In their final game of the home and away season, you could have forgiven Sydney if they wanted to go into this game against the Gold Coast Suns stuck in second gear and prepare themselves for an elimination final berth next week. That’s right, there is no pre-finals bye, which means everyone is going to have to make do with what they got.

But Sydney went out and made a statement against a Gold Coast team that… well, they’ve been better than past seasons – you don’t need me to remind you in past years that they have really struggled to even stay competitive past the midway mark of the season. However, an 87-point loss still suggests there’s a lot to be done.

To be honest, with the Suns, I feel as if they weren’t bad in patches. After the Swans absolutely obliterated them in the opening term, they managed to stem the flow of the game in big patches in the middle two quarters, but the class and poise of the Swans were always going to mean that it was going to blow out to something substantial.

The Swans are poised to finish sixth (pending the result of the Lions game) and have a home elimination final booked… whatever that means, but if anyone is looking to write them off already, don’t. It’s easy to discount the sides that sit fifth or sixth, but in truth, the best football from the top six sides all have the potential to beat one another… I hope that makes sense.

Sydney have beaten Geelong, Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs and have also given Melbourne and Port Adelaide a real shake away from home. There’s a lot to love about their defensive pressure and then their run and carry when they get it on the turnover – they are as much the real deal as anyone else in that top six.

It may have been a dead rubber match: The Suns are resigned to another bottom four finish, whilst the Swans were always going to get an Elimination Final, but I’ll do my best to slice open one last Autopsy for the 2021 home and away season.

 

The Awesome Dawson

Small flashback to the eve of the 2021 season, and myself, along with my two colleagues from the A3 Footy Podcast were in the studios of Swinburne University recording our pre-season predictions. We all didn’t expect the Swans to make the massive leap from 16th to the top six, but we still all thought they would improve a fair bit.

I made a bit of an out-there suggestion that Jordan Dawson would be inside at least the All Australian squad of 40. Lots of folks in the media like to make predictions for the sake of being edgy and cool, and I get it, but you can trust me when I tell you that I wouldn’t be saying this if I didn’t mean it.

He probably won’t be inside the squad of 40, but you can tell how much the Swans internally rate the work of Jordan Dawson: We’ve come to know him as a half-back flanker over the past couple of years, but this year, he’s been a man who can make the wing his own and also float forward to kick goals for fun.

Put simply, I just love how Jordan Dawson goes about his football – he’s practically what you call ‘The ultimate swingman’…. No, not that type of swingman, you sick freaks.

He was largely on the wing in this one and was everywhere, you’d hope as an opposition supporter come finals that someone will put the clamps on him, because he can be that damaging.

On top of that, I thought his kicking skills were absolutely sublime: 24 of his 33 disposals being kicks, going at just over 79 percent kicking efficiency. He also took a game-high 16 marks as well as a game-high eight inside 50s to go along with seven score involvements, five intercepts, two direct goal assists and finished off a lovely goal in the first quarter.

His ability to provide such a lethal link in Sydney’s transition play not only makes him one of the more unheralded and underrated players in the team, but also one of the more important. At just 24, he’s got the whole world in his hands as they say in an alternate universe.

 

Touk-ing Care Of Business

Whilst we’re on talking predictions from the podcast, Alex Miller has made the habit throughout the year that Touk Miller should be an All-Australian. I think it was back at the start of the year that he said that – we were definitely still in the studios, I know that much.

I also know that we all rate Touk Miller and his work and it is finally getting recognition from the mainstream media. Everyone complains about the media being too Victorian-based and I get it, I really do. So it’s refreshing when people start talking about someone like Miller, who’d probably be a top-five player in the competition if he was wearing stripes or a sash as opposed to the Gold Coast logo and that ocean blue guernsey.

As the game progressed, the radio made mention several times of Miller potentially breaking the quirky league record for consecutive games in which a player has recorded over 30 disposals. Jack Macrae set the tone earlier in the year when he went the first 15 games of recording over 30 disposals.

The last 15 games for the Suns have seen Miller average over 30 disposals, and in this season overall, Miller has completely obliterated his previous career-high averages: 31.5 disposals, 7 tackles and just under six clearances per game this year when his previous personal best yielded averages of 22, five and four.

Even though the Suns got absolutely whipped in this one, there’s no denying the effort of Touk – he may even just sneak in for a vote or two. His abilities both with and without the football just never withered away.

His clearances numbers weren’t big – only just four in this one, but he did manage the second-most contested possessions of anyone in this match, with 15 of his 37 disposals being contested. But he also laid nine tackles and was kicking the ball at a very good 71 percent efficiency. It was an honest, blue-collared effort from Miller in an effort where he could’ve just as easily put the cue in the rack and think about next season.

But I think that’s what a lot of outsiders like about him: He’s an honest toiler that never gives in, and never gives up. Lock him in for the Suns’ best and fairest, and by some margin too.

 

Get Him To The 1000!

He had last weekend off to recuperate, and you could tell from the opening ten seconds of the clash that Buddy meant business in this one.

There are a few underlying sub-plots with Lance Franklin as the Swans prepare themselves for their first Finals campaign since 2018. The main one is of course the race to 1000 goals, but also his importance to Sydney’s premiership aspirations should also be discussed. So much is his form this year is that a few media outlets that reckon his season to date should be warranted with a spot in the All-Australian side as well.

As good as he’s been this year, I don’t know if he’s warranted a spot in the side, given that he’s missed five games when key forwards above and around him in the Coleman have missed less games. Still, averaging nearly three goals per game in 17 matches is an impressive form guide.

Leading into this game, Franklin was on 986 career goals, needing 14 to get to the magical milestone – could’ve easily had an extra one or two to this game, but 6.2 is a very good return from a veteran of the game. His hands in the air are as strong as I’ve seen in quite some time, and his tackling pressure – nobody really talks about it, but you can see that the Suns’ defenders were packing in their jocks every time Buddy was coming along

Eight goals….eight goals are all that is required now to get him there and if the Swans are to get to the Grand Final, that’s four games where he’ll be given every chance to break it before the year is done, and just quietly, I hope the Swans can do it for him. The term ‘generational talent’ gets thrown around a little, but we will never see a player like Lance Franklin ever again.

Just a quick side note, I was listening into the game on Triple M, Luke Darcy was very focused on wanting the Swans to flow the ball through Buddy at every opportunity and was willing to drag off anyone who neglected to follow the order. Usually, I don’t care too much for commentators with bias and Darcy has certainly had critics in the past, but I thought in a game that had very little stakes, it was very entertaining – and besides, if you didn’t know that he was taking the piss, you should go back to reading your romance novels.

 

What’s The Deal With Matt Rowell?

It feels like it was a completely different universe when we saw an 18-year old Matt Rowell last season completely tear up the competition in the span of a handful of games.

However, the shoulder injury occurred against Geelong and then round one this year against West Coast in Perth, he hurt his knee in the opening minutes and forced him out for almost half the season. Since his return, the casual observation from me tells me that he looks as though he has lost confidence – both with his ability and his body.

I can understand that last year is only a small sample size, and as such it’s harsh to be a real critic here, but in games this year, even when he wins the ball, there doesn’t seem to be the same sort of impact with his disposals. His tackle numbers are still around the mark and he’s had games where he’s won his fair share of clearances.

It just doesn’t stack up, so as I was watching the midfield battle unfold, I tried to take stock of what Matt Rowell was doing. Of course, the focal point of the Suns’ midfield has been Touk Miller this year, and we’ve touched on him already. But I couldn’t help but be drawn to watching Rowell match up with Luke Parker around most centre bounces and stoppages.

Whether or not Stewie Dew has told him to shadow on-ballers until he regains fitness, I’d love to know, but I found this very entertaining to watch. Rowell had moments in this one that explained just why he was the clear-cut number one pick in the Draft a couple of years ago: He was bustling himself in and under packs and was exerting strength out of stoppages.

Other times, he found himself sucked into the footy, trying to win it and at times, it allowed Parker to get on the receiving end and it contributed to his game-high 10 clearances, which in turn, helped out a lot in terms of adding scoreboard misery to the Suns, and before anyone has any ideas, I’m not holding Matt Rowell responsible.

Overall I thought Parker was solid, but not spectacular. When it comes to his finer performances, he tends to add a goal or two to his name on top of his 25+ disposals. But one thing that Rowell can be commended for is his continuous will to fight on and give it everything he can.

The stats won’t read too much, but 17 disposals, five clearances and four tackles is a good return for someone who has missed a significant amount of football with two pretty serious injuries. Fingers crossed that season 2022 brings healthier tidings and a return to better form.

 

The Ruck Duel

Zac Smith’s last game – whatever you’d like to say about his career – I think is one that he can hold his head high for.

Against a man who will be in the conversation for best recruit of the year, in Tom Hickey, I thought his work in the hitouts was quite good. The fact that Zac Smith couldn’t get a run in Geelong’s crooked ruck department meant that there’s something not right with how he plays, and this game showed exactly what.

Smith, even though he attended nine more contests than Hickey, beat him in the hitouts 26-24 and recording a 12-9 count in hitouts to advantage. But where the Swans’ big man gets him is the repeat efforts that followed and it’s there that sees Smith unable to hang it with the best bigs in the competition.

Don’t get me wrong, Smith tried his absolute heart out, but Hickey possesses a little more knowledge in terms of where to position himself behind the footy and his second efforts after the ruck contest have been well documented this year: He had four clearances and seven tackles in comparison to Smith’s two and five respectively.

Hickey was also able to record six inside 50s and even get on the end of a goal, which outlined the dominance that he had around the ground on Smith.

 

Where’s The Help For Ben King?

When your full-forward kicks four of your six goals in the match, it becomes an issue in more ways than one, especially when he’s Victorian and out of contract next year.

Some may have differing opinions, but I personally think Ben King has had a terrific year for the Suns. Unless North Melbourne by some miracle only score less than 26 points against Adelaide, the Gold Coast Suns will be the worst-ranked offensive side this year, only averaging 65 points per game – Ben King for the record has kicked 47 goals this year in the worst-ranked forward line.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

King kicked four goals in this one, a few of them quite opportunistic, but he utilises his mobility very well to get himself on the end of those ones from the goal square: one of them was off a good crumb from a contest featuring Josh Corbett. However, the one he kicked from the pocket off a short lead in the third quarter was just absolutely class personified.

What makes it all the more impressive was that he did it against some of the best defensive generals in Jake Lloyd – who had 36 disposals, eight marks, and eight rebound 50s and Dane Rampe, who mopped up a lot of the Suns’ messy forward 50 entries and those two were often the ones that kickstarted the Swans’ electric defensive half transition.

I have no doubt that when Ben King took the contract extension a couple of years back, he could see what Stewie Dew is trying to create here. I don’t think the culture is a big of an issue as it appears to be over at Carlton, but the Suns still need some players to pull their weight – especially up forward.

Ben Ainsworth kicked two behinds, but actually played quite decent as a high half forward option, but for the Suns to improve, he needs to be more consistent hitting the scoreboard. Alex Sexton kicked one goal, but was largely nowhere in this game – continuing the narrative that he is consistently inconsistent and Josh Corbett… I love the effort he gives every game, but he feels more like a stop-gap solution as opposed to a genuine partner-in-crime.

They’ve got an off-season to try and sort out their dry spell in front of goals, and I’d be marking it down as a priority if I was the Suns’ head office this Spring.

 

Other Observations

Tom Papley started this match in the centre square and then attended a few more centre bounces in this one as the game progressed – but still managed to pop up for three goals from 15 disposals, seven marks and eight score involvements.

Isaac Heeney will feature in the votes in this one. For years, I’ve thought of him to be a little overhyped as a player, but this past season has shown exactly why many have rated him as a junior. He was quite clean at ground level and has that killer instinct to finish off plays: 3.1 from 20 disposals and a game-high 12 score involvements.

Alex Davies in game one looked quite at home in this one, moved the ball swiftly at stages, pressured the Swans’ ball carriers quite well and positioned himself well as a forward – could’ve kicked a goals, deserved a goal, but 22 pressure acts and six tackles to go along with 16 disposals is a solid debut.

There was a small battle within the battle between Errol Gulden and Wil Powell in this one. Gulden pushed way further up the ground to win his footy at times, but I thought it was entertaining whenever Gulden pushed back in the forward line that he was met with Powell.

Justin McInerney put in a very good shift in this one as well, primarily working on the wing as well, his form this year has been underrated when you consider the rise of those around him: 29 disposals, 22 kicks at 77 percent efficiency, as well as eight score involvements, 13 marks and 417 metres gained.

Some defensive efforts and 50 metre penalties from Noah Anderson might want back, but overall, his efforts in the midfield were largely admirable. Was quite efficient offensively, but when it comes to the stoppages, he needs to learn to put more body on or take the contact.

Some very good bits in this one from Jy Farrar, he’s been in and out of this team this season, but I think when he can run off the half back line, he can be a very dangerous player in the Suns’ line up in the coming years.

I rated Oliver Florent’s run and dash in this one, he had the 21 disposals and looked quite dangerous when he was bursting down the middle of the ground. He’s an important player for the Swans this Finals, especially if Mills doesn’t get up for next week with that Achilles injury.

I don’t rate Rory Atkins’ four-year deal. Suns fans don’t need to hear it from me, considering I’ve read a lot on the socials about it, but whoever gave him that should be absolutely made to be hung out to dry by the front office: 18 disposals, much of them meaningless ones.

Speaking of players that like to run and dash, all the best to Jarrod Harbrow for life after footy: I had the privilege of watching him in Dogs’ colours for five seasons before he headed up home to the Gold Coast where he has become one of their best players in their short history – in his prime, he was quick and capable of slicing a game open with his foot skills.

And on that note, it’s time to conclude the autopsy here.

Best of luck to the Swans in the Finals, as it currently stands, they’ll take on the Greater Western Sydney Giants in a cut-throat elimination final – not the first time these two rivals have locked horns at the business end and given the last time the Giants were in the finals, it could be more of a danger game for Swans fans than they might like to think.

As for the Suns, they could drop down as low as 17th, if the Pies and the Crows get up in their games on Sunday. But regardless of what happens, there’s still a lot of work for the Suns to do. However, it must be said that the injuries to some of their mainstays has crippled them this year – most notably Hugh Greenwood, Jarrod Witts and Brandon Ellis.

That said, I still maintain that Stewie Dew is the man to help guide the Suns out of the mire. At times this year, the Suns have brought a style of footy around the source that I’ve found to be quite admirable. All he needs is their younger kids to continue to pour their faith into the system and to get a little bit of luck their way as well in the medical room.