As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, Gold Coast Suns.
2022 marks the 12th season that the Gold Coast Suns have competed in the AFL, and in that time their highest finish on the ladder has been 12th. This year marks the club’s best chance to date to improve that record.
At the end of the 2017 season, the club decided to rule a line under what had been done before and restart with a new strategy. The first major component of that strategy involved the appointment of the untried Stuart Dew as coach, and the next step was to begin stockpiling young talent to develop the squad gradually.
Five years on, the club has stuck by Dew despite speculation that suggested otherwise, and the strategy undertaken is beginning to bear some rather juicy fruit.
Mix three parts talented youngsters gained through early draft picks with one part role-players that have been cast asunder by other clubs, add a liberal dash of astute leadership (preferably from a ruckman with a seven-foot wing span), and you have a recipe for a very exciting football team.
This is the vision that the club sold Stuart Dew at the end of 2017, and with each passing year the effectiveness of the team as a whole has improved incrementally, but this is the year that Suns supporters can see hope. Hope that even if that elusive maiden finals berth is not achieved this year, then it may not be too far away.
The key to it all has been ensuring that the crop of exciting youngsters mature before the more senior recruits have passed their use-by date. To this end, Matt Rowell seems free of past injury problems, Izak Rankine is in a similar boat, and Noah Anderson; well, he just keeps being Noah Anderson.
There are also more coming along to top up this list, with more football still in the legs of Mabior Chol, Levi Casboult, the evergreen David Swallow and the leader Jarrod Witts.
There is suddenly much to look forward to at Carrara.
Whilst the above looks like all roses and chocolates, the group still has some development yet ahead of them. Early season consistency proved difficult to find, as a loss to GWS and a comprehensive defeat by Brisbane that was reminiscent of the bad old days, were interspersed with commendable victories against Carlton, Sydney, and Fremantle.
The second half of the season will tell us a lot about this Suns squad, for it is the consistency of effort that turns a promising up-and-comer into a genuine contender. As we have seen, Gold Coast’s best is well and truly enough to match it with the big boys, but the gap between its best and worst is at this stage a gaping chasm.
This will happen in younger sides, which is what this Gold Coast unit still is, but it is this trait that leaves people unsure about them. Time will tell whether the Suns mount a significant charge in the next couple of years or so, or return to being the quokkas of the competition: dangerous at times, but really not all that threatening when all is said and done.
The criticism of Izak Rankine thus far in his short career is that whilst he is capable of the brilliant and unpredictable, he is long on flash and short on substance. He has been set the task of disproving that in 2022 and is showing signs of doing just that.
This season, the 22-year-old is averaging seven contested possessions per game, which ranks him in the elite category amongst small forwards this season, and he has increased his possession rate from 11.8 per match to 13.7 this campaign. There are few within the Gold Coast set-up that query Rankine’s desire and work ethic, and it is this attitude that will see his output increase yet further as he builds on his tally of 40 matches.
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Jack Lukosius is set to return from injury after the bye. It has been a regrettable season so far for the swing-man; injury has restricted him to six matches from a possible 12 the Suns have played, and the standard of football that he has played has been below that which he would expect of himself and that which his team needs from him to reach their optimal position.
A fit, firing Lukosius when he returns, either firing the ball out of defence or creating mayhem from centre-half forward with his elite right foot, could prove the key difference between a first September appearance or another season amongst the also-rans.
Best and Fairest Contenders:
Touk Miller could probably spend the next three weeks on a deckchair and still win the 2022 Gold Coast Suns Club Champion. It could be argued that he is having an even better season in 2022 than he produced in 2021 when he won his first medal, and he would be well ahead of the field after 12 rounds.
The chasing pack, as with the team as a whole, could say that they have performed excellently in some matches but not in others. Should Miller, God forbid, lose form over the remainder of the season, a left-field contender could well be Sam Collins.
Coaches love a player that does his job silently and does it well, and Collins has rarely been beaten in any of the 12 games in 2022, without making much of a fuss in the process.
Others with their hats in the ring would be Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, and captain Jarrod Witts. Also, expect Lachie Weller to be amongst the top half-dozen before his unfortunate round 12 knee injury.
Expectations for the second half of the year:
We will know a lot about the Gold Coast Suns in a month’s time, as a 50 per cent win-loss record gives them a blank canvas and their next five matches are all distinctly winnable. To win three of these gives them a chance to contest finals, to win four puts them squarely in the frame.
However, win two or less and a season that shows such great promise at the halfway mark could yet peter out into the unforgiving dust.
The future is in their own hands. Their first task is to beat that 12th placed finish, but they should be aiming a good deal higher than that.
Logic would suggest that finals might be another year away, but as we all know, reality does not always work on logical grounds. The Suns might finish just outside the eight rather than just inside, but this is just the beginning for this group.
With another season’s development of the talent that they already have, and whatever enhancements they can make through draft and trade at the end of 2022, it would be surprising and disappointing if the Suns don’t play finals in September 2023.
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