04/03/2024

The Gold Coast Suns celebrate their advancement to the VFL preliminary finals. (Photo: AFL)

In a twist that no one saw coming, three Queensland teams will compete in this weekend’s VFL finals.

Brisbane’s reserves team faces off against Casey, while the Gold Coast reserves take on Southport on Sunday in a local derby.

It’s a fantastic result for the Suns in their first full VFL season, after the 2021 competition was cut short due to Victoria’s untimely COVID lockdown.

Already a historical powerhouse of Queensland football, the Sharks took the VFL by storm last season with a 9-1 record. With a massive off-season of recruiting, they qualified for finals in third, with a 13-5 record.

There’s a little bit of tension between these two after the last time they met, with the Suns taking out a nine point win after trailing at three quarter time.

Speaking to media on Tuesday, young AFL-listed Sun Sam Flanders is looking forward to the match. Recruited out of country Victoria, his three years on the Coast have provided him ample understanding of the occasion.

“It’s massive for Queensland football to have three out of the top four teams in the finals,” Flanders said.

“It’s growing the brand up here, I think it’s great. It gets touched on a little bit, about the rivalry. Us as a group, we’re just treating it as another game of football. The pressure isn’t on us… hopefully the result takes care of itself.

“There’s some ex-Suns getting around [at Southport], I’m sure they’ll be throwing a bit of lip out there. We’re not going to buy into it, play our way.

“They’re obviously a strong team, they have a good system and a lot of players, they’re coached well.”

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Gold Coast faced a mountain of a task in the second half of the season, with finals slipping out of view.

The club would go on to win its last six games, five of which were by less than 10 points. The Suns developed a reputation as one of the VFL’s most exciting teams, and very nearly cracked the top four.

While Flanders was spending most of this time with the AFL team, the likes of Jez McLennan and Josh Corbett were starring week after week, keeping the side in touch.

With a large group of young AFL-listed Suns appearing each week, it was a huge achievement to even make finals at all.

“It’s pretty crazy to think about it… halfway through the season a lot of people counted us out,” Flanders said.

“Even up to the last round we had to win every game really to make it in. It’s a big credit to us as a club and as a younger group to get over the line.

“To make it into a prelim… for all of us it’s something really special.”

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The high pressure experience of their end to the season has seen the Suns through well in the finals so far.

They defeated Box Hill by 23 points at home, before travelling to Sydney and downing the Swans by two goals in the semi final.

“Our last eight wins, we’ve trailed at some point of the game and we were able to fight back,” Flanders said.

“We’re definitely accustomed to the finals conditions in terms of close games. The next two weeks will hopefully be like that.”

Flanders himself had a career best outing at Blacktown, amassing a mammoth 46 disposals as he made the midfield his own.

He says it’s indicative of the system that has been set up in the VFL team.

“It was a good day, but more importantly we got the win,” Flanders said.

“It speaks to the depth we have in the team, each week we’ve got someone getting off the chain.”

Playing for a reserves team has it challenges, the 21-year-old explains.

Especially in a team like Gold Coast, which has list concessions to give it a bigger squad, there are dozens of players pushing for a spot in the senior side week-to-week.

With no AFL side to worry about, the Suns have been able to focus on applying themselves to the VFL finals first and foremost.

“Earlier on in the year, you’re trying to play for selection. As the year went on, blokes just bought in to what we’re trying to do,” Flanders said.

“We’re just happy playing football. I don’t think a lot changed, I think we just stuck to our process the whole year. Everyone really bought in and we started to get a bit of a culture going.”

Southport hosts Gold Coast at Fankhauser Reserve on Sunday, September 11, for a spot in the VFL Grand Final.

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