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The Good, Bad and Ugly - Gold Coast v Western Bulldogs

 They won’t win a game, they said. They’ll get smashed every week, they said. They’re the worst list ever put together, they said.

What are they saying now? The Gold Coast Suns have won two of three games, and lost the other by a kick. Good, honest, hard work pays dividends and with some good recruiting of mature players, and some of the their young stars becoming men right before our eyes, the Suns are sticking it up all those who doubted them.

And today they introduced the Western Bulldogs to the manic pressure, the never-say-die attitude, and the guts of a young group with a point to prove, and the star-studded Bulldog midfield couldn’t get their team over the line.

Here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

JACK HOMBSCH

What a pick up. I had him as best on ground in the final quarter.

How? He’s a throw in player, right?

Do you ever wonder what it’s like to be granted a second chance? Do you think you might do things a little differently if you were handed another chance to do something you loved? Jack Hombsch has that chance with the Suns.

His efforts in the last quarter were Herculean, but there was one particular spoil that slipped under the guard of the commentators as they waxed lyrical about something else entirely.

The ball came flying out of the centre on the back of the Dogs’ excellent clearance work, and Tory Dickson worked into a lovely spot 35 metres out to mark it. I still don’t know how Hombsch made the ground to get a fist on the ball as it looked to drop into Dickson’s hands, but he made one last, desperate lunge, and knocked the ball loose.

The Suns survived that contest, and would go onto survive the game, but they’re not just surviving in the contest of the AFL season – they’re thriving.

The Suns sit inside the top eight after three rounds and it is due to desperation, as we saw demonstrated by Jack Hombsch this afternoon, that have got them there.

 

JACK MARTIN

So I heard someone during the broadcast questioning whether this will be the season Jack Martin breaks out.

I think he’s broken out.

The only thing not going his way today was his kicking for goal, as he finished with 1.4, which also dragged down his disposal efficiency, but he had 10 score involvements and two direct goal assists as he split his time between the forward 50 and the midfield.

He laid six tackles and collected 10 contested touches along the way as his class, combined with a fair helping of desperation signalled to all teams that Jack Martin was no longer a kid with potential – he is a star for the Gold Coast Suns.

 

AARON NAUGHTON

I have to admit, I was a little sceptical when I saw Aaron Naughton playing forward early in the season (well, it’s still early, but you know what I mean…). I thought his best position was as a defender and could have seen him rival players like Alex Rance and Harris Andrews in terms of his contest-killing ability.

Well, with five contested grabs to his name, he was the supreme aerialist of the game, and his wonderful grab with the flight of the ball with just over a minute remaining, and the subsequent goal, was spine-tingling stuff.

He finished with 13 disposals, and was really prominent as a leading target early in the game, working his way up to the wing to provide an option.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he could very well end up being the best player from his draft.

 

TOM LIBERATORE

If you’re looking for a heart and soul kind of player, look no further than Libba. He was a contested beast this afternoon, and collected 12 clearances in a game where his ruckman was being soundly beaten at stoppages.

I had flashbacks to last week as, with five points the difference, Libba rolled inside forward 50, but the Dogs were unable to manufacture anything resembling a chance to get him involved deep.

Liberatore had 30 disposals, with 22 contested touches amongst them, and ran at a very impressive 80% efficiency on the day – all the more impressive when you factor in the way he earned those touches. Add nine tackles to his offensive stats and Libba proved today that he is the player that can be the difference for the Dogs.

Alas, today was not the day.    

 

ANTHONY MILES

The Suns needed a an experienced head to take a deep breath and convert in the last quarter, and after drawing a free kick for high contact, that is exactly what Anthony Miles provided.

Struggling to get a game in the powerful Richmond joined the Suns looking for an opportunity to become a regular senior player, and he has become just that at Gold Coast. More than that, he has stood up in big moments, and today, he delivered a vital goal in a close tussle.

I am sure Miles must have had moments where he wondered if he was doing the right thing in packing his bags and heading north. We all have those moments where we second guess our decisions. Well, as he crunched the goal from 45 metres to give the Suns a handy break, and one that would ultimately give them enough breathing room to win the game.

 

SAM COLLINS

You might point the finger at him for a couple of errant kicks, but watching Collins, I’m not sure he is in the side for his kicking skills. What he is there for is to kill contests and intercept opponents’ kicks inside 50, and he did both to a very high level this afternoon.

Collins had only 11 possessions – all of them contested, and all of them on intercepts. That is what you want him doing. That is what he’s there for, and after taking the game-saving grab last week, he was at it again this week, putting himself in harm’s way to help his team eke out a win.

Yes, there were some nervous moments. Yes, my heart leapt into my mouth when Toby McLean shopped off his sideways kick, but at no stage did I feel nervous when Collins was forced into a one-on-one contest. That’s his bread and butter.

 

THE BONT’S SECOND QUARTER

After the first quarter that saw the Suns get the jump, the Dogs needed something big from their superstar, and he delivered.

He had 10 touches in the first quarter, but his 11 in the second were of very high quality. He finished with 34 touches despite having a significant limp in the last quarter. He was moved forward and drew a free kick for a hold.

I really would have preferred to see him take the responsibility himself and go back and have a shot at that stage, but he dished to Libba, who missed.

Seeing Bont limping is exactly what the Dogs don’t want to see in 2019. He was hobbled throughout 2018, and in the eyes of many he fell behind fellow contested-ball beast Patrick Cripps in their esteem.

Bont at his best is a monster to deal with, and we got a good look at that in the second quarter today.

 

JACK BOWES

There was a point last season where the Gold Coast weren’t  really worth watching, but I watched anyway – I like the underdogs, or in this case, the under-suns.

Sorry about that – it was a crappy joke.

Anyway, it seemed as though whenever I watched the Suns, this bloke was doing something good. He is as hard as nails, puts his head over it and refuses to take a backward step. He is a shining light for this developing club, and as a local boy, should be a safe bet to stay with the club long-term.

As the game wore on, I found myself openly barracking for the Suns (I do have a membership… remember that underdog/under-sun thing… I wasn’t joking), and when I saw Bowes throwing himself into contests, the esteem I hold him in increased once again.

He is the sort of player that will develop into a leader at this club, and they couldn’t ask for a better one. With the game on the line, it was Bowes pushing deep into defence to cut off another Bulldogs attack. That’s leadership, people. And it’s good leadership.

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THE BAD

 

THE BIG DISCREPANCY

You know what I’m talking about – Gold Coast could not buy a free kick.

Maybe they were all there (I doubt it), or maybe the Bulldogs simply didn’t make as many mistakes (I watched… they did), but to have well over double the free kicks to the home team was a shocking display of being influenced by a parochial crowd.

It wasn’t as though it was a huge crowd – it was just noisy, and if you want to see umpires getting sucked into the emotion of the crowd, look no further than this game.

With 15 more free kicks, the Dogs stormed back into the game, and almost pinched it. Had they got up, it would have been an absolute travesty.

One in particular really pissed me off in the third quarter. As the Suns surged forward, Jarrod Witts made position just outside 50. He was cannoned into by a Dogs defender and neither player touched the ball. I thought it was possibly the most obvious free kick of the day, but without crowd reaction, play on was called.

The umps need to take this into consideration. It’s not just the noise of affirmation, but the silence of ignorance that can make a difference in a close contest.

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THE UGLY

 

THE GOD DAMN ROOF

Close it.

AFL, for the love of God, if he/she exists, please close the roof for games on sunny days at Marvel stadium. I know you say the grass needs as much sun as it can get and all that stuff, but watching it becomes a bit of a chore.

I read something two weeks ago from a couple of people from the Gold Coast who came down for the Round One clash against the Saints, and they said they’d never be back due to terrible experience they endured at Docklands. The sun was hitting them in the face, and they couldn’t see half the play because of the shade/sun effect.

You have this great stadium – personally it’s my favourite stadium to watch footy at (I haven’t been to Optus Stadium in Perth, admittedly) but if you’re going to leave the roof open, in short, it looks shit.

And that’s the way you’re treating supporters, as well.

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QUICK BITS

A really good first half for Darcy MacPherson. I didn’t know he was Steve’s son, and I reckon the Dogs could have used him today. I loved his attack on the ball, and even though he faded late, his efforts early in the game should not be forgotten.

The ruck – I heard the commentators lamenting Witts continually laying the ball down at his feet, and I have to admit, as it got a little tighter, I wanted him to smash the ball clear a few times.

He had 52 hit outs and was too big and too string for Tim English to handle but he only had 13 hitouts to direct advantage.

This was a much better game from Lachie Weller than last time I got to watch the Suns. His defensive work on Jack Macrae early was excellent.

Macrae ended up with 33 touches despite having just three touches in the first quarter.

27 touches, five clearances, five tackles and nine score involvements for Brayden Fiorini – fast becoming one of my favourite young players to watch. When people speculated on the doom and gloom at Gold Coast, he is the sort of player they forgot to factor in. He will be a star.

Good game from Bailey Smith, but in terms of the Rising Star nomination, it’ll probably be forgotten, as Connor Rozee’s five goals have almost wrapped that one up this week.

Loved the hands of Billy Gowers on the lead. I’d love to see him on the move up through half forward more, as he hits the ball so hard and turns and wheels quickly to give the other forwards a chance.

Touk Miller was mooted as a possible captain for the Suns, but remains an on-field leader after they went with Swallow and Witts. The way he is prepared to get smashed in a tackle is more than a little bit inspiring. He’d rather take the hit (as he did in a couple of last quarter tackles from Jack Macrae) than give the ball up. I admire that.

I thought there were some really nice moments for Jarrod Harbrow this afternoon. You can see he has enormous confidence in his abilities, and backs himself to win aerial contests. Coming out of defence, he ran at 89% efficiency, which is so valuable.

Alex Sexton – get on him, marketing department! Kids want to wear the number of the forward star, and Sexton is a star. I thought we may have seen him get another bag, early, but he was subdued after two in the first. However, his long ball to the wide open Jack Bowes in the fourth was fist-pumpingly good.

The Dogs were able to manufacture two shots at goal in extreme red time in both the second and third quarters. Ed Richards was running into the open goal as the siren went in the second, and the Dogs missed again in the dying stages of the third. This is something the Suns will have to tidy up – the structural stuff to shut down those desperation charges forward when everyone is fatigue. You keep the structure, you keep the lead.

Great win by the Suns, and they have the Blues next week. Could they go 3-1?

And the Dogs, they’ll be at the MCG against the rebounding Magpies. Imagine they can reproduce last week’s last quarter against the Pies, sending them to 1-3? That would be amazing.

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