TOM LYNCH has led Gold Coast to a comfortable 25-point NAB Challenge victory over the Brisbane Lions, but the result was secondary as both teams fielded very inexperienced line-ups.
Lynch, who captained the Suns in Gary Ablett's absence, kicked three goals as the Suns extended an eight-point half-time lead to run out 0.9.14 (68) to 0.6.7 (43) winners at Burpengary's Moreton Bay Sports Complex on Sunday.
Former West Coast winger Matt Rosa fitted in nicely in his first game in Suns colours, racking up 19 disposals and showing the class and composure Gold Coast recruited him for.
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In the absence of midfielders Ablett, David Swallow, Jaeger O'Meara and Dion Prestia, Jesse Lonergan thrived with 23 disposals (16 contested and 10 clearances), while ruckman Tom Nicholls was strong both at the contest and around the ground. Rookie Darcy MacPherson, who praises have been sung by coach Rodney Eade during the pre-season, was prominent with 10 tackles and a goal.
Eade said he was impressed after a slow start in the hot and windy conditions.
"As frustrating as some of the kicking was, I thought generally we adapted better after half-time with our use of the ball," Eade said
"Jesse's kicks inside 50 were great."
While Lynch was clearly the dominant forward on the ground in the absence of veteran Lions full-back Daniel Merrett, his sidekick Peter Wright showed he could also be in for a big 2016.
In just his second season, Wright used his noticeably improved strength to kick one goal, take four marks (two contested) and finish with 11 disposals to show Sam Day he would have his hands full taking the second key forward spot.
Touk Miller (16 touches) and Aaron Hall (15) also thrived with their extra responsibility in the midfield.
The Lions started positively, leading by a point at quarter-time, but really dropped off as the game wore on.
"I'm disappointed with the way we moved the ball," coach Justin Leppitsch said.
"We wanted to use the corridor but didn't have the confidence to do so. That was a little frustrating, but that's a young team, breeze there, they're trying to do well, they want to impress and not make a mistake, and often that means you don't pull the trigger.
"I think there's some things there that are easily fixed."
The Lions started positively, leading by a point in hot and blustery conditions at quarter-time, but really dropped off as the game wore on.
They were resting captain Tom Rockliff, ruckman Stefan Martin, Merrett, midfielders Pearce Hanley, Daniel Rich and Dayne Zorko and are also nursing Dayne Beams back to full health after his off-season shoulder reconstruction.
Mitch Robinson was tireless in his debut as captain, finishing with 25 disposals, while Carlton recruit Tom Bell showed his value with 19 touches and Rhys Mathieson was strong with 13 possessions.
No.2 draft pick Josh Schache was goalless from the one half he played, but with limited chances he showed why he is so highly touted with good movement against a quality defender in Steven May.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Brisbane Lions: It was hard to gauge a lot with so many of their best midfielders missing, but the Lions look to have some genuine depth in that area now. Rhys Mathieson and Ben Keays look at home with the big boys, while Tom Bell slotted in nicely. Again it was the slow ball movement that cost them though as they struggled to move from the back half and give the young forwards a chance. The Lions need to play more aggressively to challenge the better teams.
Gold Coast: Even without their best four midfielders, the Suns have improved around the contest. They comfortably won the contested possessions (148-115) and clearances (42-29) led by Jesse Lonergan, who had 23 disposals, of which 16 were contested and 10 clearances. Peter Wright has thrown down a serious challenge to Sam Day as the second key forward alongside Tom Lynch with an impressive showing. Wright looks stronger, is holding his feet better and is moving more fluently than his debut season.
Brisbane Lions: Carlton recruit Tom Bell was one of the most experienced Lions on the field and also one of the best in his first game for the club. He mixed time between midfield and half-forward and finished with 19 disposals. No.2 draft pick Josh Schache had Steven May on him for the first half he played and showed glimpses of his boundless talent despite going goalless. Fellow draftee Rhys Mathieson was fearless around the contest, winning six free kicks in his 13 disposals (of which seven were contested). Ben Keays (15 touches) was busy, Geelong recruit Josh Walker showed promise as a key forward option, while Eric Hipwood found the windy conditions difficult. Former Cat Jarrad Jansen was quiet, while Josh Clayton kicked a late goal in a quiet game and Reuben William collected six disposals in his one half of action.
Gold Coast: Former West Coast winger Matt Rosa (19 disposals) was everything the Suns would hope for in his first game – busy, efficient and composed. Former Kangaroo Dan Currie was also excellent in his first game, feasting in his time in the ruck against the Lions' back-ups and showing he'd push Tom Nicholls for the top job. Rookie Darcy MacPherson was a ball of energy in the forward line, kicking a nice goal and pressuring like a terrier. He finished with 12 disposals and 10 tackles and would be in-line for a promotion if injury struck the Suns. No.8 draft pick Callum Ah Chee took a contested mark at the top of the goalsquare in a polished performance, while Ryan Davis kicked a nice goal and Tom Keough defended strongly on young Lion Eric Hipwood.
The Lions can expect another hot one for their second NAB Challenge fixture in two weeks, heading 1000km north of Brisbane to Mackay to take on St Kilda. The Suns meanwhile will make the longest trip in the country, flying west to Joondalup to take on West Coast on March 3. With such a long trip, expect them to take a significantly weakened team.
BRISBANE LIONS 0.3.1 0.3.5 0.4.9 0.6.7 (43)
GOLD COAST 0.2.6 0.4.7 0.7.11 0.9.14 (68)
Brisbane Lions: Nil
Gold Coast: Nil
Brisbane Lions: Taylor, Mathieson, Hipwood, Hammelmann, Clayton, Walker
Gold Coast: Lynch 3, MacPherson, Davis, Ah Chee, Wright, Miller, Hall
Brisbane Lions: Robinson, Bell, Mathieson, Taylor
Gold Coast: Lonergan, Miller, Nicholls, Lynch, Rosa, Hall
Brisbane Lions: Nil
Gold Coast: Nil
Umpires: Fisher, Hosking, Mollison, Fleer
Official crowd: 3807 at Moreton Bay Sports Complex (Burpengary)