R6 – Sydney v Gold Coast – The Mongrel Review

This game was built up to be a telling one for both sides, with Sydney looking to get back to the form that saw them dominate the first few rounds, and Gold Coast hoping to make a statement and claim a big scalp. While Gold Coast were able to stay within reach of Sydney for the first half, it never really felt like they were going to take control of the game, and sure enough, they ran out of steam to see the final margin blow out to 53 points.

Pressure was talked about a lot in the game’s lead-up, and although Sydney weren’t back to their brilliant best, it was certainly a step in the right direction. In the first quarter they came out with intensity, and it seemed to unsettle Gold Coast, with the Suns having a sluggish start and unable to stop the Swans’ early run. The five-goal-to-one first quarter felt like an ominous sign for the Suns, but to their credit they battled their way back into the contest in the second term, turning the pressure back on Sydney, allowing them just one lone point as they evened up the forward 50 entries and the scoreline.

The wrestle with momentum continued early in the third quarter, with Sydney’s first two goals quickly answered by Gold Coast with two of their own, but it felt like something was about to break. Sydney were smoother with their handball chains and overall ball movement, and sure enough, Gold Coast simply couldn’t keep up as the Swans kicked away. There wasn’t much of a yelp from the Suns in the final term, and even a few late goals did little to soften the blow of the big loss after such a competitive first half.


The Key Moment

Up until midway through the third quarter, the Swans had been unable to shake the Suns. A few times they got some breathing room with back-to-back goals, but Gold Coast were able to answer with their own and the margin hung around the three goal mark. Enter Tom Papley, who hadn’t been doing too much up to that point but took a fantastic diving mark and calmly slotted the ball through to register a third goal in a row, the first time the Swans had strung three together since the first quarter. From this point the dam walls broke, and the Swans were able to skip away without too much further trouble.


The Difference

Even when the game was close early on, there was one key area where Sydney were miles better than Gold Coast and that was their forward 50 entries. Time and time again, whether from real or perceived pressure, Gold Coast resorted to long bombs that rarely hit a target and more often than not resulted in an intercept mark for the Swans. The Suns’ forwards were out of position most of the day, finding themselves behind their opponent and needing to scramble at ground level to find their goals.

In contrast, the first ten goals for the Swans came from set shots. Their forwards were simply better at finding the structural gaps to run into. Part of this was due to the easier time the Swans mids had creating handball chains through the corridor, but the forwards proved to be a bit too experienced for the young Gold Coast defenders, who seemed at a loss once the barrage really started. Sydney ended up taking 11 more marks inside their forward 50 for the day in a damning stat that really highlighted the difference between the two sides.


Ball Magnets

It was a day out for the Sydney midfield, with Isaac Heeney and Justin McInerney in the fray from the get-go to rack up the disposals with 28 and 26 for the day, respectively. Errol Gulden overcame a slow start to finish the day with 30, and the three of them combined for a huge 1,245 metres gained. Sydney recorded 41 more uncontested possessions and moved the ball with almost 75% efficiency.
Matt Rowell fought hard for the Suns, racking up a game-high nine clearances and 12 tackles, but his hard work only translated into 20 disposals and 218 metres gained thanks to the close shadowing of James Rowbottom, who collected 19 disposals and clearances, himself.
Defender Sam Flanders was the highest possession-getter on the ground with 34, with most of them coming in the defensive 50, reflecting how dominant the Swans were.


The Kids Need More Time

Many have held high expectations for Gold Coast this year, but it seems they have forgotten just how young this side is. There were five teenagers running around for the Suns today, and eight players yet to reach 50 games. Jed Walter was fighting hard all game, and yet he finished the day with only eight disposals to his name and one goal. Mac Andrew too had some moments where he stood tall in defence, and other moments he’d rather not have to watch again come the Monday review.

There’s no doubting there’s talent there, but if Hardwick’s plan is to get these kids game time together, he’s going to have to accept there will be frustrations. Games on the road are going to be particularly difficult for a while, and it’s going to be a real challenge for the players to figure out how they are going to generate their own energy to counteract the utter silence they received when kicking goals. Finals might be too ambitious this season, but they are very much on the cards next year.


The Lowlight

In a game where the forward line was really struggling, it was a surprise to see Hardwick not make better use of his forward gun in Ben King. King had barely been spotted in the first half thanks to being played as the deepest forward, and didn’t finish the day much better, with only five disposals. By the time he finally popped up with a great forward mark, there were literally only seconds left and the game had been lost a long time ago. Whether the plan was to use him as a decoy or it was because the Swans did such a good job preventing clean entries, it seems this strategy may have been a mistake on Hardwick’s part. Moving King further up the ground could have provided a target for the under-pressure mids and may have prevented some of the easy turnovers that kept giving the Swans chances. And speaking of…


Killer Turnovers

The Swans were back to their punishing selves, with the majority of their scores coming from intercept marks and turnovers off of defence. It was something that was clearly in focus during the bye with players running in waves as they repeatedly capitalised on Gold Coast’s errors to get scoring chances of their own. Interestingly though, the counter punch did not come as easily to the Swans when the ball was turned over in the midfield or forward line. In these instances, players seemed to be less confident with what direction to go in and on many occasions Gold Coast were able to get the ball back. It’s not a huge issue given how well they do set up off half-back but it’s something they will want to fix when they come up against tougher opponents who themselves have a very effective turnover game.


Grundy’s 200th

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Brodie Grundy on his way to his 200th game. Once the most acclaimed ruck in the competition, he found himself at Sydney appearing determined to make the most of the fresh start, and so far he’s done just that.

Grundy dominated the game all day, ranking in the top three players from beginning to end and finishing up the day ranked first for fantasy points with 142. He laid a career-high 11 tackles to go with his 25 hitouts in an interesting ruck battle against his former teammate in Jarrod Witts. While the ruck battle wasn’t highly influential over the result of the game, watching these two go head-to-head provided plenty of interesting moments, with Witts also finishing in the top five, with 105.

Grundy didn’t always make the most of ball in hand and had a couple of questionable disposals but, in all fairness, ruckmen aren’t known for their skilled footwork. Still, he was a commanding presence as he raced around the ground and played his role even when he lost his hair tie in the third. He even kicked a fourth quarter goal for good measure to cap off a great milestone game.

Up next, Sydney will play Hawthorn at the MCG in the last game of Anzac Round. It should be an easy game for the now second-placed Swans, but Hawthorn came out spirited against North after copping a blasting from coach Sam Mitchell for their pitiful display the week before. It’s a game they should still win, but they won’t want to be taking it easy, and a win will help get some breathing space from the pack that’s starting to form in the top 8.

Gold Coast head back home and will play West Coast in the earlier game on Sunday. It’s a game that is not nearly the sure thing it would have been just a few weeks ago with the Eagles having a fantastic three weeks and now only one win behind the Suns. It’ll be a battle of the young guns and a challenge that Gold Coast need to beat if they want to keep finals hopes alive.