The Gold Coast Suns have endured an enormous amount of pain. They have been ridiculed, belittled and dismissed. Tonight must have been sweet.
Sometimes you can pinpoint a turning point for a team. Some may point to the way the Suns started 2019, with three wins from the first four games. Others might look to the re-signing of young stars like Ben King, Jack Lukosius and the yet to debut Izak Rankine.
But if you were still looking for a moment that the Suns stood up and said “enough is enough”, look no further than the 13th of June, 2020.
In a season like no other, the Gold Coast Suns sent a message that they are no longer the easy-beats of the competition. They took the West Coast Eagles on, both with attacking footy, and physically, and they won both battles, recording a strong 44-point win in one of the biggest upsets in recent history.
Here’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly of the dramatic Gold Coast victory over one of the premiership favourites.
MICHAEL VOSS REINCARNATED
Is that a grand statement? Particularly as Michael Voss is still alive, I suppose it may be. Maybe someone should drop around to his house and check on him, or maybe a paternity test is in order or something – Matt Rowell looks like a young version of the mature Michael Voss.
Already stockier and stronger than Vossy was at the same age, I was absolutely enamoured with his game tonight. He stood in tackles when other men would have been dragged down.
Yes, men… and it is astounding the power he possesses through the core that he was able to keep his feet in tackles from Tim Kelly, Liam Ryan and several others before dishing to a teammate. That, my friends, usually takes years to develop the strength to do, and here is this kid… no, this young man doing it in his second game en route to a best on ground performance.
You could see the impact he was having. Elliot Yeo went over and put some physical work into him. Luke Shuey did the same. Game recognises game, and both these guys realised that this young fella is something special.
I don’t think this is a stretch to state it at all, but he is a potential captain of this Gold Coast team, and whilst they are now brimming with young talent, you can see the signs that Matt Rowell is the kind of player that will drag a team along with him. He could be the catalyst for the emergence of the Gold Coast Suns as an AFL power…
I’m not so silly as to say this will be a quick transition, and we must be patient when Rowell has a down game here or there. He will have them – even the absolute best do, and many of them have plenty when they’re his age, but what we saw this evening what he is capable of, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.
He picked up a team-high 26 touches, with 14 contested. Still, he managed to run at 81% efficiency, and added five clearances. A star has been born.
THE NUMBER TWO PICK AIN’T BAD EITHER
On any other day I would be raving about the contributions of the number two overall pick, Noah Anderson, but not this day.
Rowell took the spotlight, but that should not totally diminish the influence of Anderson as he patrolled the wing for the Suns. Matched up on a combination of Andrew Gaff and Jarrod Brander, Anderson broke even with the champion, and beat the youngster, and was especially impressive early in the game.
He had 19 touches and worked at both ends of the ground with very little rest, matching the pace set by much more seasoned players. Whilst not the best on the ground, his commitment to the cause was impressive, and in no way, shape or form did he seem intimidated by coming up against one of the best teams in the league.
In fact, he relished the opportunity.
His second quarter was excellent, with a goal to go along with his six touches, and his efforts in the 30 seconds of madness that was so indicative of the Suns’ willingness to put their bodies on the line (see below) was exactly the kind of effort Stuart Dew would be proud of.
Anderson should feature heavily in our weekly Wingman Ratings once we get to the end of the round. He looks ready-made, and in the top two picks, the Suns have struck absolute gold.
THE MILLER MOVE
Tim Kelly had himself quite a nice first half of footy. His clean hands and ability to maintain his feet in the contest saw him accumulate 16 disposals to half time. He was one of the most influential players on the park, and started to look like he could push the Eagles past the Suns and onto victory.
But Stuart Dew saw this as well, and he went about ensuring that did not happen, deploying his favourite stopper to run with the Eagles’ star recruit.
With Touk Miller for company, Tim Kelly managed just eight disposals for the remainder of the game – just two of which were effective.
When Kelly touched the footy, Miller was there. When Kelly started to make position, Miller was bodying him out of the contest and making life difficult for him. What was quite damning was the lack of help for Kelly from his eagle teammates, who seemed more concerned with winning the footy and hacking it forward than protecting their prized recruit and ensuring he stayed involved in the game.
It is definitely no coincidence that as Miller took control of his tussle with Kelly, the Eagles started to falter badly.
But Miller didn’t just stop Kelly. He beat him, picking up 16 disposals as he picked his spots to run off his opponent and get involved in the play. It was a masterful defensive effort from Miller, who is a real heart-and-soul player for the team, and the win was just rewards for his commitment to this team when so many others decided to jump ship.
Some may have questioned Dew’s decision not to have Miller go to one of the Eagles prime movers from the outset, but the impact of Miller on Kelly came once Dew assessed who was playing well, and who needed to be kept quiet.
He chose Tim Kelly, and Touk Miller sure as hell did the job!
MATCHING IT, PHYSICALLY
It was thirty seconds of physical madness.
It was the young Gold Coast Suns against the seasoned West Coast Eagles with a wet footy and plenty of desperation. It was cut-throat, lay your body on the line footy, and it was the sort of contest that Gold Coast had been exposed in too often over recent years.
But they were not exposed today.
Questions were asked of players, young and old alike, and they responded in emphatic fashion.
With two points the margin late in the second quarter, the slippery ball was thrown in and spilled toward the Suns’ half-forward line. First, it was Lachie Weller hurling himself at the footy, then Noah Anderson, then Nick Holman.
The pressure came from Tim Kelly and Lewis Jetta, but it was Weller again gaining possession. A hack inside 50 saw Day beat McGovern for the footy, then Darcy MacPherson threw himself in, then ben Ainsworth, then Anderson again, and Fiorini.
The Eagles were going hard at it as well – Ah Chee flew, but Touk Miller matched him in the air. Kelly cleared, but Pearce Hanley swooped on it. Yeo got a handball away but the running Petruccelle was crunched by Harbrow.
The Eagles were pushing it forward, but the Suns would not relent – it was pressure footy at its messy, desperate best and as the clocked ticked down to 1.30 remaining, Charlie Ballard laid two diving tackles to disrupt things on the wing. The Sun continued to battle until they forced a stoppage inside their own 50 again.
This may sound like a complete mess. It may sound like organised chaos. It may sound like a whole heap of fumbling and not much going on, but what it was, in actuality, was a team standing up to the physical pressure of a team possessing over a dozen premiership players, and refusing to back down.
I spoke at the top of this article about moments you’ll remember when a team stood up and refused to be pushed around any longer. This one minute period of maniacal attack on the ball and anyone on the opposition carrying it was one of those moments.
For one minute at the end of the second quarter, the Gold Coast Suns stood up. And from that moment on, every single one of them walked taller. They matched it with the Eagles. They took the pressure, ate it up and spat it back at their opponents. It was brilliant to see, and may we see much more of it.
WORTH THE INVESTMENT?
So much has been spoken about in regard to the Lachie Weller trade, and what the Suns had to give up to finally get someone who wanted to come home TO them, instead of wanting to go home FROM them.
It cost the team pick two, and that ended up being Andrew Brayshaw for Freo. While the Dockers are still waiting for Brayshaw to mature, we may have seen a trade win this evening for the Suns.
Lachie Weller was blistering early in the contest, picking up 17 touches in the first half as the Suns established themselves as a serious threat to the Eagles. His second quarter, in particular, was some of his best football for the club, picking up 11 touches, with four clearances amongst them.
His speed through the middle, and willingness to take a hit in order to get the ball to a teammate set a great example for others to follow, and though he would pick up just seven touches in the second half, he had done the work to implore his teammates to come along with him.
Gold Coast were whacked in the footy media after they agreed to Freo’s high price for Weller. I even read comments from some Gold Coast supporters that lamented the decision to pay that kind of price for a player like Weller, who really hadn’t set the world on fire at that stage.
But they may be changing their tune now. Just a bit…
Weller coming home to Queensland was a move against the tide. Whilst others were jumping off the Suns, he jumped on, and tonight, he showed just what he was capable of against high quality opposition.
THE HEAVY WORK
I just want to give a tip of the hat to a few players who probably won’t feature in any votes, but did the sort of work in this game that their opponents just weren’t willing to do.
Sam Day took the kind of knock in the first quarter that could have ended his night. A floating kick from Hugh Greenwood saw Day stuck under the footy. He knew what was coming.
When Jeremy McGovern attacks the contest, it matters not who is in the way, and as his knee slammed into the exposed back of Sam Day, things could have been bad. Really bad. Sam Newman lost a kidney with a knock like that. So did Tom Lonergan.
And Sam Day could have had it happen to him as well, but he stood his ground, took the hit and after being checked out, returned to the heat of battle and continued to present as though the incident never happened. That’s guts.
Hugh Greenwood was recruited to provide a string presence around the footy, and his work in curtailing the influence of some of the Eagles’ prime movers more than justified his recruitment. 14 of his 20 touches were contested, and his seven clearances made his work around stoppages incredibly valuable.
If you’re going to look at numbers alone, you’ll never be impressed with Greenwood. If this was the NBA, he’d be like Cedric Ceballos (showing my age here) – not needing plays run for him, but finding a way to be involved, regardless.
Finally, Nick Holman. I’m not sure if there is a physical situation he wouldn’t like to be involved in… and not in the same way as Joe Ganino at the Blue Oyster Bar. Holman fights, and scraps, and dives and hustles… he is a team player, and his physical work does not go unnoticed.
SLIPPERY WHEN WET
We saw a slight glimpse last season – a worrying sign when the Eagles took on the Tigers in a cracking game at the MCG late in the season. After getting the jump on Richmond, the Tigers started pulling them back. I still thought the Eagles were going to win that game.
And then it rained.
Not torrential, and not for the whole game, but enough to make the ball a little slippery. And when that happened, the Eagles’ kick-mark possession kind of style went out the window. Instead, they were forced to take on the Tigers in a style that suited their opponents. And they lost.
West Coast are not well-equipped to play footy with the slippery ball. They like to win the footy, own it and punish teams who zone off or leave even a slight hole in their defensive set up. A slippery footy brings this game plan undone. Sure, it’s great out on the open plains of Optus Stadium, but in the Queensland humidity, it has brought them undone.
Both tonight, and last season as well.
They dropped the Round One clash against Brisbane in 2019 in similar conditions, with their skill level reduced due to the conditions. It was as though the Suns sensed it, and every touch the Eagles had drew large numbers of Suns, pressuring them.
They kick or handball backwards to buy time and space, and the Suns would swarm. They’d look inside, and the Suns would cut it off, and then when they finally did chance their arm, the slippery ball would cause a slight miscue, and it would all come undone.
With the Brisbane Lions waiting in the wings, the Eagles, who everyone thought would be sitting 2-0 right now, are staring down the barrel of a 1-2 start.
There are three games left in the Queensland hub for the eagles and two of them are at night. That’s when things get their messiest.
And Round Five is against the Tigers.
Gold Coast just laid out the blueprint of how to combat West Coast. Things are about to get interesting.
I am a big Liam Ryan fan, and love what he brings to the table, but in a game that required some skill, and a spark, he failed to deliver.
We can actually discount the last shot at goal he missed – the game was out of reach at that point, but his three misses earlier in the piece were the kind of goals you’d normally expect him to kick.
His two misses in the first quarter would have pulled the Eagles back to level-pegging, and his third miss, in the second quarter, could have really drove a dagger into the Suns, as it came amid a four goal run for West Coast.
Ryan picked up five touches in the second half, but his contributions were minimal. In a game where the skilful small men could have made a big difference, he made none.
Watching this, I could not help but think about how good Willie Rioli would have been in this game. Sigh…
GOV V SEXTON
Watching the replay, it appears as though Jeremy McGovern may have accentuated the contact from Alex Sexton, in an incident on the boundary line in the third quarter, leading to Sexton’s report.
There’s nothing too wrong with selling it a little – McGovern was bent over, contested the ball on the line, and Sexton did try to line him up. Luckily, the blow was a glancing one at best, but it obviously got under Gov’s skin.
Minutes later, as Sexton ran the ball out of bounds, McGovern gave him a shove that knocked him off balance and into the fence. Again, it could have been a lot worse, with sexton appearing to hit the gateway that had a bit of give in it.
However, of the two, which will the league deem to be worst?
Sexton hardly touched McGovern, but the intent was to hit him in the head. You can see it. McGovern definitely wanted to hurt Sexton, but the result was Sexton getting up and playing on with no apparent ill-effects.
This will be interesting, but if you cast your memory back a little, McGovern has a bit of history with pushing people into the fence. He copped a week for pushing Matt Guelfi of Essendon into the fence last year.
Sorry Gov… you’re gonna get a week for this one if you got a week for the last one.
WERE THERE ANY EAGLES WORTHY OF PRAISE?
I liked what Oscar Allen brought to the table. He was one of the few who looked confident with the ball in the air, and backed himself.
Shuey was his normal desperate self, and with ten clearances and a bit of niggle, Elliot Yeo did what Elliot Yeo does.
AND WHO DESERVES A WHACK?
I hate saying this… Shannon Hurn was really ordinary. If you’ve read my stuff before, you know the esteem I hold this bloke in, but he looked unsteady out there, like an old bloke trying to navigate uneven ground. Willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as he is a champion of the game, and you just don’t doubt champions.
Brendan Ah Chee was useless after the first quarter. Three disposals – might as well have not been there.
The rest – I don’t like whacking tall forwards when the conditions are poor, or kids who have under ten games, so that’ll do.
CAN THE SUNS PICK OFF ADELAIDE?
They’d be feeling pretty confident, wouldn’t they? They’re gonna get Adelaide on their home patch and coming off a win for themselves, and a hiding for the Crows. If they play like they did this evening, they’ll pants them.
Worth noting that the game is a 1.05pm start, so there won’t be the same amount of dew on the grass. Skills will be better.
WHAT CAN JACK LUKOSIUS BECOME?
I’ve said before I see a bit of Jack Watts in him… and I meant it as a derogatory statement, but I think we are starting to see him mature now. He is cool under pressure and is starting to take contact a lot more willingly. His re-signing with the club was a huge vote of confidence in their direction, particularly with the two SA clubs so interested.
I’m not sure he’s found his perfect position just yet, but for the time being a half back flank is a great role to allow him to develop.
WHERE IS BRAYDEN FIORINI AT?
He led the club in disposals last season, but seems to be deployed at half back more often than not now. Spent a heap of time on the bench today, playing just 64% of the game.
With the next group of kids coming through, I am not quite sure where he fits. Is he fit enough to play wing? He could carve some teams up if he could get time and space.
Really liked the game of Connor Budarick. He has a bit of Mongrel in him, and his role in defence gave the Suns a good ball user at points where they needed someone with a cool head.
Great to see Ben Ainsworth bob up with a couple of goals. I picked him early this year as a potential breakout player, and if he can start putting four quarters together, he’ll be a huge handful.
With Swallow and Brandon Ellis to return, the Suns have some seasoned players to bring back into the fold. I wonder who makes way?
A fair bit of credit should also go to Jarrod Witts for his work on Nic Naitanui. It’s not often Witts loses the hit out count, but his work around the ground was very valuable, and against a player that can move packs forward with his force of will alone, it makes Witts’ contributions all the more vital.
Finally, Sean Lemmens… he is either very, very good, or horrible from what I’ve seen. Looks like he is ready to absolutely take on the world at times, and has the skill to do it. I wonder whether Dew is trying to keep him grounded, or whether he will just let him loose very soon to try the things you can see he wants to?
And that’s it. Hope you enjoyed that – I watched this game with a big smile, seeing the young Suns take it up to the team I picked to win it all. Not because I dislike the Eagles – not at all – more because I love the underdog getting a win and causing a reshuffle of the AFL deck.
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