It was billed as the ‘Acid Test’ for the Suns. A week after uncharacteristically dismantling premiership fancy West Coast, all of a sudden there was a weight of expectation on Gold Coast’s shoulders. Coming up against the Adelaide Crows, a former powerhouse that has fallen on hard times, the Suns knew that their time was now.

In this contest, it seems like the Suns finally came of age, producing an enthralling display to again record a dominant win, this time by 53 points. So what happens next for both sides, one that is on the rise after an entire existence of mediocrity, and another that has seemingly never bottomed out but looks increasingly like they’re on their way to rock bottom.

Here are the Mongrel’s talking points from Gold Coast’s victory over the Crows.

 

THE TALKING POINTS

The suns have arrived

This time last year (Round Three, not June) Gold Coast has won two games on the trot. There was hope in the air. Granted, they won both games by a combined eight points, but it didn’t matter. For the first time since Gary Ablett had the team at 7-2, fans could see that something was happening. Then, as quickly as hope came, it was gone, and by season’s end, the Suns had lost 18 games on the trot and had plummeted back down to the depths.

This was the restarting of a franchise that completely failed to get off the ground the first time. But here, there was a huge focus on keeping the kids around. Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine, Ben King, Sam Collins, Darcy MacPherson, Ben Ainsworth, Brayden Fiorini, Peter Wright, Lachie Weller. The Suns have assembled a class of talent that rivalled their first influx of juniors, the job now was to keep this group together.

Fast forward to the 2019 Draft. The AFL had gifted the Suns the first pick in the draft, giving them the first two selections, along with pick 11 they acquired in a trade with Carlton. It was obvious to everyone that two best mates; the two clear standouts of the draft class would head up to the Gold Coast, and so it came to be, with Matthew Rowell, Noah Anderson and Sam Flanders at pick 11 giving the Suns even more talent to their already bulging pool.

Now that we’ve delved into the backstory of the Suns, we come to their first ever victory over Crows. What a victory it was! From start to finish the Suns were rabid. It was pure, enthusiastic, and tough in a way that has so rarely been seen from Metricon Stadium. The Crows didn’t help themselves, and were frankly awful, but it was the Suns who led them into slaughter. Such was the Suns dominance, the Crows failed to register a score in the first quarter. It was lucky for them that at the other end, the Suns kicked only two goals from nine attempts. From there it only got worse from a Crows perspective, and at three-quarter time, Adelaide had only kicked the solitary major and found themselves 58 points behind.

The stats were again damning for the Crows, and it told the story of two teams heading in completely different directions. Only four Suns players had less than 10 touches. For the Crows it was half the team. The Suns won the clearance count 38 to 25, took 31 more marks, doubled the Crows inside 50’s, and, most alarming for the Crows, laid 18 more tackles despite clearly having more of the ball.

Make absolutely no mistake, this was the coming out party for a Gold Coast team that finally, after all this time, has genuine hope amongst an entire organisation. It proved that their victory over West Coast was no fluke. It proved that if they can keep this group together, we may have just witnessed the rebirth of a monster. Much like GWS have such a wealth of talent that they have managed to sustain their success, this bunch of undoubted young guns have the opportunity to deliver a city a level of success and fame that no sports team has ever given them. Perhaps, for the first time, the greater Gold Coast area has a team that will give them a championship they’ve been so desperate to attain. This is quickly becoming their time. Are they here to stay? Will they once again fade into obscurity as quickly as they arrived? Only time will tell, but they’ve got the best chance to sustain this enthusiasm and aggression that will deliver the success everyone has craved.

 

bottoming out and cleaning out

As stated last week, Matthew Nicks has a massive job on his hands. But the predicament at West Lakes goes beyond the white line. After an off season in which Betts, Jacobs, Greenwood, Jenkins, Keath and Ellis-Yolmen all departed, a fountain of youth now needed to be established. Fischer McAsey became the long term option in defence, Reilly O’Brien officially took control of the ruck, and Darcy Fogarty was installed in the forward 50 as the team’s resident bull.

But after three rounds of the 2020 season, it has become clear that a lot more needs to be done. Nicks needs to shuffle a few more names off the list before this team can rise again. Looking at the players who didn’t pull on a Guernsey against the Suns, one can put forward an argument for as many as 10 players that may feel a tap on the shoulder before too long. Bryce Gibbs, for all the time and effort the Crows put into getting him to West Lakes, is done. With the Crows languishing at the bottom of the ladder, there is simply no point in having him in the team ever again, sans for a farewell game should fans be allowed into Adelaide Oval en masse. The same could be said for stalwart David Mackay. Kyle Hartigan has had a fairly good career but his days are numbered. An unfair scapegoat for many Adelaide supporters, Hartigan has lost his place to McAsey and Nicks will need to keep his focus on getting experience into the young defender.

For the younger brigade, there are many that simply haven’t progressed enough to warrant another year on the list. Jordan Gallucci was a first round selection but he hasn’t been able to find consistent enough form, and younger players have gone past him. Gallucci’s good mate Myles Poholke finds himself in the same boat. Now in his seventh season, Riley Knight has only managed 57 appearances and although his form at SANFL level has always remained particularly strong, unfortunately he hasn’t been able to bring enough form to AFL level on a consistent enough basis. Andrew McPherson, drafted in 2017, is yet to debut; Ben Davis, a 2016 draftee, has only played two games, and Elliott Himmelberg, also drafted in 2016, has only made eight appearances and questions must be asked why his development has stalled.

For the changes that still need to be made on the field, Nicks needs a lot more support around him in the coaches’ box. Ben Hart is an experienced campaigner with 12 years of assistance work behind him, but besides that, Nicks needs more qualified people to help guide this young team through the rebuild. Even though he has nine years’ experience as an assistant, Nicks is still a rookie when it comes to sitting in the hot seat. He won’t survive if he doesn’t get the necessary support team around him, because this rebuild will ultimately be one of the hardest jobs Nicks will undertake, and it will be all the more difficult if Adelaide’s board leaves the job to him alone.

 

the players of the match

I would like to take you behind the curtain of Mongrel Punt HQ. Each Mongrel submits 5-4-3-2-1 votes for the game they are charged with reviewing, and it is up to our resident rankings genius Sam Marcolin to compile all the votes that come in. This match was by far the hardest I have ever had to find only five players to fill the voting slots, as there were as many as 10 different Suns players I could’ve included that were equally deserving of recognition.

Let’s start with the best on ground. A man that, amazingly, has only played three matches. Three. 18-year-old Matt Rowell has burst onto the AFL scene in a Judd-like manner that has only been seen only a handful of times before. He had 20 touches, all of which were vital, kicked two brilliant goals that defied belief, and his defensive pressure was exemplary, with his 10 tackles only bettered by Hugh Greenwood’s 13.

Last season, the plan for Stuart Dew was to play Ben King forward, and allow fellow forward wunderkind Jack Lukosius to develop in defence. Such was the dominance of King against the Crows, that Lukosius may not be needed as a forward anymore. Matched up with Fischer McAsey, King was a force to be reckoned with, and every time he was near the ball something good happened for the Suns. Kicking three goals, and setting up a few more, King showed the AFL world why there was so much hype surrounding him and his brother when the pair were drafted.

Back in defence, and unheralded Sam Collins took Taylor Walker to the cleaners in a masterclass. It was such a supreme performance that Collins is now being spoken of in All Australian conversations. Well supported by Charlie Ballard and Pearce Hanley, the Suns defensive unit choked the Crows every time they ventured forward, and the three goals the Crows kicked in the last quarter were complete junk time majors that did not take away from the effort produced by Gold Coast’s defence.

As stated previously, only four Suns had less than 10 touches. It was such a complete team performance that we go on and on praising every player that pulled on a Gold Coast guernsey. Touk Miller was a midfield beast with 26 touches, Jarrod Witts the clear winner of the ruck duel, not only in the clearances but around the ground, all of Hugh Greenwood’s 10 touches were contested and he laid 13 crunching tackles to go along with his grunt work under the packs, Brandon Ellis and Lachie Weller produced magnificence every time they touched the ball, setting up countess Suns forward thrusts, and Darcy Macpherson made his presence known underneath Ben King, always buzzing around and ensuring the ball was under control if King failed to mark the pill.

 

the nervous men

We could carry on for days gushing over the young Suns, and they deserve every ounce of praise that comes their way. But it is worth delving into the 22 players the Suns came up against. A team that became virtual witches’ hats halfway through the first quarter. Looking purely at the stats sheet, while half of the Crows side had less than 10 touches, many of them were the younger brigade that may perhaps be not quite ready for the big stage.

But what about the senior players? Those who, on paper, should make up a relatively decent side. We spoke last week about former captain Taylor Walker after his frankly dismal performance in Showdown 48. This was the perfect opportunity for Tex to remind everyone of his standing in the Crows team. If anything, Walker’s output today was even worse. Gathering just six possessions, Walker was hardly sighted, and it is becoming clearer by the week that this is a man that looks just about done with the game. His forward partners, Tom Lynch and Darcy Fogarty certainly weren’t the Crows’ worst, but in any other team they would’ve been badly found out. We also don’t need to talk about Fogarty dropping the simplest of chest marks, or Ben Keays kicking the ball straight to the player manning the mark.

Skipper Rory Sloane should really have stayed back in the hotel room, his corked thigh was clearly still giving him issues and the Crows midfield suffered from his lack of power. Reilly O’Brien battled hard, but he was dominated by Jarrod Witts and the midfielders underneath him were stifled as a result. In defence it was just as horrifying from an Adelaide perspective. Fischer McAsey was taken to the cleaners by Ben King, and looks a touch overawed at AFL level; he however must be persisted with. Rory Laird had the most touches of any Crow, but his stats were inflated by the sheer amount of ball that Laird was forced to deal with and his disposal with ball in hand left a lot to be desired.

Nicks has a lot of hard decisions to make at the selection table. Does he continue to persist with the senior stars that appear out of sorts, or does he clean out the whole team in favour of even more youth? The Adelaide Crows as a club have never been this uncompetitive, and there will be more pain in the short term. It may now be time for Nicks to completely restart the club from the ground up.

 

From the first minute of this contest it was clear there was only one team that truly wanted this victory more. Stuart Dew’s men played with equal parts enthusiasm and aggression to sink the Crows further into the depths. No longer is there any doom and gloom in the Gold Coast sky, and a genuine belief has engulfed this playing group. Suddenly they are being mentioned in the same breath as other team that could potentially play finals, and that belief will only grow stronger with every victory. For the Crows, it further cemented their status as the AFL’s falling giant, and Matthew Nicks, along with Andrew Fagan and Rob Chapman, face a monumental task of resurrecting club that has capitulated in the last two years.

This may be the turning point for both clubs. A game that will change the fortunes of each team. Could these Suns dare to dream of finals action for the first time in their existence? How long will this Crows rebuild be and how will the lack of support affect Nicks in the coaches’ box? These questions will be answered in due course, but for now, Heaven help the next team that has to face the Suns next.