Are the Gold Coast Suns finals bound?

Date: May 10, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

In the words of Australian songwriter Paul Kelly, “from little things big things grow”.

It could well be the mantra of the Gold Coast Suns.

In its fourth season in the AFL it is well on track for a maiden finals appearance.

The Suns currently sit in fifth position on the ladder ahead of their bye this weekend.

Their next opponent is St Kilda at Etihad on Sunday week and with the beleaguered Saints, sitting in 12th position and coming off a 145-point shellacking at the hands of Hawthorn, they are ripe for the picking.

Should Gold Coast win that game it will consolidate its position in the top eight with a win-loss record of 6-2.

Last season – had it not been for Essendon’s elimination from the finals series due to the still ongoing drugs investigation – Port Adelaide would have finished the home-and-away season in eighth spot with 12 wins and a percentage of 102.4.

In 2012, North Melbourne finished eighth with 14 wins while the Bombers saw September action in 2011 on the back of 11 wins and a draw.

So, a win against the Saints will set up the Suns for a genuine tilt at its maiden finals campaign.

There is no doubting that the recently introduced fixturing system has benefited Gold Coast.

Presently, in structuring the annual fixtures, the teams are broken into three groups according to where the clubs finished in the preceding year – 1-6, 7-12 and 13-16.

Each team is drawn to play the others in their group twice on a home-and-away basis giving the bottom six far and away the easiest draw.

Last season the Suns finished 14th at 8-14 leaving them in the bottom six with West Coast, Western Bulldogs, St Kilda, Melbourne and Greater West Sydney.

Of the club’s five wins to date, three of them have come against teams in their ‘pool’ – Brisbane (53 points), Melbourne (8) and GWS (40).

The other two victories have come against pre-season finals aspirants Richmond (18) and North Melbourne (43) with the win over the Kangaroos a historic one last weekend as it marked the club’s first premiership points at Etihad Stadium.

The two losses have been significant but so too has the opposition that provided them in last year’s grand finalists with Fremantle winning their encounter by 48 points and reigning premier Hawthorn recording a resounding 99-point victory.

A victory over the Saints will give the Suns four successive wins ahead of a home ground clash with the 15th-placed Bulldogs – a game that Gold Coast will be expected to win.

Then it is off to Adelaide to take on the Crows which currently occupy 11th spot.

Beyond that there is a tough five-week campaign against Sydney (H), West Coast (A), Geelong (H), Hawthorn (A) and Collingwood (H).

Wins in that stretch will be hard to come by and whilst the club will likely have to cope with some sizeable losses during that period it is imperative that they do not let things get the better of them as between rounds 17 and 23 there are matches against the Bulldogs (A), Brisbane (A), St Kilda (H) and Carlton (A).

Whilst a finals berth is by no means a given it is certainly not beyond the Suns and should it come in their fourth year in the competition it will be a sizeable achievement.

Earlier this season coach Guy McKenna was given a contract extension to the end of next year allowing him to guide the club’s fortunes in its first 110 games in the competition – and perhaps more if finals are on the agenda.

Not all new franchises maintain faith in a foundation coach for that long with the West Coast Eagles axing of Ron Alexander after he gave the club a dream first season with a win-loss record of 11-11 for an eighth-place finish in 1987, a prime example.

The Suns’ board should be congratulated in allowing McKenna – a veteran of 267 games and two premierships with the Eagles – to recruit, nurture and develop the playing list over a substantial period of time.

After finishing 17th with the wooden spoon in 2011, the Suns finished 17th again – ahead of GWS – the following year and 14th last season on the back of eight wins.

The club will sail past that record this season and well it might given the fact that it had a significant leg-up with respect to the advantages it was granted through the National Draft early on.

However, it is one thing to identify talent and another to develop it.

The recruiting of Gary Ablett was without doubt a masterstroke.

He is the biggest name currently in the game and appears destined for a record-equalling third Brownlow Medal this season.

The scary thing for opposing clubs is that, if anything, Ablett’s influence over a game may in fact grow as his younger teammates become more adept at blocking for him and giving him space at stoppages.

As the likes of David Swallow, Dion Prestia and Jaeger O’Meara mature and develop they will also need to be given more serious consideration by opposing coaches who no doubt are primarily focused nowadays on simply trying to curtail Ablett’s brilliance.

As time goes on the sheer reliance on Ablett will not be as great.

In Charlie Dixon and Sam Day the Suns have two potentially imposing forwards while Tom Nicholls has the making of a long-term ruckman.

There is certainly a lot to like about this Gold Coast team which is starting to show that it would not be totally out of place should it snatch a top-eight finish.

In fact, such a result would be good for the competition as a whole and it could come in just a few months’ time.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 9 May 2014