The AFL 2021 season is just about upon us. Today we’re going to cast our eye over the Gold Coast Suns. Ten years into their existence, the perennial cellar dwellers enter the new season sporting a rare sense of optimism, with a list littered with talented youngsters and – for once – having not lost any important players to other clubs.

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Gold Coast’s home guernsey

Season 2020

14th: 5 wins, 1 draw, 11 losses, 90.6%

The Suns burst out of the gate in season 2020, winning their opening three games for the first time in their short history, led by first overall draft pick Matt Rowell, who remarkably was best on ground in all three games. Unfortunately, Rowell’s historic start to his career was cut short with a shoulder injury in round five that saw him miss the remainder of the season. With their star man sidelined, the team wasn’t able to maintain the momentum.

That said, in previous seasons a little adversity would see the Suns fall into an almighty hole. The Suns of 2020 remained somewhat competitive, pushing their opposition in most contests. That resilience is something new at the club and bodes well for the future.

Along with Rowell, a raft of youngsters impressed: Ben King, Izak Rankine, Charlie Ballard, Noah Anderson and Jack Lukosius all stepped up as young leaders. Importantly, they all to a man seem to be happy at Carrara, which with any luck will see the talent drain from the club finally cease.

Key ins: Rory Atkins (Crows), Oleg Markov (Tigers), Alex Davies, Joel Jeffrey, Elijah Holland, Jacob Townsend, Aiden Fyfe (all draft)

Key outs: Peter Wright (Bombers), Pearce Hanley (retired), Anthony Miles, George Horlin-Smith, Corey Ellis, Sam Fletcher, Josh Schoenfeld, Jacob Dawson (all released)

The Suns focus over the off-season was to clear out the deadwood. Either through trades or delistings, the club was able to cut so many middling veterans who were the living embodiment of the clubs previously flawed recruitment philosophies.

As far as incoming talent the Suns again drafted well, with Alex Davies particularly exciting. They did pick up some veterans, but were rather more focused than they have been in the past. Both Atkins and Markov fill a specific need as creative half backs.

The major building blocks are in place at Carrara. The team has it’s big/little combination in the forward line in the powerful King and quicksilver Rankine. They will have veteran support on Alex Sexton and Lachie Weller. Much will depend on the form of Sam Day. With King likely drawing the toughest defender, can the inconsistent Day be a physical force week in/week out? If so, the Suns will have a multifaceted attack that might be the best in their history.

Defensively, Ballard and Lukosius can both be formidable key defenders if they continue their current developments. The dour Sam Collins will continue to man the full back position whilst those two mature. Jarrod Harbrow is getting long in the tooth, so the additions of Markov and Atkins as attacking half backs will finally take some of the play making pressure away from the soon to be 33 year old.

The midfield is where coach Stuart Dew can expect to see the most growth. David Swallow continues to be the heartbeat of the club, the tough-as-nails midfielder sets a professional standard that the younger midfielders would do well to reach for. Swallow is one of a number of hard bodied ball winners: Touk Miller, Brandon Ellis and Jack Bowes can all handle themselves physically. Youngster Noah Anderson provides a rare outside presence to the midfield, giving the team some run and carry. How Rowell fares in what the football world hopes is his first full campaign will be the key for the Suns. Rowell is a rare specimen, able to bang bodies in the packs and capable of beating his man with pace. Combine that with elite skills and flawless decision making, and we’re potentially seeing the early career of an all time great. There is more than a hint of Geelong superstar Joel Selwood to Rowell’s game.

Prediction: 14th

The Suns are an interesting team. As mentioned, there is some serious young talent on the list, but you can’t emphasise the ‘talent’ without acknowledging the ‘young’. The best players at the club are all so, so green. If they can continue to progress then Gold Coast are a dark horse to make the final eight.

But progression is rarely linear. Expect that the Suns young guns will be far more heavily scouted than in 2020. Whilst there is veteran support peppered up and down the roster, there really isn’t a game changer amongst them (with apologies to Swallow).

The Suns will likely plateau in 2021, but it will prove a small bump in the road in the long run.