Round 16 kicked off with a prime time clash between Gold Coast and Richmond at Metri… MC… no wait, Marvel Stadium. With Dimma and his men making the long haul trip from Punt Rd and Stuart Dew and his team having come just down the road from Queensland, four points were on the table for Richmond. All they had to do was eat them up.
The general football public saw this curious fixture time slot as perhaps the AFL not only making an example of the battered Suns – but perhaps putting the dual reigning premiers back on the pedestal. The Suns had lost three in a row coming in, including just being knocked off by the lowly Kangaroos. Richmond had just put up their lowest total in 60 seasons last weekend vs St Kilda, so on paper, this fixture choice was a head scratcher. As a Suns fan, coming in, I believed this game could have amounted to a public execution, but boy was I wrong.
In a tight tussle with pristine conditions, Gold Coast managed to hold on against their much-fancied rivals 10.17 77 to 10.7 67 . There were skill errors aplenty, with Richmond making a ton of uncharacteristic mistakes, but Gold Coast kept the Tigers in the contest with their inaccurate goal kicking. Let’s take a look at this battle.
Touk Miller put the Tigers’ midfield to the sword in an absolutely dominating display. I don’t recall a single midfielder tearing the Tigers apart like this in a long while. I’ve said in previous reviews that Miller is the best two way midfielder in the AFL, and after this showing, that call might be echoed. For long periods, the Tigers used Trent Cotchin on Miller, as Shane Edwards appeared to be hampered with an injury, however that simply did not work. As has often been the case in his first quarters for 2021, Miller started on fire, winning 13 disposals and setting the tone against the premiership midfield.
After it was all said and done, Miller had accumulated game-highs of 36 disposals, seven marks, seven tackles, six score involvements and a game high nine clearances. The work rate was once again outstanding, as he also covered 15km, which also topped the inside midfielders.
COLLINS vs LYNCH 2.0
Sam Collins made his return from a debilitating ankle injury after missing the past three games, to face his old nemesis Tom Lynch, who was also ironically making his return from a PCL injury. Lynch was dominant throughout, as Collins (who was clearly still hampered) struggled with the mobility of Lynch. The big Tiger booted 5.2 from 13 disposals and six marks, however the presence of Collins alone, made everybody around him walk taller.
Collins was unable to get his intercept game going, but was able to get to a good number of high balls, his 1-1 spoil of Lynch in the final minute was absolutely critical, as he engaged Lynch and got a timely fist to the ball to allow his teammate to recover possession.
In recent weeks, Gold Coast had been linked to upcoming Tiger free agents Mabior Chol and Callum Coleman- Jones, so there were some Suns eyes on these two players in particular. Coleman-Jones struggled with a single handball and seven hitouts before exiting at half time due to a calf injury, whereas Chol answered a few questions, however some were also made apparent.
Chol went against Chris Burgess for large parts of this game in the ruck. He had been excellent early on in his past few games. Burgess however, turned the screws on Chol early, working him around the ground and holding his own in the ruck. Chol allowed Burgess to take a mark wide inside 50 and was lucky to not put him on the goal line after a push. Burgess also worked off Chol to set up a Ben King goal, following a 60m laser from Jack Lukosius.
When fatigue set in and Chol got moving, he played a big part in the Tiger revival, regularly setting up behind the ball and thwarting the options down the line, when the Suns chose to take them. 14 disposals, five marks and 25 hitouts to Chol vs 13 disposals, five marks, three tackles, five clearances and 24 hitouts. Chol seemed to lack the killer instinct in the middle, almost looking like he was going with the flow. Chris Burgess wins the battle of the rucks in this one.
Riley Collier-Dawkins gave Matt Rowell a very difficult time in this game, going stride for stride with the Suns’ prized onballer. With Gold Coast missing Hugh Greenwood and Noah Anderson, Hardwick sent the young Tiger to Rowell and he handled the task greatly. He kept Rowell in check, holding him to 17 touches, however only in one passage of play (which was a Suns goal) was Rowell able to escape the clutches of the tag. Despite the stat sheet saying RCD had only eight touches and three tackles, his numbers did not tell the story – his positioning often forced Rowell off the ball path.
It took the Tigers defence a while to get going, but when they did it looked like it would take a monumental effort to get through. Bachar Houli had 15 of his 24 touches after half time, and Nick Vlaustin was copping an absolute pasting from Josh Corbett, who had seven disposals and five marks in the first half, before being subbed off with concussion. Once that occurred, Richmond were able to revert back to their zone defence scheme and limit the impact the Suns could have with the forward 50 attacks. Dylan Grimes kept the Tigers in the game in the first half – he was outstanding with 15 disposals (11 intercepts) five marks and gained four free kicks. He bailed Richmond out time and time again.
On the flip side, the Gold Coast defence held up remarkably. Led by Charlie Ballard with a game high 12 intercept possessions, nine marks (three contested), five score involvements, 17 total possessions at 88% he relished the challenge on playing on premiership key forwards, and made Jack Riewoldt a non factor. Alongside him was 50-gamer, Will Powell, who had some aerial impact, to pair with the boot of Jack Lukosius, who was able to set up play behind the ball, and not often exposed defensively. His work rate in defence had been questionable, however his intent could not be faulted in this contest, sprinting 100m in a chase down effort during a Dustin Martin goal.
Speaking of Martin, Sean Lemmens won some crucial 1 on 1 strength match ups against the three time Norm Smith medallist late in this contest.
Jack Bowes returned to his regular role of defensive linkup option, and it showed with the space he was afforded by Richmond.
If only they could finish….. Man oh Man
Ben Ainsworth played perhaps his most dangerous game as a forward for Gold Coast. Yes, I know he finished with 1.4 and an out of bounds, yet he is about ready to really take off. He added 20 disposals to go along with eight marks, four tackles, seven inside 50’s and 11 score involvements (3 goal assists). The sky is the limit, and the demotion back to the VFL seems to have lit a fire under him. Rankine kicked 1.2 from nine disposals, however it must be said that he needs to work on his discipline a bit, as he often tries for the extravagent when the simple incantation from his forward bag of tricks will do. His soccer finish off a Sam Day free kick oozed talent, however could have been costly had the kick missed.
Ben King burst back into form in a massive way. Opposed to David Astbury often, King stamped his authority on the contest, taking seven grabs and booting 4.1 from 13 disposals. It’s amazing what a bit of time and space can do for a key forward, as he had struggled mightily in his last few games, but got reward for effort here. The Suns may have found a blueprint to defeating Richmond, as they are an elite defensive GROUP, however when broken down to single players, they can be exposed.
BRETT’S BLAST: Marlion Pickett
This is not a blast at the game of Pickett, who had his moments. It was an odd game, allow me to explain.
For the record, I believe (aside from Mitch Robinson) Pickett is the most physical wingman in the AFL. His skills and instincts are so smooth, the game almost flows through him. However (if you want to…) rewind all the way in the first quarter with 18:15 left.
Pickett received a handball from a hard charging Jason Castagna running away from goal. Pickett was 40m out on the left flank, and instead of trusting his skills and taking the shot, he decides to try to pass, mistiming it horribly, allowing Touk Miller to cut it off. That turnover lead directly to a shot on goal for Gold Coast as they ran the gauntlet end to end. That turnover could have played on the mind of Pickett, as he had only three other kicks for the game, to go along with 12 handballs. A player of his skills needs to be kicking the football, as it is not only one of his primary assets, but if you have ever watched him play, he has zero left hand handball, and it often leads to him being in duress.
At times it appeared the Tigers were scared of the physicality of Nick Holman, often avoiding contact, he was a one man missile. He gave away a few free kicks, however he was a handy contributor. Watch the final 2 minutes of the game and watch Holmans 100m sprint to lay a tackle, outnumbered 2-1 to set up Izak Rankine to swoop.
Brayden Fiorini came good when it mattered most. He accumulated 25 disposals, however took a long time to re-adjust to the speed of the game, often skying his disposals. But he made a massive intercept and clearing kick, getting a deft hand on a Dustin Martin handball to break up play.
Is it wrong to say Richmond severely lacked leadership? Martin, Cotchin, Edwards, Bolton, Riewoldt… Often any of these players stand up when the tough gets going, yet it appeared each one was waiting for somebody else to be the catalyst? Bolton, to his credit sparked Richmond into action in the third quarter.
Very handy game by Jeremy Sharp, taken with pick 27 in 2019, however Gold Coast gave up a future 1st round selection (pick 11) to take him. I’m not sure if it is just the hair but Sharp reminds me a little of fellow West Australian, the late Eagle Chris Mainwaring. If he is close to “Mainy” then Gold Coast will be happy with “Sharpey” 15 disposals and 1.2, and despite going at 45% efficiency, he was often forced to be an outlet.
Patrick Naish should be able to get another run with Richmond or find an opportunity if he isn’t offered another deal, I really like the way he goes about it, and if a team persists with him, they will be happy in the long run.
Gold Coast need to look at the inconsistencies of Alex Sexton once again. He just seems to disappear when needed most His work rate had lifted tremendously the past few weeks, but he was absent for larger passages of the contest.
Sam Day presented hard all game, and his most telling contribution won’t get a stat or likely a mention, however when Ben King kicked his clinching goal it was created by Day who was outnumbered 1-3 against three Richmond defenders, but managed to create a contest against Mabior Chol, causing the ball to fall to Ainsworth. It shows a desire to compete in every contest you can, as you never know how you can affect the game.
I would have liked to have seen Richmond try something different in their stoppage game, as it got wildly predictable. Perhaps throwing Liam Baker or Jack Ross in there more to take over from a hobbled Edwards might have caught the Suns off guard.
Last but certainly not least…
When the game was in the balance, Suns captain David Swallow was the difference maker. His last ditch effort in chasing down Shai Bolton thwarted a dangerous inside 50 attack that Gold Coast could ill afford to concede. While he is nowhere near as nimble as he used to be, he is arguably the most undervalued captain in the game right now.