14/04/2024
Jack Lukosius in action. Picture: Daniel Cohen/File

Jack Lukosius in action. Picture: Daniel Cohen/File

Jack Lukosius started the season well as a dominant forward in Gold Coast's win over Richmond

Whenever the loyal, long-suffering Gold Coast Suns supporters have seen a 74-13 scoreline at half-time, they have been accustomed to seeing their boys on the losing end of the ledger.

The dawning of the Damien Hardwick era has, however, brought with it a more positive feel.  That air of optimism was palpable at the People’s Choice Stadium as the Suns parlayed their first half dominance into a victory to the tune of 14.15 (99) to 9.6 (60).

It did not take long for the Hardwick trademark to become evident.  Richmond kicked the first goal of the match through Shai Bolton after two minutes, but even that was after the home side had dominated the early skirmishes; the goal coming through fast ball movement from deep within the Suns’ forward line.

The difference between the Suns of 2024 and their 2023 iteration was evident in the increased urgency shown from the opening bounce.  It relies on winning the centre clearance (which the Suns won 10-4 in the vital opening half and 18-8 overall), and fighting with animalistic fervour to turn the ball over when the clearance cannot be achieved.

From there, the focus shifts onto controlling the speed of the ball movement according to the situation that presents itself.

Here is where the difference is so impressive in today’s performance, as opposed to those seen in past years.  On paper the Gold Coast forward line has looked formidable in the past, with Ben King appearing to be a natural spearhead alongside Levi Casboult’s heart and Jack Lukosius’s prodigious boot, but too often they have appeared static and reactive, rather than proactive.

Hardwick and his coaching department have obviously done a lot of work with the attacking group, in particular King, teaching them not only where to run within the forward arc but crucially, when.  When King in the early moments worked hard to place himself in the favoured position in the one-on-one battle, and then to clear space for Lukosius to mark and goal, the AFL was put on early notice that a new player was in town.

All this is not to say that Adem Yze’s Richmond side has nothing to look forward to from this match. Indeed, the game turned on its head after half time as Noah Balta provided a target and the Tiger small forwards went to work.

The surge in confidence rolled throughout the side as the likes of Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper and ex-Sun Dion Prestia started to win an even share of the ball in the middle of the park.  With Dean Rioli starting waves of attack off half-back and cousin Maurice doing the same by laying crucial tackles in the centre, Richmond kicked six goals in the third term and conceded only three points.

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Had the impressive Seth Campbell converted the first opportunity of the final quarter, thereby reducing the margin to a manageable 19 points, the Gold Coast may have found their resolve sorely tested with the unlosable game slowly starting to slip through their fingers.  Instead the Suns took the ball forward themselves, and Brayden Fiorini goaled from point-blank range after a needless 50 metre penalty conceded by Dylan Grimes.

This was not the last time that Richmond was made to pay for their own indiscipline.  After Hopper had goaled to keep the Tigers alive, Nathan Broad conceded a free kick after deliberately conceding a behind for Malcolm Rosas to kick the sealer.

Though the final margin of 39 points implies a comfortable victory, coach Hardwick may not be completely satisfied with the third quarter performance.  Whilst it could be argued that energy needed to be conserved in the Carrara heat, signs of the Gold Coast of old began to show as Richmond dominated the scoreboard.

That said, the bare bones of something good was there for all to see.  Where Hardwick had Dustin Martin at Richmond, here he has Matt Rowell.  Whilst nobody would put Rowell in Martin’s class at this stage of his career, he is the same type of bullish figure that takes the lead and invites his cohorts to follow.

An enormous return of 20 clearances, 10 of these from the centre, speaks for itself.

Hopper and Rioli in particular worked hard to lift the Tigers into the contest, but their undermanned squad was too far gone at half-time to ever be a threat.  They will have Toby Nankervis and Tom Lynch, among others, back in coming weeks, but the first game of the post Hardwick/Cotchin/Riewoldt era ended in defeat to a new, exciting challenger.

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