I was getting ready to write the eulogy of this game ten minutes into the first quarter, but the Suns responded really well.
Turns out I should’ve waited until half time, as a nine goal blast by the Swans put the result beyond doubt, and though there were brief flurries either way, that was definitely the knock out blow. Sydney would add just five goals for the rest of the game as they worked their younger players into the contest and the Gold Coast Suns tried to stem the tide.
There was plenty to take away for both teams in their final hit out of the pre-season. Let’s take a gander at some of the points of interest.
So we saw Josh Kennedy lead the Swans in disposals for the billionth time in his career today, which is both a blessing and a curse. Over the past couple of seasons, Kennedy’s output has slowed quite considerably. Seeing him so in control at stoppages, and consistently in the right spot today was heartening. After some time away from the crash and bash style he’s mastered, he looked frsh and ready to go. None of the Gold Coast mids could handle him physically, which was apparent whenever there was a one-on-one contest involving him.
Kennedy has this move where he leans into his opponent and seeks the contact before trying to win the ball, which he inevitably does because he’s stronger. This was increasingly evident against the smaller-bodied Suns who couldn’t match it with him physically, and would bounce off him and out of the contest in some cases. Kennedy finished with 30 touches, and had 16 contested touches amongst them. Standard day at the office for JK, but I was more interested in those around him.
And here’s where I started to take a bit of notice. Ryan Clarke was recruited from North Melbourne for the purpose of providing some leg speed through the middle, and that’s exactly what he provided. He had 29 touches, mostly playing outside but earning his own ball when he had to. For contest, in his young career, he has been over that statistical mark just once. His linking handball, and quality disposal made him a standout for the Swans.
It will be very interesting to see how the Swans work him into the line-up, particularly with runners, Jake Lloyd and Oliver Florent set to return. That’s a lot of run coming off half back. Maybe Florent or Clarke heads to the wing and relishes the wide open spaces?
Callum Mills continued to impress in his return, and will be like having a new recruit for the Swans this season. He was steady without being spectacular, but I thought his smother on Ben Ainsworth was a thing of beauty. Not only did the ball ricochet outside defensive 50 with that effort, it also left Ainsworth limping. While I don’t like seeing players hurt, I like seeing someone put his body on the line like Mills did.
Tom Papley had the kind of game I was waiting for him to have all season last year. His 27 touches and hard run and carry made him a devastating force all over the ground. He led the game in metres gained, going over 600 metres. For context, Jayden Short led the league last season with 527 per game.
For the Suns, they really lack that ball winner inside. You know the sort – the player that just keeps getting his hands on it irrespective of how the team is traveling. They were hurt at stoppages due to this, as the hard-bodied Swans were able to hold their ground and bottle it up. In so many contested situations, the ball would bobble around as the larger Swans would refuse to allow the Suns mids to get a clear possession. Eventually it would be Sydney that would either get the clearance, or take possession after the ineffective first possession by Gold Coast players.
Touk Miller tries his backside off, but he is one man among many on the opposition. He had the most touches on the ground, but ran at 61% efficiency due to the pressure he was under.
The problem is – where does Miller’s support come from? You might get the occasional player who gets 30 touches, but who is the player who knocks up consistent 24-28 touches every week, and feeds those outside runners in Lachie Weller, Brayden Fiorini, Jack Martin and David Swallow? As it stands, Miller has that burden all by himself, which is too much for him. David Swallow should be filling the void, but injuries have meant his capacity is reduced.
Jack Bowes could become the man to fill the role, but he’s not there yet. I was hoping Anthony Miles would step into that spot, but he looked slow today – a step behind every play he was involved in. He did get his hands on it at stoppages, but he was collared immediately, and his disposals were largely ineffective. Dermott Brereton pointed out he’ll be better on the heavier grounds, and I hadn’t thought about that, but we’re not playing on them right now. The Suns need him to be better now, not just when the going gets slower.
How did the kids go? Izak Rankine had a few moments early, and showed he has a bit of a nose for the goals. His booming shot from outside 50 was hopefully a precursor to many we’ll see over 2019 and beyond. And then his hamstring went twang… geez I hope this is a one-off, because he looks like a real player, and I’d hate to see him as one of those who suffers from repeated hamstring injuries and ends up as a '“could have been”. If there are any junior football followers having a read – is there any history of issues with Rankine?
Jack Lukosius was in the unenviable position of having to play a key forward spot on a team that just wasn’t going to deliver the ball well to him. Plus, he had quality opposition to beat, and he really couldn’t do that. One touch to half time meant that he only came into the game once the result was well and truly decided. Ditto for Ben King, who struggled to get into it and truthfully, looked lost at times.
I feel bad saying that Nick Blakey was the pick of the bunch, as he obviously has the benefit of slotting into a vastly superior team, and can be looked after by senior players. Lukosius and King are very much in a situation where they’re forced to fend for themselves. When Blakey was able to get a one-on-one match up with King, Blakey took a very nice contested mark. He finished with a couple of goals, as did Lukosius, but Blakey’s game was more polished, and his hands below his knees are excellent.
I kind of covered off why the Swans were able to get their hands on so many clearances earlier, but when you consider that the Suns won the hit outs 63-20, and lost the clearances 45-41, it becomes more apparent. When you deduct the seven clearances Witts got from taking the ball directly from the ruck, the numbers look even direr.
Poor old Charlie Ballard… I am relieved that he had those two horrible shank kicks – directly leading to Swans goals, in the JLT series, and not in the regular season. They were two of the shankiest shanks this side of shank town, and the worst thing… he even made Sam Reid look good. That’s pretty difficult to do.
I liked the work of Aliir in sharking the hit outs from his opponents on several occasions. In a contest where he should’ve been absolutely pummelled (and maybe in a home and away game he will be) he was able to work the hit out dominance of Witts and Peter Wright to his advantage, and basically steal hit outs. It was an intelligent strategy.
Interesting to see Josh Kennedy line-up at half forward a couple of times early in the game. With his overhead skills and his penchant for staying on his feet at all times, it makes him a dangerous proposition to deal with inside 50. I mean, would you bet against him in a contested situation inside 50? I sure as hell wouldn’t. The Swans may have given us a bit of a glimpse into how he’ll be used to preserve him this season. I think we’ll see plenty of centre bounces with Heeney, Mills and Hewett at the feet of Cal Sinclair when he returns.
I thought Zak Jones started really strongly, and went out of it once the urgency was gone. He is that kind of player – urgent. He is hard at it, stands in tackles, and takes the game on. Jordan Dawson was serviceable, and I liked his ability to hit targets inside 50. Players like Heeney, , McVeigh and Ronke didn’t have to do too much, but others like Justin McInerney, and new recruit, Jackson Thurlow will give selectors something to think about with their performances today.
For the Suns, I really think they need to get Pearce Hanley loose at half back whenever they can. He is one of the few players I trust with the ball in his hands. When Hanley has possession, players like Jarrod Harbrow only need a little bit of space to get the ball lace-out. Jack Martin looked good in patches, and will be better as the season goes along, injury-permitting.
And finally for Gold Coast, Alex Sexton is your man up forward. Yes, Peter Wright can outstretch most, and was pretty good over the course of the game, but if you’re relying on him to solely take 5-6 marks inside 50, I think you’re going to be disappointed. Sexton is a different beast all together – do what you have to in order to get him some room to operate in a one-on-one. Anywhere within 50 metres of goal, from any angle, he only needs a second or two to make something out of nothing. I watched him closely last season, and he just knows where the goals are, and we saw that twice today as well. That said, seven touches from a player of his ability is not an acceptable return - he needs to do more.
So I’ve left Luke Parker to last, as there’s an old saying that fits the bill. He was another whose numbers dropped away a little last season, as the much-vaunted Sydney midfield started to sputter. He had 25 touches and three goals this afternoon in an excellent display. His sense around goals, and innate knowledge to know when to go for home makes him a weapon that is so hard to slow, let alone stop.
He is so hard at the ball and body that while Gold Coast players were reaching for it, and trying to slap at it, he just body-lined it and took possession. I reckon it was the actions of Parker, Kennedy and Papley – all strong-bodied men, and that set Gold Coast back on their heels. They were the powerful ones. They refused to allow a string of Suns goals, and they would stand their ground over a contested ball until their team won it.
Geez, the Suns could use a player like him. Every team could.
The Suns have four games they could possibly win in the first five weeks. I shit you not. The Saints, the Dogs, the Dockers and the Blues are all winnable, but they need to be stronger over the ball and take the contact. They need to hold uncontested marks and get back in numbers to prevent easy forward 50 entries. Easier said than done, right?
The Swans… they probably could’ve done with a more competitive hit out, but they had the Giants last week, which exposed some holes. I expect the Swans to be 2-2 heading into their Round Five battle against the Giants. They’ll need Buddy to be back somewhere in those first few rounds as Blakey and Reid won’t get it done against a more experienced defence. Hell, Reid couldn’t get it done against Gold Coast. Harsh on Reid? Yeah… maybe.
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