The 2021 version of the Suns took about two quarters before it started looking a little less shiny and filled with hope, as Matt Rowell copped another tight tag and was intentionally injured for the second straight game having been rubbed out in a similar dirty tackle in 2020.
This domino was the first to fall as game after game the names of key Suns players appeared in the injury list, with Connor Budarick and Jarrod Witts sustaining ACLs, Sam Day and Zach Smith suffering PCLs, with the club operating without a recognised ruckman from the third quarter of their round 3 game when Reilly O’Brien lunged across Wittsy’s legs and wrecked his season.
The injury list grew and grew, but while it was never the longest or worst, the players who went down were integral to the side’s competitiveness, with injuries to key players such as Brandon Ellis, Oleg Markov, Nick Holman and Lachie Weller leaving the team exposed for speed and experience.
A late season resurgence with wins over Richmond and GWS gave the young squad some pride, then after being close for three quarters against Brisbane and the Dogs and with the side banished to Melbourne for the home stretch, they somehow picked themselves up for a win against Carlton.
A 7 win season may not seem much to write home about, yet they did it playing just 7 games at Metricon and 14 games interstate, giving the semblance of a new dawn around the corner, although there have been false dawns before.
The biggest story of the quietest trade period in recent years came right at the final deadline of delisted free agency when wooden spooners North found their unicorn in the form of vagabond Hugh Greenwood.
With the Suns having been forced to remove three players from their primary list, in spite of all 38 being under contract, David Noble coerced his fellow Tasmanian and long time family friend to join the part-time Tasmanian club.
Retirement to life member Jarrod Harbrow probably came a year later than it would have had the foundation player and proud Queenslander not been inspired to remain to mentor the young indigenous players and his fellow Cairns-raised team-mates, which he will continue to do as a staff member.
Irishman Luke Towey and Gold Coast local Aiden Fyfe were delisted without playing an AFL game after scant opportunity in the truncated VFL season.
Three-club veteran Jack Hombsch retired after being splinched by Ben King’s knees during the 2020 preseason and never returning to full fitness, while twice team-mate and 4-club player Jacob Townsend chose to bow out of the intraclub competition for the final rookie spot, but he does so as a premiership winner and nobody can take that away from him.
Jordan Murdoch hung up his boots as well while his former Geelong team-mate, foundation player and Queensland prodigal Sun Zac Smith also earned his retirement after a successful career.
Another contentious talking point from the trade period was the salary dump of Will Brodie, which highlighted a recent trend of clubs to sell players with pick incentives in order to free up salary cap space.
Supplemental selection period
The Suns were not active here despite there being a massive question over whether or not Rory Thompson would even play in 2021, while they thought they had pulled off a coup by signing fellow dual-ACL rehabber Kaine Baldwin to their Academy, but Skuxx never played and the big South Australian was off to Bomberland regardless in spite of being enrolled at Bond Uni.
Mid-season Rookie Draft
The Suns kept their powder dry going into the season and very quickly rued not having a spare back-up ruckman as the whole division went down clutching knees, but the silver lining was that this unique mid-year draft pool had more quality ruck prospects than most end of year drafts.
Picking fifth, the Suns watched incredulously as North went for a forward, Hawthorn upgraded a kid from Box Hill, Collingwood took a forward and Adelaide picked a small defender, leaving the AFL Academy and Oakleigh Chargers greenhorn Ned Moyle for the Gold Coast to make their own.
The club had another pick slated but passed due to their other target being off the board, with whispers that they were keen on Jackson Callow until he was swooped on by the Hawks.
As part of the club-saving concession package from 2019, the Suns have been able to pre-list players from their Academy, which runs from Northern NSW through the Gold Coast up to Logan and out to the Scenic Rim, then it starts again near Gladstone, runs through the central highlands out to far Western Queensland and up to the Gulf of Carpentaria, around Cape York and back down through North Queensland, also taking in the South Pacific Islands and Darwin.
This year, the Suns made only two selections, upgrading Academy player of the year and Gold Coast Local, Bodhi Uwland, plus pulling a massive surprise in naming Northern Territory player Sandy Brock.
Having been stung by free agency in 2018, the Suns came out blazing for the third year in a row to nab wantaway Tiger and erstwhile Queenslander Mabior Chol, who returns to his home state after 6 years in the AFL system as a delisted free agent (once a player is delisted they become a free agent for life every time they are out of contract).
For the second straight year, the Suns had a hand of draft picks they couldn’t use that were devalued by this very fact, yet they found a willing trade partner in Collingwood who sent future second, third and fourth round picks North in exchange for picks 22, 46, 58 and 79 plus a future fourth rounder, which while appearing skewed toward the Pies is actually a bonanza for the Suns at the end of this year where they will go into the trade period with one of the best draft hands.
The other trade the Suns made was just as large and even more controversial, with the club sending its final concession pick, the first pick in the second round, to Fremantle with Will Brodie and his massive backloaded contract, believed to have ballooned to $650-750K due to deferments of Covid salary reductions, plus picks 61 and 69 in exchange for the Dockers giving up their future second and fourth rounders.
The draft itself was meant to be a simple matter of taking up one of the top picks and having a night off, but with sudden options and list needs opening up things deviated from the original plans.
Getting Mac Andrew at pick 5 (after bidding on Nick Daicos) was like destiny after it emerged that his father and Mabior Chol’s father had grown up together in South Sudan, as the Dandenong Stingrays key tall capped a season of growth and maturity by flying up the draft board.
On the second night, the Suns had a very late pick to fill their final primary list spot, but what wasn’t known was whether they would choose a player, re-draft a delisted player or simply elevate a rookie the next day.
Instead, they chose Charlie Constable, grand nephew of multiple premiership winning player and coach Michael Malthouse, who had been delisted by Geelong in order to seek opportunities elsewhere through the draft.
Rory Thompson had nominated for the PSD in delisted free agency knowing that the Suns could pick him third, however, there had been a chance of North or the Pies taking him despite needing to meet his contract terms, but in the end those murmurs in the Melbourne media came to nothing.
The third day continued apace, with the Suns third off the board and wasting no time collecting Levi Casboult in what was probably the worst kept secret in the whole draft, with the ex-Blue already having moved to a sleepy seaside village just 45 minutes down the road from Metricon Stadium.
With another Category A rookie left open after they re-rookied Jez McLennan, the Suns were a quiet chance of springing a real surprise late in the piece, however, they decided to save the list spot for a Summer train off.
When the final bit of business was done, it emerged that the Suns had not chosen to fill their second Category B spot despite having plenty of candidates in their Academy, which will also be the prize for the best performed under 19 squad member in their club.
The Suns are now done with their rebuild, moving on the role players who were necessary for their young recruits to rely on to settle into life at the top level, but now the previous generation of youngsters have matured and become the club leaders, the list is in the best shape it has ever been in.
Getting a tap ruckman of the calibre of Ned Moyle in mid-season makes up for the season of struggles without a ruckman, with the 205cm Victorian showing in the VFL for Collingwood and the Suns that he is going to be an outstanding ruck in seasons to come.
Young Gold Coast tyro Bodhi Uwland has drawn comparisons to Luke Hodge by ESPN draft analyst Chris Doerre and he is not wrong, with the defensive utility able to take contested marks across half-back, nail long raking passes onto the chests of running team-mates and even go through the middle to use his strength and pace to win in the stoppages.
Surprise packet Sandy Brock started his over-age year as a reserve for the reserves at Peel Thunder in the WAFL and by the MSRD was still yet to debut in the Seniors, but then he was thrown into the ruck and started producing some good footy alongside several Freo AFL players to finish with 10 senior WAFL games, mostly in defence.
Having Mabior Chol choose the Suns is a huge win for the club as both a destination and in filling a need at ruck/forward after he put up career best figures, having a breakout performance against the Lions, his former Academy club, scoring 4 goals, taking 12 hit outs, getting 4 clearances and earning a Brownlow vote.
Mac Andrew was almost universally predicted to go in the top 6 picks, so for him to fall to the Suns at the fifth pick as the best untied tall in the draft was the desired result, as he fills a position of need and joins the club while the young rebuilding group are still emerging, so even should he take years to develop the team will still be in the early stages of reaching their prime.
Charlie Constable comes to the club seeking a second opportunity to make it in the AFL having been trapped outside of Geelong’s group by a combination of too much talent and a game plan that he wasn’t suited to, including being used as a sub, so he will look to build on his strong VFL form to crack the Suns midfield set-up.
Levi Casboult joins the Suns as a tall utility smash-glass-in-case-of-emergency type who will serve as back-up for Jarrod Witts, Rory Thompson and Sam Day, who are all coming off bad knees and also happen to be the oldest Suns (after old man Levi himself), so if he spends a dozen or so games in the VFL showing youngsters like Moyle and Andrew around the park and has the odd cameo in the AFL it will mean things are going to plan. Pretty much.
The Suns still have two remaining spots on their roster with a contest emerging including AFL comeback hopeful Nathan Freeman, who has come up with new Suns VFL coach Jackson Kornberg who coached him at Sandringham, along with Constable and Ben King.
The field for the final spots also includes undrafted free agent Lewis Rayson from the SA rep team, Academy hopefuls Will Bella, Ned Stevens, Finn Brown, Jed Foggo, Brinn Little, Jye Lockett and others, with the consolation prize being a place on the Suns Academy U19 squad which has previously seen Matt Conroy, Patrick Murtagh and Hewago “Ace” Oea successfully earn rookie listing.
It all augurs well for a Suns squad that is returning to full fitness after two seasons of disruption and lack of development into their younger players, yet the elephant in the room is Stuart Dew’s coaching: if he has what it takes to be a career coach then he has 22 games to show it.