Kalinda Howarth had a standout performance in Gold Coast's win over St Kilda. (Photo: AFL)

Gold Coast’s Kalinda Howarth and Courtney Jones were a combined force to be reckoned with inside forward 50 on Saturday afternoon.

Coming up against a depleted Saints backline, the pair combined for seven scoring shots. It was their presence at ground level that gave the Suns repeated looks at goal.

It was a brilliant return to form for Howarth in particular, who’s struggled to get back to her best after a breakout season in her side’s inaugural year.

She kicked nine goals in 2020 to finish just one short of opposition forward Caitlin Greiser, but managed just three the following year.

This led to a move behind the ball and to the wing, where she found relative success, but never starred.

But against the Saints, her experience in other areas of the ground showed. While Howarth’s greatest impact was found up forward, she dropped behind the play as well to set up critical attacks.

Along with two crucial goals, she had 18 disposals and two marks. When the Suns came charging in the third quarter, she was a driving force behind it.

Speaking to media post-game, Gold Coast coach Cameron Joyce was highly complimentary of the 23-year-old’s impact on the win.

“[Kalinda] just has a great understanding of the game, and she’s really smart,” he said.

“To be able to use her forward for a couple of goals and be able to swing her back for a little bit when we need her behind the ball is a luxury to have at our disposal. She was excellent today.

“We were really impressed, first of all to get the win, but we knew the Saints were in some really good form. The way our girls went around the contest, and were able to get the ball forward for us to be able to score was really pleasing for us.”

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While inaccurate, Jones was just as important to the brilliant forward structure of the Suns.

She had eight score involvements to her name by half time. With four shots at goal for just one major, she also contributed 18 disposals, three marks, and one clearance.

“[Courtney] is just hard to defend I reckon… when she’s on the move,” Joyce said.

“She just provides something different. Bit like Kalinda in terms of getting real footy nous ahead of the ball. She was really damaging today.

“To have 17 shots, we haven’t had that for a little while. To do that was really pleasing. In terms of our ball movement, we’re always trying to evolve that.”

Captain Tara Bohanna played an important role as the primary target inside 50. Kicking a goal, her presence helps the likes of Giselle Davies and Jacqui Dupuy to get their hands on the footy.

After a slow start to life at the Suns, Dupuy is putting together a consistent campaign in season seven. She’s already doubled her goal-scoring tally with two majors, and has been a handy rotation through the ruck.

The 28-year-old got a goal of her own on the board, with a celebration to match.

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Midfield marvel shines again

In a season that’s been a hard slog in the midfield for the Suns, young gun Charlie Rowbottom has stood up week after week.

The Lions and Kangaroos both got the better of them out of the middle in comprehensive losses, but this week, led by the 2021 number one draft pick, they dominated every statistic.

While they faded in the last term, finishing even in clearances, they were up by eight at three quarter time. They were +69 in disposals and +37 in contested possessions.

Rowbottom finished with a career-high 30 disposals, nine tackles and six clearances. She had three more clearances than any other Sun, in a truly dominant midfield showing.

With the loss of Jamie Stanton to injury, and Kate Surman and Jacqui Yorston to Port Adelaide, the 19-year-old has been vital to the resurgence of the midfield group.

“I thought she was outstanding,” Joyce said of Rowbottom.

“We know she just laps up the contest and gives everything. She wants to be elite, she wants to be one of the best players in the competition.

“With performances like that today, and if she can keep backing that up, she’ll be closer and closer to that. The girls really feed off that when she goes in the contest.

“They’ve been working really hard [the midfield]. That group, we’ve been trying really hard to build that and get some real synergy there, some continuity. We’re starting to see some benefit from that.”

Fresh off a win of its own, Gold Coast will face Port Adelaide next week at Bond University.

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