The Gold Coast Suns will be keenly awaiting a decision around their ability to pre-draft players from their academy as the concession package enters its third year review period.
While opposition clubs would be reluctant to see the resurgent club gain any further advantage, there is a significant secondary benefit to the AFL’s strategy of arming the 17th franchise with extra draft capital.
The obvious immediate benefits that the Suns received from the 2019 concessions came in the form of pre-drafting, with Suns Academy standouts Connor Budarick and Matthew Conroy being pre-listed along with Darwin Academy prospect Malcolm Rosas Junior, with renewed access to NT players an added concession.
Not having to match bids on academy players meant the Suns had trade capital to trade for Hugh Greenwood from Adelaide and Zac Smith from Geelong, plus make trades in the future draft knowing they wouldn’t need late picks for points.
However, there was one recalcitrant trade partner, a club who had received a small concession along with the Suns a year earlier in the form of being allowed to pre-list a pair of second-tier players or trade them, but when they had come asking for further concessions in 2019 the AFL Commission had nothing for them so they took Jack Martin through the Pre-season Draft loophole for nothing and then sacked Stephen Silvagni.
Going into the 2019 National Draft, the Suns were given arguably their biggest boost, with Noah Anderson coming to the club via a priority pick that allowed the club to also select Matt Rowell at the top of the order.
But with a late first-rounder from the worst trade sequence in AFL/VFL history (2017 West Coast into 2018 Brisbane) plus the first pick of the second round, the Suns parlayed with the last partner expected in Carlton, facilitating a live trade manoeuvre for the Suns to go up the board to pick 11 for Sam Flanders who had been predicted to go as high as pick four but slid out of the top ten as bids for Northern Academy and Next Generation Academy, his number came up as the Blues needed a trade out partner.
And yet, it was the next pick the Suns made headlines for, with recent Rising Star nominee Jeremy Sharp coming to the club via a trade that culminated in Geelong getting the 2020 mid-first-rounder allocated to the Suns as part of the concession package in return for a live pick at 27, which essentially amounted to the Suns sacrificing 510 Draft Index Points (originally 722 DVI points, but this came in as the 2020 Draft pushed the pick back from 11 to 15).
Then in 2020, the Suns pre-drafted Cairns product Alex Davies and their second Darwin kid Joel Jeffrey, the latter about to become the first draftee of the 2020 class to make his AFL debut, while retaining their high first round pick.
Had the club not been able to pre-draft players last year, their top pick may have needed to be traded in order for them to match bids, with the gun pair rated as first-round talents themselves, while the pair of second-round picks they had in place were traded to gather points for this year’s draft in case the club’s concession to pre-draft Academy players was taken away.
One negative thing that the AFL’s club rescue package has achieved is that the Suns’ trade position has been weakened, with not only Carlton, but Geelong, Brisbane and Sydney all pushing through stingy trades that gave them a distinct advantage, although as this benefits the other 17 teams in the competition the main concern is that the Suns can regain equilibrium rather than continue to be bullied at the trade table.
On the whole, every club stands to take some advantage out of the Suns getting to pre-list Academy talent, just as Geelong did to help land Jeremy Cameron, or Sydney did to match the high bid on Braeden Campbell, or Carlton’s triple play to turn a single digit high pick into three late first-round selections.
In 2020 the AFL did not allow the Suns to use their 2021 start of second-round pick in future trades, fueling speculation that the third year of concessions might be taken away.
On the face of it, with the Suns banking a raft of late-round picks that they might potentially be forced to use to match bids on Academy players, the club will be hoping for the ability to win the third year of pre-drafting so they can trade their later picks out in order to get a greater trade and draft outcome.
In 2021, Gold Coast has a top ten pick, start of second round pick, their own second rounder, pair of third rounders and pair of fourth round picks.
It may not sound like a lot on paper, yet there are several clubs who would be salivating over the points that those picks represent, not least the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood Magpies.
To Whitten Oval first and their emerging father-son prospect, Sam Darcy, the latest projections are that the third generation prospect will attract an early bid, yet for the club to be able to match a high points total they will need more than their current late first and fourth-rounder.
The Dogs and Suns would have much more than just a pick trade to negotiate given the kind of talent on the Bulldogs list that they simply cannot afford to keep if they are to continue to renew their list.
For example, Mitch Wallis is a ripe trade target, among others, which would give the Dogs access to enough points to not just match a Darcy bid but put them back in at the end of the draft where some bargains can be had.
A wrinkle in these negotiations is the previously unwanted father-son, Darcy MacPherson, son of Super, whose brother Ewan could be a late pick or rookie target for the Dogs and who could potentially be a trade piece for the Suns because of their large amount of similar players in that position.
On to Collingwood, who also has a highly rated father-son as well as a need to trade out a mature player, with Graham Wright having come out and said that this is a likely scenario for cap purposes.
Unlike the Dogs, the Pies don’t have an early pick, although they do have future picks and they certainly need extra points to match a bid for Nick Daicos, yet with their 2021 first rounder already traded to GWS they aren’t likely to give up next year’s early pick.
What the Magpies may have to give up is a star player in order to get the necessary points to match a bid on Nick Daicos and get back into the draft late, which would also alleviate their “salary cap hangover”, but Pies fans will not be at all impressed with the Suns shopping list even if the prices are generous: Jordan de Goey, Jack Crisp and Brayden Maynard for a start.
Other clubs will also be looking to stockpile later picks in order to match bids on father-son, Northern Academy, or NGA kids they’ll be hoping make it out of the first round, while every club will be eyeing off the Suns bounty.
The Gold Coast Suns are well placed to bring in some exciting Academy talent either way, yet being able to pre-draft a group of local kids and deal out their draft capital to climb up the board could bring in that X-factor to complete their rebuild.