decide not to fill all rookie spots, leaving a place for a mid-season recruit who may just come from one of the pair of Gold Coast-based tier 2 squads.
The Gold Coast Suns did not have anything like the generous concessions of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, who had more draft first-round picks, the mini drafts, a far more productive catchment area, larger list sizes and $3million in extra salary cap, plus world-class facilities that kept their Ferraris humming.
Despite the AFL’s assistance package, there will never be parity between the expansion clubs. But this is the Suns’ chance to complete a long rebuild and so far they’ve done most things right.