Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a a look at the long standing doormats of the AFL, the Gold Coast Suns.
In their 11 year existence, the Suns are yet to taste finals football. With young talent to burn, a highly regarded coach in Stuart Dew and a touch of luck on the injury front, the Suns have the ability to push up the ladder. With talk of a Tasmanian relocation gathering momentum, this could be a make-or-break year for the club.
For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.
16th position: 7 wins, 15 losses, 76.8%.
Much like the 2020 season, the Suns started reasonably well in 2021, some narrow losses (and a big loss to the Bulldogs) augmented by a thumping triumph over the Kangaroos and strong victories over Collingwood and the finals bound Swans. That proved to be a reliable indicator of Gold Coast’s season: some honourable losses; a few devastating thrashings; the occasional encouraging victory.
The Suns once again missed the presence of Matt Rowell – a budding superstar if he ever gets his body right – but did see significant progression from big full forward Ben King (47 goals), converted backman Wil Powell and silky, counter attacking defender Jack Lukosius.
The star of the show, however, was clearly Touk Miller. The former half back has settled into the midfield over the past couple of years with 2021 proving his best campaign yet, on his way to All Australian honours. The 26 year old was 5th in possessions per game in the AFL with 31.8 disposals per match, alongside 7.1 tackles and 5.7 clearances – all career highs. When the Suns were at their worst, he was often left carrying the can for a moribund squad.
Key ins: Mabior Chol (Richmond), Charlie Constable (Geelong), Levi Casboult (Carlton), Mac Andrew, Sandy Brock, James Tsitsas, Bodhi Uwland (all draft)
Key outs: Will Brodie(Fremantle), Hugh Greenwood (North Melbourne), Jarrod Harbrow, Jack Hombsch, Zac Smith, Jordan Murdoch (all retired), Jacob Townsend, Aiden Fyfe, Luke Towey (all released)
Let’s not beat around the bush, here: the Suns ave a serious lack of prime aged talent on their list. They possess young talent all over the park but their relative lack of senior experience leaves this team open to dramatic swings in form. Their final four rounds from 2021 are a perfect encapsulation. They started with a 98 point evisceration at the hands of eventual Premiers Melbourne, before rebounding with a gutsy win over Carlton. Did they build off that win? Not quite, They lost their final two games by 68 and 87 points.
Most of the Suns young talent lies either in the engine room or forward of the ball. Up front the club was devastated by the pre-season injury to King, who’s ACL tear will see him miss the entire season. Dew could go in a few directions to replace his spearhead and none are ideal. He could look to 5th overall pick Mac Andrew to play out of the goal square, or Joel Jeffrey if they want to go young. Or the Suns could go back to the future in dragging Sam Day out of the wilderness. Day is the last of the inaugural Suns and, frankly, hasn’t been up to AFL standard for a while. But, he is big and athletic. Another alternative is former Blues forward Levi Casboult who is well and truly on the downside of his career, but has vices for hands. His kicking is famously wonky, but he can still grab a few big pack marks.
There is plenty of creativity around whoever plays as the target man. Izak Rankine throws out more than a few Eddie Betts vibes and Jack Bowes is impressive in spurts. Ben Ainsworth is a versatile talent who, with the right players around him, could develop into a Bayley Fritsch lite type of player. Veteran skipper David Swallow will move between the forward line and midfield. He’s past his best but is as clever and composed as they come. He can hopefully bring a sense of calm to a forward line in flux.
The midfield is led by the All Australian Miller and – potentially – Matt Rowell. Injuries have robbed Rowell of any sort of consistent run of games. When he has played, through, he’s usually been immense. If he can get an uninterrupted season in 2022, he could emerge as a genuine running mate for Miller. Look for Noah Anderson to take another huge step in his 3rd campaign. Playing predominantly as a midfielder in 2021 he averaged 22.7 disposals. They’re supported by a hard running pair of wings in Brandon Ellis and Lachie Weller and a warrior in the ruck in Jarrod Witts, who returned midway through last year after a knee reconstruction. He’ll be better for having a preseason to prepare.
Defensively, the brilliant Lukosius is almost wasted in this team. He is one of the best attacking defenders in the game, a step below the likes of Darcy Moore and Tom Stewart, but a surgeon with the ball, all the same. He’s not in the same class as those two defensively, but that means he fits right in with a defense that is brave but limited. Sam Collins, Charlie Ballard, Sean Lemmens….they’re not going to keep a team in too many games of football. Powell looks capable of playing Miller’s old role as a creative backman, but there’s not too much else to write home about amongst the Suns defensive corps.
Recruited from Richmond, the athletic Mabior Chol could slot in anywhere as a firefighter: defense, attack or in the ruck. He’s not a world beater, by any means, but he’s good enough that the team should have a job for him to do each and every week.
Over the past few years, the Suns have been hit by injuries to the wrong players. That curse has again struck with the loss of King, who is vital to this teams structure. Even if the Suns got more than their share of luck in that regard, Gold Coast simply don’t have enough mature, top end talent to push themselves into finals contention.
The best that the Suns can hope for in 2022 is the continued emergence of young talents in Rankine, Ainsworth, Lukosius and Anderson, an injury free campaign for Rowell and some positive signs from Andrew and fellow draftee Sandy Brock.
If it all goes to plan, the might finish around 14th. But things never go to plan at Cararra. The Suns will finish at the foot of the AFL ladder in 2022.