THE BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SUNS AND BOMBERS

 

So, to end Round 11, I thought I’d mix things up. What the hell, right? It’s a Wednesday night, I’ve been covering games every day for the last couple of weeks… why not make it a little interesting for myself?

So I started wondering what answers we’d found about these two teams after tonight’s draw, but as always seems to happen, all I came up with was more questions.

Rather than leave them hanging out at the end of the regular good, bad and ugly column, I thought I’d just roll them out, try to get some answers along the way and maybe… just maybe, if I can’t find them, some of you guys will.

Okay, here we go – the big questions coming out of the Bombers and Suns at Metricon Stadium.

 

WHAT COST THE SUNS THE GAME?

In short, it was being trapped in their defensive half for the majority of the third quarter.

Pushing up to help a defence under siege, the Suns were unable to get the ball past half way with any real purpose. They had 17 touches in their forward half in the third compared to 44 for the Bombers in that quarter as Essendon completely tightened the screws on them and forced them into a very defensive structure.

As a result, the deficit for Essendon crept to within a goal before a late break saw Sam Day slot a goal to give a little breathing room.

You can blame the kick at goal of Ben King late in the piece, or that Izak Rankine’s long ball wasn’t close enough to the top of the square to punch through for a behind, but the Suns were squeezed in the third quarter, and that was where the Bombers worked their way back into the contest.

 

WHAT COST THE BOMBERS THE GAME?

I touched on it above – it was the late Sam Day goal in the third quarter.

Essendon had done just about everything right in that quarter up until the last twenty seconds. They’d hemmed the Suns into their defensive half, they were out-tackling them and out-pressuring them and it looked as though they had forced the Suns into their shell.

But that one play – a terrific inboard kick from Powell set up Weller to hit Day on the lead and the one-kick game became two kicks.

It was that moment, as the siren sounded and the ball punched through the air for a goal that allowed Gold Coast to walk in feeling pretty good about themselves and would have left the Bombers feeling a little flat given all the work they’d done.

Oh, and the team defence AFTER Dylan Shiel kicked a point to put the Dons in front in the last quarter was pretty abysmal. The boys looked spent, but Gold Coast moved the footy way too easily out of defence from the kick-in despite the perceived pressure of the moment.

 

JORDAN RIDLEY OR CHARLIE BALLARD?

Wow, if you wanted to see a display of intercept marking, I suppose you would do a lot worse than to watch this game and concentrate on the work of both Ridley and Ballard at opposite ends.

They are very different players, these two. Ridley looks almost majestic as he cruises toward the footy and clunks intercept grabs, whereas Ballard looks clumsy and unorthodox, yet is no less effective. Like Justin Westhoff earlier in his career, Ballard seems to mark the footy quite by accident.

But he does it too bloody often for it to be an accident.

Ridley’s second half was enormous, and those pushing his All-Australian case will have plenty more ammunition after tonight’s effort. Our own Matt Oman was already on the Ridley bandwagon, and he will be letting us all know about how good he was again in this one and why we should all have Ridley in our rolling teams (combined Mongrel Rolling AA team due after R12).

Looking at the performance of both guys, Ridley offered a lot more than just the intercept marking in this one.

Whilst Ballard had ten intercepts to Ridley’s nine, it was the work of Ridley at ground level that made him stand out. 23 touches at 91% efficiency had him as one of the standouts for the Bombers in many aspects. Meanwhile, it seemed as though once the aerial contest was complete, Ballard found it difficult to have any further influence.

Given that, I’d take Ridley’s game but that is by no means discounting what Ballard meant to the Suns in this one. Both players were excellent.

 

HAS JAMES STEWART MADE THE FULL FORWARD SPOT HIS FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE?

He made a pretty strong case today, not only with three goals and three contested grabs to his name, but his attack on the footy was uncompromising, and that is exactly what you need from a big forward.

It’s funny – I look at Stewart’s stat sheet and it looks solid, but the one action I remember more than anything else was him charging out of full forward at top speed and crashing through the Wil Powell tackle. It sent a strong message about his intent and what he is willing to provide for this team.

With rumours that Joe Daniher is preparing to play in a scratch match in the next week, there will be a lot of pressure on Stewart to perform again in order to retain his place in the team. Hard attacks on the footy and genuine contested marks are two things he can provide weekly, and if he is doing that, he will be a hard man to displace.

 

HOW IMPORTANT HAS SAM DAY BECOME TO THE GOLD COAST?

He’s a bloody good, honest footballer, isn’t he?

He just competes in marking contests all day long and ha really surprised me with how important he’s become to the Suns. I don’t think we’re ever going to see him kick a big bag, but he is just about the perfect second, or possibly third forward for this team. He is providing enough that he can be used as an effective inside 50 target, which means that his opponent simply cannot zone off and go to help.

I really would have liked to see him take the responsibility to go back and kick that goal in the last quarter instead of handball it off to Corbett… which, of course led to Dylan Clarke running him down, but you understand that he was trying to get Corbett into the game in his first outing of the season.

 

 

COULD ZACH MERRETT BE THE BEST WINGMAN IN THE GAME?

If the Bombers had one really good clearance player, I reckon having Merrett released to the outside permanently would see him rip games apart.

He spent a good portion of this one out wide and had a blinding second half (20 touches) as he tore up and down the wings to work both ends of the ground. He had six inside 50 deliveries as well as four rebound 50s, indicating that he was willing to do the hard running for the Dons.

He was matched up against Brandon Ellis for long stretches in this game and easily got the best of him in terms of value to his team.

 

HOW MANY OF HUGH GREENWOOD’S CLEARANCES WERE EFFECTIVE?

In truth, not many.

I am a big fan of the secondary clearance – meaning that once the ball is cleared, what happens next? Does it go to a teammate who can hit a target or drive you inside 50, or does it end in a scrap and either a turnover or a ball in dispute?

I reckon a fair whack of Greenwood’s clearances under pressure fell into the latter category in this game.

Still, he led the game in that stat and he did have the best clearance of the night that got the Suns moving forward and led to Ben King’s dancing, tackle-shrugging goal to level the scores. That was bloody exciting stuff!

 

HOW MANY COULD IZAK RANKINE HAVE KICKED?

I reckon four would have been a number that would have reflected the chances he got in this game.

I don’t know what instructions Matt Guelfi was given, but staying goal side of Rankine and putting a body on him at stoppages evidently were not two of them.

I know the commentators basically drink the bloke’s bath water, but there is no denying how exciting he is, and you just felt that the last minute of the game was set up for a barrel from the young man to hit the scoreboard and pinch the game.

But yes, he had three shots at goal in around five minutes for the result of just two behinds. A four goal game went begging here.

 

WHO DIDN’T DO ENOUGH?

I would have liked to see a little more from Jack Lukosius in this one. As a half back, or even as a deep defender, his kicking ability is something that the Suns rely on to create avenues to go forward, but with just 11touches for the game, he was not involved anywhere near as much as I would have liked.

Dev Smith and Brayden Fiorini I’ll touch on in a moment, but one thing I will focus on here is the decision to deploy Touk Miller as a defensive option on Andrew McGrath in the third quarter and what it cost the Suns.

I love the contested work of Miller, and his combination with Hugh Greenwood won’t be often beaten in a scrap. In the first half, the duo were very active at stoppages but at the start of the third, Dew gave Miller the job of curtailing Andy McGrath.

Now, when you give Touk Miller a job, it usually gets done but the Suns lost a lot of drive from Miller at stoppages as his attention shifted to McGrath. Yes, the tag worked for the third quarter, with McGrath limited to two touches after 19 in the first half, but with the footy trapped in the Bombers forward half for the majority of the quarter, I felt Gold Coast traded off their own drive to counter that of McGrath.

Lo and behold, the Bombers were right on top in that period.

I did not like the game of Aaron Francis, but acknowledge that without Hurley or Hooker down back, he was left to handle most of the deep entries without much help from another big.

One last one – Tom Cutler. He is still probably finding his feet, so I feel a little bad about naming him, but a couple of decisions late in the game… geez the Bomber fans may have pointed a few fingers his way if they’d lost.

 

IF (BLANK) PLAYED, WOULD WE HAVE WON?

ESSENDON – MICHAEL HURLEY

Yep. Francis was under the pump and looked as though he desperately needed a second big bloke to help out. I like Zerk-Thatcher as much as the next guy, but a string body like Hurley, or even Cale Hooker would have given the Bombers a huge amount of stability in that defensive 50.

GOLD COAST – MATT ROWELL

Yep. When the Suns were struggling to get their hands on the footy through the midfield in the third quarter, a player like Rowell could have been the circuit breaker. Strong in the contest and able to farm out handballs under duress, his work at the coal face may have made a huge difference in the momentum during that quarter.

A bit of a dumb question, I know. What if they both played??? Hey, I said BIG questions, not smart questions.

 

SHOULD DARCY PARISH PLAY MIDFIELD PERMANENTLY?

It seems to be where he does his best work, doesn’t it?

He had eight of his 20 touches, including five contested possessions in the pivotal third quarter when he was playing… go on, guess where!

The Bombers are screaming out for a clearance player, and whilst I am not sure Parish is it, he is certainly as much of a clearance player as basically any other Bomber midfielder at the moment. Plus, it allows Shiel and Merrett to work more on the outside where they’re at their best.

 

WHAT IS UP WITH BRAYDEN FIORINI?

I have no idea, but there would be a dozen clubs looking at him and wondering how he could help them next season.

This is not necessarily a bad thing for the Suns, as I am not sure he is in the future plans of Stuart Dew. After leading the club in disposals per game last season, Fiorini has become a bit of a nowhere man at the Gold Coast, slipping in and out of the side and not really having a set position.

He played on the wing in parts today, but after a bright start (11 touches and a goal in the first half) went completely missing after half time.

I legitimately thought we saw his maturation in 2019 to the point where he would be one of the pillars the Suns were able to build around from this season onwards, but something has happened, and right now I am not convinced we’ll see Fiorini in a Suns guernsey again next year.

And that may not be a bad thing for all involved.

 

WHERE IS DEV SMITH AT?

He is a far cry from the player that took home the 2018 Crichton Medal at the moment. He was a tackling machine back then, putting his body over the footy whenever the opportunity arose, and making people pay with a hard tackle (tee hee) whenever they took him on.

But I am not sure he is anywhere near that at the moment. He does the little niggly stuff to get under an opponent’s  skin – you know, bumping them after the ball goes out of bounds, mouthing off, etc… but when he had the chance to stand under the footy in this game, he half-arsed it.

Standing under the footy on the wing, the heat was on in this game when Dev Smith had the opportunity to mark the footy. It was an opportunity he declined, instead hitting the ball to no man’s land behind him.

To me, this is the action of a player who has lost a bit of confidence and is questioning himself. He had his chance to stand under it, take the mark, and possibly take the hit. He chose not to.

 

 

DOES MCKENNA STAY FORWARD?

He flashed in and out of the game, but I am not sure we are seeing enough inside 50 from McKenna to warrant him playing forward.

His best passages of play came when he was able to receive the footy at half back and run forward with it, like he used to… you know, when he played at half back.

He provided a couple of very nice deliveries inside fifty, which resulted in two direct goal assists, but I really like him off half back and even though the Bombers are trying their best to keep him happy, I reckon we all know his best role is streaming off half back.

 

IS LACHIE WELLER BECOMING THE EXACT PLAYER THE SUNS NEED HIM TO BE?

Yeah, he is getting there, definitely.

They gave up a hefty price to get him, but the value of a player like Weller comes in two parts. Firstly, he adds a touch of class when he goes forward with the footy. I’d love to have him kicking to me if I were playing in the Gold Coast forward line.

Secondly, his presence on this team heralds the cultural shift at the Suns. This is a bloke who wanted to come to this team. He is a player that wanted to be part of the team as they developed and grew. Yeah, it cost them pick two (Andrew Brayshaw, who is starting to come along nicely at Freo) but I don’t think the Suns would be too upset about the price at all given the results they’re getting from Weller.

With two goals to his name to accompany a goal assist and 18 touches, Weller is fast becoming a star of the competition.

 

ANDREW MCGRATH OR TIM TARANTO?

I asked this after the GWS game the other day when Taranto was excellent, so I think it is only fair to ask it after a pretty good game from McGrath as well.

This was a season-high amount of touches for McGrath, but I really would have liked to have seen him break the Miller tag in the third quarter. This is more a team problem for the Bombers – they continually fail to recognise when a player is being targeted and as such, do not lay enough blocks to force switches at stoppages.

You guys will be honest with me  – who would you prefer right now – Taranto or McGrath?

 

WERE THE PLAYERS ON ANGRY PILLS IN THIS ONE?

It looked like it, didn’t it? Every opportunity to lay a hit on the opposition was taken, and there’d be some sore boys this evening.

Sam Collins laid a heavy bump on Kyle Langford early on, but Langford showed great courage standing his ground with a freight train like Collins bearing down. Maybe he could teach a little of that to Dev Smith, who went for a knock on instead of marking it at one stage on the wing.

Jarrod Harbow took Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti high when Walla turned into him as he went to tackle. Could have been a lot nastier.

Dylan Clarke’s tackle on the oblivious Josh Corbett was the tackle of the night as the Suns forward ran into what he thought was an open goal only to be run down by the desperate Clarke. I got several texts at that point of the night with some version of “game saving tackle” in the body.

And Sean Lemmens really laid out Andy McGrath with what looked to be a late hit early in the fourth quarter as well. Considering the umpires give downfield free kicks for a slight push after disposal, I cannot believe that was let slide.

 

FINALLY, WHO WAS THE BETTER TEAM IN THIS ONE?

Oh, tough call because the result says no one.

The Suns should have won this. The Ben King shot is one he’ll rue, and the last minute was all Gold Coast – whether it was Rankine’s attempt at goal or Sean Lemmens’ reluctance to throw the ball on his boot after collecting the spill (should have probably been holding the footy against him as Langford caught him cold).

However, looking at the final moments, I cannot ignore the desperation of Andy McGrath as he smothered the attempted snap by Brandon Ellis… he saved the Bombers right there.

The better team… this is one where both teams could have laid claim to being the better team, but neither would genuinely believe it. If ever a game deserved to end in a draw, it’d be this one.

 

WHERE TO NOW?

The Bombers have a cut-throat game against the Saints, who were absolutely towelled up by the Cats, and the Suns… well, they just have to front up and face the Tigers. Easy, huh?

 

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