Stuart Dew is in the midst of his sixth season as senior coach of the Gold Coast Suns. (Photo: goldcoastfc.com.au)

After enjoying back-to-back wins in Darwin, the Gold Coast Suns have renewed hope in their pursuit of an inaugural finals berth. However, regardless of where the club finishes at season’s end, coach Stuart Dew must be at the helm in 2024.

It’s an all too familiar position for the Suns at the midway point of the season, who find themselves delicately poised in the race for the top eight. In fact, Stuart Dew’s men boast an identical 6-6 record to this time last year.

Externally, the majority of the footy world still likely has its reservations on the 2023 edition of the Gold Coast Suns, particularly given their painful history of late-season drop-offs.

Yet even if the Suns do fall short of finals football once more, all signs on and off the field point towards a turning of the page under the leadership of Stuart Dew.

And it could just spell the start of a new dawn.

No Touk, No Worries

When spiritual leader Touk Miller clutched at his knee in his side’s Round 6 clash with North Melbourne, some might’ve drawn a line through Gold Coast’s prospects there and then. After all, it’s not just the loss of a co-captain but also one of the premier midfielders of the competition.

However, with adversity often comes great learning. It also paves the way for the opportunity for others to step up and fill the void.

It’s a challenge that was flagged by Dew immediately following Miller’s injury diagnosis. Importantly for him and the Suns, the challenge was accepted – not just by one but by many.

Emerging duo Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell have embraced increased responsibility through the midfield, demonstrating a level of maturity beyond their years.

Anderson’s class and Rowell’s combative attack on the football have seen Gold Coast thrash opposition outfits in contested possessions in recent weeks, including Melbourne (+27), West Coast (+34), Western Bulldogs (+17), and Adelaide (+38).

The pair have been well-supported by first-year sensation Bailey Humphrey, who hasn’t looked out of place against some of the big-bodied midfielders across the competition. A Rising Star nomination in Round 9 is a testament to that.

Meanwhile, the likes of Ben Ainsworth, Brayden Fiorini, and David Swallow have all chipped in when required, offering much-needed depth to Dew’s midfield arsenal.

It goes without saying that Gold Coast are a better side with a fit and firing Touk Miller. But a significant silver lining can be drawn from the co-captain’s absence – one which the Suns could profit from in the long run.

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Buy-in from key players

Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge the commitment of individual players to the cause. Yet in an industry filled with speculation, often it’s actions that speak loudest.

Precocious talent Jack Lukosious has let his football do the talking in 2023, averaging 1.9 goals per game in what shapes as a career-best campaign. The 22-year-old is running hot too, having booted successive five-goal hauls in the Top End. 

Combine this uptick in on-field output with a four-year contract extension penned last season, Lukosious epitomises a player hungry to create history under the tutelage of his senior coach.

Joining forces with him in the forward line has been Ben King, whose return from injury has sparked an immediate increase in attacking firepower. A return of 30 goals across 12 games might merely be a glimpse of what is to come from the key forward.

Often linked with a move back home to Victoria, King appears nothing but committed to becoming the lynchpin of Gold Coast’s forward half.

It would also be remiss not to mention Bailey Humphrey’s significant long-term contract extension, tying him to the club until the end of 2028. Leaving behind his roots in Gippsland, Humphrey’s decision represents a bold show of faith in the direction headed by Stuart Dew and his coaching team.

Where the likes of Alastair Clarkson, Ross Lyon, and Damien Hardwick have been floated as possible candidates to replace Dew as senior coach in recent years, the performances of some of Gold Coast’s key players have displayed an unwavering desire to play for their coach.

Connection piece

Premierships and success aren’t solely built on talent. Rather, it’s an amalgamation of both the tangibles and intangibles.

When Nick Holman reached the 100th game milestone three weeks ago, it marked an emotional celebration for him personally and also his club. Plagued by injury setbacks and confronted with the sad passing of his mother, Holman’s journey to game 100 has been full of character.

In a sign of the utmost love and mutual respect between player and coach, Dew struggled to hold back tears as he spoke with Channel Seven’s Abbey Holmes pre-match, hailing Holman’s resolve in the face of adversity.

Whilst it might’ve been a small gesture, Dew’s reaction and Holman’s subsequent praise for his coach revealed a powerful bond.

These relationships aren’t built overnight. They’re a culmination of time, trust and genuine care.

Dew’s connection with his entire playing group shouldn’t be underestimated.

More home-grown talent to come

Keeping an eye to the future, Stuart Dew is set to have more talent to work with from 2024 onwards. With three Academy products tipped to go inside the top 30 of the upcoming National Draft, the Suns could boast an embarrassment of riches in their young player stocks.

Key-position prospect Jed Walter is leading the charge, having produced standout performances in the Coates Talent League thus far. Standing at 195cm, Walter is strong overhead and will add to Gold Coast’s growing key forward stocks of King, Lukosious, Levi Casboult, and Mabior Chol. 

Fellow Academy members Jake Rogers and Ethan Read could also prove welcome additions. Despite being short in stature, Rogers knows how to hunt the football as an on-baller. Meanwhile, Read looms as one of the most promising ruck prospects in his draft class.

Should he be given the chance, Dew will likely be licking his lips at the opportunity to replenish a fast-improving playing list.

Final word

Given the extreme scrutiny levelled at senior coaches in the AFL industry, Stuart Dew’s job security will likely be questioned at various stages over the next 12-18 months.

Missing finals football in 2023 could spark much of the conjecture, especially with only a year remaining on Dew’s contract. However, the powers that be at Gold Coast shouldn’t discount the progression made by the Suns under Dew till this point of the campaign.

Starting down the barrel of a 1-4 start to the season, Gold Coast have since won five of its last seven encounters. The Suns have risen to the challenge and continue to forge their own unique identity – commanding the respect of the competition.

The heart and soul of a football club is often centred around the senior coach. 

Stuart Dew is no exception.

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