Known as perennial cellar dwellers throughout their 10-year history, the Gold Coast Suns enter the 2021 season in a position of strength and hope with an exciting young core destined to take the next step.
The question is will they finally be able to turn their potential into wins, or will it be another year of growing pains at Metricon Stadium?
14th – 5 wins, 1 draw, 11 losses, 90.6%
Having experienced key off season departures across the past five years and being put into the position of another rebuild, many believed 2020 would yield further pain for a club nearing a point of complete hopelessness.
Enter Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson.
A recruiters dream by every definition, the pair of best mates out of Melbourne’s Carey College entered a club devoid of confidence and instantly instilled belief and hope of a bright future.
This would be evident through the first three weeks following the AFL season’s resumption as they stunned the football world and reeled off three straight wins, with a trio of best on ground performances from wonder rookie Rowell the catalyst.
Playing a sustainable and fun brand of football, the Suns instantly became a box office attraction with some even murmuring the word “finals” when describing how far this team could go.
However, much to the dismay of the entire AFL community, the injury bug would rear its ugly head on the Suns as Rowell dislocated his shoulder in the opening minutes of their round five clash against Geelong.
This would turn out to be a monumental blow to their 2020 campaign, as they quickly fell away from finals contention and back toward the bottom four with their lack of midfield star power seeing them win just two more matches for the remainder of the season.
However, unlike past seasons, through this string of losses the Suns were largely extremely competitive as a host of young stars began to make their mark at AFL level.
Whether it was the emergence of an exciting forward line headlined by Ben King and Izak Rankine or the continued growth of Jack Lukosius across half back, the signs were there that this young core of players has the potential to be extremely special.
So although a five win record may look ugly on paper, the 2020 season was one of major growth for this team as they showed they are far from the easy beats that have ruled this clubs short history.
Entering the 2021 season there seems to a buzz of excitement around the club, with the form of a host of young stars signalling their intention of dramatic improvement.
After an extremely promising debut campaign Noah Anderson has returned to the club in top condition and looks set to take a more prominent role through the midfield following a string of impressive performances in match simulation and intra-club games.
The perfect complement to the inside grunt of Rowell, Hugh Greenwood and David Swallow, Anderson provides this group with some much needed X-Factor and class on the outside of the contest.
Having undergone a host of injury problems through his brief AFL career, excitement machine Izak Rankine has been a standout on the track throughout preseason and looks poised to take his game to another level.
Returning with a noticeably leaner physique, Rankine has impressed with his endurance and fitness whilst also exhibiting his raw speed and special skills with ball in hand.
Exciting key forward Ben King has also added some much needed muscle over the off season and looks ready to take another step towards becoming an elite key forward at AFL level in 2021.
What to look forward to:
With such an exciting group of young players and a game plan centred around taking the game on there is plenty to look forward to for Suns fans in 2021.
However, the most enthralling storyline associated with this team is without a doubt the return of a healthy Matt Rowell.
Regarded as the most impressive rookie to have graced a football field in recent memory, it will be interesting to see how the young star deals with the pressure as he enters his first full season at AFL level.
Blessed with the full complement of skills exhibited by an elite modern day midfielder, Rowell showed last season that he instantly makes the players around him walk taller and is not afraid of the big stage.
There is no more exciting talent in the AFL right now, with the football world waiting with bated breath to see what he can achieve in 2021.
It’s a big year for:
With a new wave of youngsters set to take control of this Gold Coast midfield, 2021 is a crucial year for former first round selection Will Brodie as he hopes to find his feet at the highest level.
Caught up amongst potential trade rumours following last season, Brodie did not receive any genuine interest from Victorian clubs and will return to the Suns with a point to prove.
Standing at 189cm, he has all the athletic tools of the modern day inside midfielder with his poor disposal and inability to find the ball consistently letting him down at times over his career.
From all reports, Brodie has been among the standouts on the track for the Suns all summer and has impressed with his improved fitness and continuity in training.
The time is now for Brodie to take the leap and add yet another unique dimension to this rapidly growing Suns midfield.
Biggest unanswered question:
By looking at the Suns list it is clear they are a club filled with exciting young talent and have the potential to become a future powerhouse of the competition.
Therefore, the biggest unanswered question facing this club in 2021 is whether this exciting group can turn promise into wins and live up to the lofty expectations being set upon them.
With so many players primed for breakout seasons and X-Factor talent littered across the entirety of the ground, the Suns simply cannot afford to have another season of finishing in the bottom six of the ladder.
Whether it be continued emergence of Ben King as an elite key forward or the growth of Jack Lukosius into one of the leagues most damaging defenders, a number of young Suns need to take the lead in 2021 and get this club in a position of pushing for finals.
Every rebuild goes through this exact stage of its development and for the Gold Coast it is time to officially pull themselves out of AFL purgatory.
Coach pressure index:
Coming into the role of senior coach at the beginning of 2018, Stuart Dew found himself tasked with the toughest job in football.
Resurrecting the Gold Coast Suns.
Although his record looks ugly, it is safe to say Dew has done a remarkable job in his three year tenure in creating a sustainable culture and building a competitive game plan.
Dew’s skills as a coach have been on display for all to see throughout his short career, with the Suns beginning the past three seasons with winning records before their youth were inevitably exposed.
Now with an exciting young team assembled, Dew will be able to show what he is truly made of as an AFL coach and begin producing the on field results required to bring this club into relevancy.
Ins: Rory Atkins (Adelaide), Oleg Markov (Richmond), Jacob Townsend (Essendon), Elijah Hollands (Murray Bushrangers), Alex Davies (GC Academy), Aiden Fyfe (GC Academy), Rhys Nicholls (GC Academy), Joel Jeffrey (GC Academy), Hewego Paul Oea (GC Academy).
Outs: Pearce Hanley (Retired), George Horlin-Smith (Retired), Anthony Miles (Retired), Corey Ellis (Delisted), Josh Schoenfield (Delisted), Sam Fletcher (Delisted), Jesse Joyce (Delisted), Jacob Dawson (Delisted), Jacob Heron (Delisted).
FB: Jack Lukosius – Sam Collins – Connor Budarick
HB: Jarrod Harbrow – Charlie Ballard – Oleg Markov
C: Brandon Ellis – Matthew Rowell – Rory Atkins
HF: Lachie Weller – Sam Day – Alex Sexton
FF: Ben Ainsworth – Ben King – Izak Rankine
FOLL: Jarrod Witts – Noah Anderson – David Swallow
I/C: Hugh Greenwood – Will Brodie – Jack Bowes – Touk Miller
The Gold Coast Suns will continue to grow and it’s not unrealistic to say they’ll compete for a finals spot. With their youngsters continuing to develop and the return of Matt Rowell, the Suns could surprise a few.