It’s about time we got behind the Gold Coast Suns.
Not that we should expect great things from them in the very near future – but rather we should want them to succeed, at least off the field.
When the Suns were founded in 2009, the AFL public outcry was loud, and it still is. Demands followed from all corners of the country for a Tasmanian team instead – and that’s fair enough, they may be small, but Tasmania is a proud footballing state who have every right to feel hard done by.
But the AFL has greater ambitions. A Tasmanian team is easy (and they will get their chance) but their goal of taking market share from the rugby and making Australian rules football consistently the number one sport around the country is a much more difficult task.
To do this, they needed teams playing regularly in rugby zones – and thus GWS and the Gold Coast Suns were born.
From an on-field perspective, GWS got a lot of things right early.
They started with an experienced coach, recruited young kids and marketed a long-haul approach to building a team towards success. And it worked.
Gold Coast, on the other hand, tried to recruit for instant success, they brought in Gary Ablett at great expense, and more experienced players to guide their kids, but also an inexperienced coach who they gave up on far too early.
As a result, GWS has had top four finishes and GC has been stuck down the bottom. Because of this contrast, GWS has had a much easier time being accepted by the wider footballing community, and GC has struggled.
Yet, as much as there are voices that scream “just call it a failure and move them to Tassie,” I, apparently alone outside the few (but growing) membership base of the GC, hear myself whispering to no one in particular “can’t we support the little guy?”
Maybe because as a Freo fan I look at the Suns and see several similarities between the early years of Fremantle and GC’s beginning, that I am eager for them to find the same light at the end of the tunnel – at least the same dim light that does not have flags but does have plenty of members and long-term growth.
To do this, GC need two things: respect and a united team.
The Gold Coast’s main problem has been that they can’t keep a team together.
If you form a 22 of the players that have walked out of the club, you get a very good side – at least on paper. But for whatever reason, clubs find it easier to poach their players and the GC have a harder time attracting talent. That will be because they are a small club far removed from Victoria, but also, it’s partly because even the close AFL community are seemingly against them.
I was quite insulted on behalf of the club when Jason Cripps, Port’s list manager, openly said they will try to poach back new draftees Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine mere minutes after they were selected; never has a list manager said that before. Quite ironically, Rankine said during the pre-season that he’s quite comfortable in Queensland, “I’m just loving it up there. I’m loving where I’m living and I’m loving all the boys. Stuey is doing a really good job and we’re on the right track’.
Lukosious, on the other hand, has been quieter but he’s quietly going about his business on the field, playing all bar one game and although not standing out, he’s not looking out of place at the highest level. Unfortunately, due to recurring hamstring issues, we haven’t had the chance to see Rankine play, but his maturity is evident, and the potential is without question. Suddenly, the prospects of the club are looking a little bit brighter.
Respect is hard to earn. A long-established club such as Carlton may be given some exemptions from media scrutiny, with the experts eager to talk them up at any chance (until last weekend, anyway) but for a small, lowly expansion club who has no heritage to lean on, the Suns must start winning- and winning consistently.
So far season they looked good after the first four rounds, sitting 3-1. In fairness, their wins were against Fremantle, Western Bulldogs and Carlton, but there are signs of improvement. They finished with four wins last year, so to notch up three in the first month can only be signs of improvement, but they must do more. Their last four weeks have seen losses to better sides, but in most of those game they have competed for large parts of the games, including a heartbreaking last second capitulation to Melbourne. Now comes the challenge to put together four quality quarters and start upsetting the top teams, but after nine rounds you could say they are in a better position than Carlton and North, perhaps like the Saints whose early season form has also tapered off.
It is important that they continue to grow, and really build a competent and consistent side. That quality won’t come until are given the chance to build a genuine team, but it must be very difficult to build a side when every time a player looks like they will be a star, the AFL media try to pressure them to a larger usually Victorian club.
They need a player who’s going to stand up for the club, a bit like David Swallow has done, but (with respect) someone who’s a genuine talent – a real superstar. They need a genuine leader on and off the field that people will go to watch, and players will want to play with. They thought they had that with Ablett, but it was evident that after a couple of good years, Ablett’s patience had run out. He looked disinterested towards the back end of his time at the Suns, and their reliance on him was a disservice to the club.
Unfortunately, talent wise, there will never be another Ablett, but quality superstars pop up all the time; they need to find one with leadership, talent, loyalty and the desire to build the club. Those players don’t come around very often- Fremantle had one in Pavlich, Carlton have found one in Cripps, Melbourne for a long time have had Jones. Who will be the man to lift the Suns?
It may be that one is already there, waiting to emerge: Sexton is a livewire up forward, Fiorini is averaging just under 30 touches a game, and Harbrow is becoming a beacon down back.
Let’s call this the Gold Coast Two. A new team with a new start. Give them a chance to really grow. Start supporting instead of mocking. Help make the club healthy, and then we’ll likely see a new, more unique club down in Tassie, because Tasmania deserves better than scraps and the Gold Coast deserve a genuine chance.
And hey… if you’d like to support us, you could head over to our Mongrel Shop and purchase one of our hideously overpriced hoodies or notebooks. We even have a place for donations now. ORRRRRR, get one of the more moderately priced stubby holders or bumper stickers. Keep The Mongrel alive.