Are The Gold Coast Suns On The Brink Of Something Special?
Since their inception, the Gold Coast Suns have struggled to make any sort of mark on league, for the most part mired near the foot of the table, finishing in the bottom-5 in nine of their ten seasons.
Outside of the initial recruitment of Gary Ablett, who at the time was the league's biggest name, the Suns have otherwise struggled to attract elite talent to SE Queensland, while they’ve consistently been unable to hold on to their own young stars with the likes of Dion Prestia, Tom Lynch, Charlie Dixon, Steven May and Jaeger O’Meara and others all seeking glory elsewhere.
To add more fuel to the fire, the Suns have been unable to achieve much in the way of stability from a coaching point of view, with Stuart Dew the club’s third full-time hire in seven years.
So where to now? Is there any hope for the AFL’s baby? Has the the last decade been a complete waste, or is there some hope that the Suns are about to emerge as a legitimate league force?
With a pronounced air of optimism at the Suns, coupled with the many positives gained from last season, there's genuine hope that the Gold Coast might be able to make some serious noise both this season and beyond.
While so much talent has skipped town, plenty remains, with the likes of Matt Rowell, Ben King, Izak Rankine and Noah Anderson perhaps forming the nucleus of a potentially imposing squad.
Rowell’s personal quirks and hard-core dedication to his job has been the kind of injection the club has craved, not to mention his outstanding footballing ability. He looks to be a legitimate future superstar of the game, netting 9 Brownlow votes in his debut season, averaging 17 touches and 5 tackles from his handful of games, as well as booting 6 goals.
Up forward, Ben King has gone from strength to strength. Not only did his 25 goals lead the club in just his second season, but he’s 30 contested marks was the league’s 7th strongest figure. His height, athleticism and footy IQ suggests he can continue to develop into one of the game’s premier key forwards, and provide an elite option for the Suns’ midfield to target.
And speaking of the Suns midfield, it could be here where their ticket to contention resides.
In Jarrod Witts they have one of the league’s most exceptional, though under-rated ruckmen, and who's completely thrived since joining the Suns at the end of 2016. Last season, only Max Gawn (10.6) and Brodie Grundy (8.7) were producing more hit-outs to advantage than Witts (8.5) with the former Magpie playing a starring role in the Suns +2.4 clearance differential, which was not only the AFL's 4th-best figure, but the club's best return in ten years.
The addition of experienced, hardened midfielders over the last couple of years such as Brandon Ellis and Hugh Greenwood, and more recently, Rory Atkins and Jacob Townsend, have helped kick along the likes of David Swallow and Touk Miller, while providing a perfect launchpad for Rowell and Anderson to develop into stars.
While much has understandably been made of Rowell's hot start and tremendous future, Anderson's own very impressive rookie season slipped under the radar, with the 2019 #2 pick finishing second in the Rising Star, picking up at least 20 touches in 5 of his last 6 games
With obvious talent on the list, and with some pronounced strides last season with the club posting its best percentage in six years (90.6), is it too much to expect a sudden rise up the ladder. Could the Suns actually be knocking on the door of finals?
Well the short answer is... why not?
While the Suns still have the league’s least experienced and second youngest list, we only have to look to the Bulldogs of 2016 to see how youth, and a lack of recent success, needn't always be seen as insurmountable obstacles. Indeed the Bulldogs broke their 62-year flag drought with an average list age of 23.8 (ranked 14th) and having played just a solitary final it its previous five years.
In 2008, Hawthorn had the league's 3rd-youngest list (22.7 years) and with just one finals campaign in its previous six seasons, yet won its first flag in 17 years, upending Geelong on Grand Final Day.
While these young teams have broken through, helped along by transcendent stars such as Lance Franklin and Marcus Bontempelli, is is still too far-fetched to think the Suns have what it takes to make a leap from so far out of the eight?
Well, once again, the Suns need only look to recent history to see how common it is for un-expectant leaps in this league.
Richmond finished 13th in 2016, appeared to be at the crossroads, yet won the flag 12 months later.
Collingwood also finished 13th in 2017, and although they were one-goal short in the 2018 Grand Final, their rapid rise to Finals provides belief that a sudden rise isn't beyond the realm of possibility.
The Brisbane Lions finished 15th in 2018, only to finish with back-to-back 2nd-place home and away placings over the last two seasons.
In 2019, Port Adelaide finished 10th and seemed in desperate need of change, yet 12 months later claimed the Minor Premiership and finished just six points shy of their first Grand Final appearance in 13 years.
The AFL competition is becoming more and more even, with teams toward the bottom of the ladder pushing the overall standard up, making it harder to squeeze 18 teams in the 8.
With that being said, and while Gold Coast has yet to make finals in their short existence, their belief, confidence and emerging talent could have them on the cusp of being one of the league's surprise packets in season 2021.
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