After another season where great expectations turned to bitter disappointment, the Gold Coast Suns are looking to turn things around in 2022.

I know, we’ve heard that before.

They have the talent – that has ever been the issue – but with a history of disappointment and a plethora of young stars coming out of contract, this shapes as a now or never season for the AFL’s youngest team.

Over the last month, I have been slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of answers. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these articles were going to be huge. There were simply too many things in need of addressing.

So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next 14 are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it is also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions regarding the Suns in 2022.

 

IS THE BEN KING CONTRACT THE MOST IMPORTANT SIGNING IN THE CLUB’S HISTORY?

Big call, huh?

Bigger than the signing of Gary Ablett? Bigger than the signing of… well, there isn’t that much competition, is there? But the Ablett signature was pretty significant and brought the first taste of success – albeit on an individual basis – to the club in the form of a Brownlow Medal.

But as great as Ablett was, and like him or loathe him, he is one of the greatest players the game has seen, the signing of Ben King has the potential to either make this club sink or swim. It’s probably unfair to put so much pressure on a young player and what he means to a club, but King opting not to sign with the Suns would be catastrophic. Not only would they be set to lose one of, if not THE brightest forward prospect in the game, but the perception of the Suns not being good enough to retain emerging talent would be cemented in the mids of players coming through.

If Lynch left, and May left, and Greenwood jumped, and King left… why would I stay?

It’s not ideal, but it could very well be reality.

Just like you, I too have heard the rumours that a two-year deal is on the table and will be signed in short order. Geez, I hope that is the case – I really do. With 47 goals in 2021, King was one of just 17 players to average over two goals per game. At less than one per team, those players are incredibly valuable. Given he did that work at 20 years old for the majority of the time and in a team that struggled with their inside 50 delivery, you’d have to be a little thick to not see what type pf player King could be in a couple of seasons.

And as he grows into the role and develops into a player that can change games off his own boot, the Suns would be expected to ride him up the ladder.

Of course, it is pretty difficult to do that when he is playing elsewhere…

By the time season 2022 is all over, my hope is that Ben King will have recommitted to the Suns, be averaging over 2.5 goals per game, and will have played a significant role in Gold Coast moving out of the bottom four and into a position to launch into 2023. I am not fool enough to think they can be the next team to miraculously jump from the tail end of the ladder into the top eight, but if they are to make a move, it will be the play of Ben King that helps them get there.

Given what we’ve read and what we’ve seen, and given the hindsight we now use to view the tenure of Gary Ablett on the Gold Coast, is Ben King’s signature the most important in the Suns’ short history?

You damn well bet it is, and hopefully, it is a signature that is put to paper very soon to keep the wolves from the door… even if it is for a couple of seasons before this all starts again.

 

CAN MATT ROWELL BOUNCE BACK?

There is no reason he can’t, but year two for Matt Rowell was a significant shock to the system.

The 2019 first overall pick was once again struck down by injury in 2021, and seemed to struggle to maintain anything like the form that made him the toast of the town before injury ruined his rookie season. Everyone’s favourite for the Rising Star award last season, Rowell landed heavily on a knee in Round One – the type of actions you’d see dozens of times in a game of footy, and that was it for him for close to three months.

Upon his return, Rowell was a shell of the player he displayed in 2020, averaging 14 touches per game. Whilst the knee injury was the obvious cause of the fall from grace, that Rowell was unable to top 20 touches in a game more than once in his twelve 2021 games would have been enough to cause some concerned looks in both the coaches box and amongst Suns supporters. The Golden Child was being tarnished.

No one doubts the potential of Rowell. We all saw what he could do and how it impacted the team around him in 2020. When he went down, the Suns started to falter. They were 3-1 in the first four games. Rowell was hurt early in the fifth and they won just twice again for the remaining 13 games.

Did he make that much of a difference when fit? If so, could he do it again? Or will he end up another one of those players who could have/should have been great, but for injuries?

It is only year three for Matt Rowell in the system and already he is a victim of his own high standards. He whet the appetite of not only the Suns fans, but the entire league and then, just like that, the form that made him special was reduced to form that made him anything but.

So, what can Matt Rowell do to allay fears that he cannot handle the rigours of the AFL grind? And no, that is not an after-hours group activity… though I am sure something akin to it takes place, at times.

The Suns need to see Rowell on the park for 20-odd games in 2022. You allow for a young bloke to have a knock here, or a niggle there, but staying on the park is imperative for him to re-establish confidence in his body. With that comes the form – Rowell remained in the team following his return in Round 13 last season, but his impact was minimal. He needs to recapture the form that had many holding him in the highest regard.

With a season that builds on his sterling start to 2020, Rowell should be a 20-disposal player at the very least. His clearance work and contested footy were his strength and should continue to rise along with his confidence, but as stated, that will come with consistent game time.

The Suns need players to jump out of the box. Matt Rowell was supposed to be that player in 2021, but injury conspired against that occurring. 2022 should be the year he gets it right. He kind of has to – many things need to go right for the Suns.

It would make a nice change.

 

WHO IS THE BEST SUPPORT FOR SAM COLLINS?

I suppose the accompanying question is – what the hell do the Suns do if Sam Collins gets hurt?

The answer to that one would be PANIC!!!

Looking the Suns’ list up and down, there is a large void when it comes to key backs – healthy key backs, that is. Rory Thompson has not played a game since 2018. He’s still there on the list, at 30 years of age drawing a wage, but has not given the team anything on-field for three years. Kind of like me at my job, in fairness.

Then you have Caleb Graham, possibly Sam Day, and maybe Levi Casboult slotting in there as a big defender to take some of the heat.

Tell me, a defence boasting three of Collins, Casboult, Day, and Graham… does it strike fear into your heart if you’re a key forward? Aside from Collins, you’d be feeling as though you were in for a pretty relaxed day at the office.

As such, a lot of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the help-defenders. Charlie Ballard, Wil Powell, Jack Bowes, and Connor Budarick have been forced to do a fair bit of heavy lifting to support the key defenders in this team over the past couple of years, and it is looking as though 2022 will be no different.

Ballard could be an A-Grader. Given the way he reads the footy in flight and somehow manages to position himself correctly to take an intercept mark even though he looks like a complete spluterfoot and as awkward as all get out, often has me shaking my head… much like you at that last sentence, I am guessing?

Jack Bowes plays bigger than he is but tends to make good things happen when he is in the vicinity. I can see him becoming one of the better half-back/mids in the game over the next two seasons. And Wil Powell has a knack for getting to the right spots to slot in and disrupt the ball coming in.

The returning Connor Budarick will also add some bite to the backline when it comes to shutting down smaller forwards. He is one I don’t see mentioned in many discussions around where Gold Coast improves.

When you look at those four, the lack of genuine key defenders doesn’t seem so bad, but the reliance on them to do the job for the big guys is a spot the Suns fall down. I really enjoy the work of Collins, but without sounding too derogatory, Casboult, Day, and Graham may struggle to get a gig elsewhere.

Of them, I would like to see Casboult make a claim on a defensive spot in this team. I know many have speculated that he will be playing forward to take some heat off Ben King, but some of Casboult’s best form in recent seasons came when he was deployed to defence. His 2019 season saw him switch to defence with surprisingly good results and he could very well turn a one year deal at the Suns into a couple of seasons with a replication of that form.

A back six consisting of Collins, Casboult, Graham, Powell, Bowes, and Ballard is pretty solid, if not spectacular. Throw in Lukosius (start him on the wing and allow him to drift back) and you have a nice mix of power, skill, and solid ground level defence. If that unit can stay healthy, Gold Coast won’t be as easy to score against as they look on paper.

Of course, we’ll see Casboult play forward so that undoes about three of the paragraphs above…

 

HOW DO THE SUNS COVER THE GREENWOOD DEPARTURE?

Well, let’s look at it without emotion – I know Suns fans were pissed at what occurred.

Hugh Greenwood is a very good player. Hard, tough, uncompromising – he was on track to go close to the record for tackles in a season in 2021 and now holds the highest average tackles per game in a season ever recorded. He made the Suns tougher in the midfield, and was a valuable asset in the short term.

And it is the last section that should be of interest – the short term.

AFL careers are not long. Think about what you were doing ten years ago – it doesn’t seem that long ago, does it? It wasn’t, and at 30 years old when the season gets underway, Greenwood was not going to be part of the next Gold Coast finals run… or the first, in this team’s case. It is doubtful he’ll be part of North’s next finals run as well, unless he plays until 33 and retains his place consistently.

So, when you consider that, a) I don’t blame him for getting the best possible deal for himself and his family, and b) it is not a great loss in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it hurts for 2022, particularly when the Suns are fighting a perception that they’re being managed poorly – having a top ten player allowed to wander out the door after a list management misstep is a PR disaster – but in the long term, I am not sure it will register a blip on the radar.

In his place comes Charlie Constable, fresh off the Geelong VFL list where he dominated at VFL level, registering an average of 31.75 touches per contest, including two 40+ disposal games. Whilst the Suns lose a bit in the tackling department, what they gain is a midfield workhorse who can find the footy even when he is not looking for it. Constable just gets to the right spots.

So, why was he let go from Geelong?

The Cats have had a high-quality midfield squeeze, and with Dangerfield, Duncan, Selwood, Guthrie, Smith, Menegola, Parfitt… Constable was unable to get a look in. When he did, he was playing foreign roles, with the main spots in the midfield going to those in their prime.

Charlie was superfluous to the Cats’ premiership hopes. That’s why the door was open.

But at just 22 years of age, Constable’s upside is much larger than that of Greenwood over the long haul. He will find the opportunity at Gold Coast that was lacking at Geelong as long as he is willing to work for it, and I do not discount that it is a possibility this fed into his inability to crack that Geelong side.

Teaming Constable with David Swallow, Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, and Touk Miller, the Suns are still very capable of cracking in at the contest and restricting the extractions of their opponents, and when the inevitable injuries occur, Constable could be the beneficiary of the available midfield spots.

So, as a replacement for Greenwood, what are we expecting from Constable?

Game time, for starters. He has to crack this line-up and make life a little easier for his teammates. Contested work and clearances – that’s where his value is in 2022 and beyond. That’s where he makes this team better, and that’s where he has the chance to make the Suns feel they made a net gain in losing Greenwood and picking him up, instead.

 

HAVE WE SEEN PEAK TOUK MILLER, OR WAS 2021 JUST THE BEGINNING?

Let’s see… 15-straight games of 30+ disposals, breaking the record that was set earlier that year by Jack Macrae, nine games of 8+ tackles, and eight games of 7+ clearances… if this is not his peak, what else could he be capable of?

Touk Miller announced himself to the rest of the AFL world in 2021, stringing together a remarkable series of games that actually had him as a talking point amongst even the casual supporters – how long could he keep it up? The streak… not ‘it’. That’s a story for the members’ section…

The streak continues into 2022, with Miller notching 37 touches in the last week of the season, and it will be interesting to see whether he can maintain it in the new season.

He is 25 years old, is now in his best years, and made a leap of +11.8 disposals per game on his 2020 numbers. Whilst anything even half that number won’t happen again, there are other ways Miller can refine his game. In 2020, we saw Lachie Neale start pushing hard inside 50. With his elite tank, and at the peak of his powers, Neale was able to get dangerous around goal, resulting in a goal per game over the first 11 games of the season. Around that stage, opposition coaches started waking up to what he was doing (for full-time coaches, it sometimes takes them a while, huh?) and the brakes were put on Neale in the back half of the year, but he was able to catch the entire competition by surprise by adding something new to what was already a pretty damn impressive array of skills.

That is the challenge that awaits Miller in 2022.

He has demonstrated that he can win the footy. Doing it that many times in a row is remarkable (again, insert a members section joke here if you like), but it is in adding something new to his bag of tricks that Miller will continue to make football supporters and analysts sit back and say “wow… I didn’t see that coming”.

If Touk Miller can bump his goals per game anywhere in the vicinity of 0.8 to 1.0, ladies and gentlemen, dependent on how many games the Suns win, we could see him feature heavily on Brownlow Medal night.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 15ish questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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