The Southport Australian Football Club this year celebrates 60 years of existence and the Sharks are making the early running as the most likely non-Victorian club to give the VFL premiership a real shake.
Southport have won 22 flags across the various senior competitions they have joined since 1961, with a sensational clubhouse with 55,000 members (memberships cost $5) and an 8000-seat boutique stadium.
They are hated too. Rival Gold Coast clubs like Labrador Tigers, Broadbeach Cats, Palm Beach Currumbin Lions and Surfers Paradise Demons have their own loyal fans, and they have been watching their teams, from seniors down to juniors, getting done by Southport year after year.
In fact, when GC17 had their license approved for entry into the AFL, it was a ten-year, $10 million patron sponsorship by the Southport Sharks that got the bid across the line. However, when the new franchise did their market research, the result was much like the Port Adelaide experience where the majority of locals thoroughly rejected the idea of the brand of their rival representing their city, so the Suns brand was chosen over the Sharks.
Moving into the Brisbane competition
Back in 1983, having won eight flags in the first 22 seasons of the Gold Coast Australian Football League, the then-Southport Magpies club had its own prison bars clash when it was promoted to join the Brisbane-based Queensland Australian Football League competition, with incumbent Sherwood Magpies also wearing a Collingwood-style jersey.
In the end, the impasse was resolved with a coin toss, which Southport would fatefully lose, which led to the club changing to a white strip with a black vee and changing their mascot to a more suitable Gold Coast-style shark.
However, the newly re-branded Sharks would have the last laugh, winning the QAFL premiership at their first attempt, going on to win 13 QAFL flags across 28 seasons, playing in 21 grand finals.
In this time, while the Sharks had the biggest following in Queensland Australian rules footy, they had by now become the most feared and revered club in the state, envied by their peers for such consistent success and hated by opposition fans from Palm Beach to Redlands and Morningside to Maroochydore.
In this period they produced AFL players Marcus Ashcroft, Steve Lawrence, Nick Riewoldt, Daniel Merrett, Sam Gilbert, Kurt Tippett and Dayne Beams, among dozens of others drafted to AFL teams, although the Suns Academy now runs the elite junior talent and the Sharks get a crack at those who go un-drafted.
Bad news Bears
The introduction of the Brisbane Bears to the Gold Coast market, as well as the growing strength of other local clubs, combined with other factors to almost force the club to withdraw from the QAFL at the end of 1991, but were able to survive due to the success of their leagues club and the introduction of pokies to Queensland.
Far from being good for Gold Coast Australian rules footy, the bad news Bears relocated to Brisbane and continued to cause problems for Southport after they left, writing into their contract when the Gabba was refurbished that any other South-East Queensland applicant into the AFL must play their home games at the Gabba.
The Southport Sharks made a bid to join the AFL at the same time as Port Adelaide in 1996, which at the time was buried in the back of the newspapers as the growing merger dramas engulfed the Australian rules footy media.
Ultimately, Port won the license, and yet if Fitzroy hadn’t merged with Brisbane and did so with North Melbourne, and the Melbourne Hawks merger had become a reality, a place for Southport would have been open with only 15 teams in the bracket to start 1997.
Somewhat ironically, it was another Brisbane Bears snafu that landed the Gold Coast an AFL license, with the six light towers built at Carrara in 1989 but never paid for as Christopher Skase fled the country, which together with the sponsorship of the Sharks gave the GC17 venture the green light.
The NEAFL years
Naturally, when the time came to create a competition encompassing teams from Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, in order to create a second-tier competition for the Suns, Lions, Swans and Giants reserves to play in, Southport were among the first invited. They became foundation NEAFL members, going on to win their first flag in 2018.
After releasing most of their players to QAFL clubs during the cancelled NEAFL season, the Sharks were again in limbo, with funding withdrawn and leagues club revenues down. Their entire future relied on the kind of resilience that has typified the club for its whole existence.
Therefore, the AFL’s invitation to all clubs in the NEAFL to join the VFL represented a silver lining to an awful year.
The Sharks’ form line
Southport Sharks are fourth on the VFL Ladder after handing former NEAFL rivals Aspley Hornets a 109-point drubbing, a week after putting North Melbourne’s reserves to the sword by 107 points.
Poor kicking cost the Sharks against the familiar GWS reserves in Round 3, after wins in the first two rounds against Carlton’s reserves and Aspley.
In Round 6, the Sharks face the Suns reserves, then the lowly Northern Bullants, before a Thursday night blockbuster at Port Melbourne.
Why Southport could win the VFL
The club features ten delisted Suns players: captains Seb Tape and Andrew Boston, plus Brayden Crossley, Jesse Joyce, Connor Nutting, Ryan Davis, Leigh Osbourne, Brad Scheer, Jacob Dawson and Mackenzie Willis. They have also recruited delisted Bulldogs Lukas Webb and Billy Gowers, and ex-AFL players Brodie Murdoch, Michael Manteit, and Fraser Thurlow.
It is an impressive group of players, not least because they have all come through the high-performance system and elite pathways, with several players who did not make an AFL list having graduated from the Suns talent academy. They play an exciting brand of footy that will challenge any team they confront, especially since the core of the team has been together for a number of seasons and has added weapons each off-season.
Why they may struggle
The mid-season rookie draft is coming up and although the Melbourne media is obsessed with their echo chamber tidbits, the 18 AFL clubs would be fools not to be running the rule over some of the Sharks players.
Suns delisted player Jacob Dawson is third for disposals and sixth for tackling in the VFL, while fellow ex-Sun Jesse Joyce is finding plenty of footy across half back. He is sixth for disposals overall and he is taking six marks a game.
But the players who will be most in demand are the successful ruck duo of Fraser Thurlow and Goober Crossley. The former is averaging 30-odd hit outs and seven marks a game and the latter is averaging 19 disposals and 15 hit outs, while both have nine goals apiece.
Come what may with the future of the massive VFL competition, with the ACT, NT and Tasmania being forced to endure having no teams in 2021, this might be the Southport Sharks’ only chance at winning a VFL flag.