EMBATTLED Essendon is off to a worrying start to the season after a Gary Ablett-inspired Gold Coast handed the depleted Bombers a 61-point thumping.
The Suns showed little mercy to the undermanned Bombers, who fielded a team with 10 new faces, beating them 17.19 (121) to 9.6 (60) on Saturday at Metricon Stadium.
It's an ominous start to the year for the Bombers, who are battling to avoid the club's first wooden spoon since 1933 after 12 players were given season-long bans.
Key Sun Tom Lynch kicked four goals in a strong performance up forward, but faces a nervous wait from the Match Review Panel after collecting Mark Baguley with a high shot in the first term.
Saturday's match also marked an encouraging return to action for Suns captain Gary Ablett.
The two-time Brownlow medallist, who didn't play a single minute during the Suns' pre-season, was one of 11 goal-kickers for the hosts and picked up 34 disposals as well as seven tackles.
Coach Rodney Eade said it was pleasing to start with a win, but was critical of his team's ball use, saying they "mucked around" too much.
"I think we got comfortable and that was disappointing," he said.
"I thought we worked hard without the ball but we didn't need to do that if we used the ball correctly like we should have.
"If you said at the start of the game we'd win by 10 goals, you'd take it. There were just some elements of the game where I think we relaxed, so that was disappointing."
Aaron Hall, Jack Martin and Sam Day were the other multiple goal kickers for the Suns, with two each.
The Bombers showed plenty of fight but simply couldn't match Gold Coast after the home team booted five goals to one in the opening term.
"We just couldn't get our hands on the footy and work it forward," Essendon coach John Worsfold said of the first term.
"I think it was double the possessions, 20-5 inside 50s, we just couldn't do anything with it.
"Some of it came from our really poor disposals, where we were going forward and we'd mess it up and it'd go straight back and then we couldn't get it out.
"It was a pretty tough day, but I like some of the signs we see.
"When you look through the rustiness and some of the unsurety, there's some good stuff there, but plenty to work on, obviously."
David Zaharakis was the stand-out for the visitors, kicking two goals and notching 33 disposals.
First-gamer Darcy Parish, who was one of three Bombers making their AFL debuts, was very impressive with 25 touches.
Mathew Stokes bounced back from a shocking miss in the third quarter to finish with three majors for Essendon, while fellow ex-Cat James Kelly picked up 26 touches.
Gold Coast: Running defender Adam Saad came off late holding his groin, but Suns fans can breathe easy as it was simply cramp. What is of more concern is the health of Kade Kolodjashnij, who was a late scratching after going to hospital on Friday night with abdominal pain. Coach Rodney Eade said the Suns were still waiting on test results, but at this stage expected him to be fine for next week. Jesse Lonergan received eight stitches for his head clash with Trent McKenzie, who went off for 20 minutes but passed his concussion test.
Essendon: It was a rough day for the Bombers, but the one ray of light was they got through unscathed. Mark Baguley was momentarily stunned by Tom Lynch's first quarter hit, but got to his feet quickly and played the match out.
The Suns cross the Nullarbor to play Fremantle on Saturday at Domain Stadium, where they've never won. The Bombers host first-up winners Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.
GOLD COAST 5.5 11.9 15.14 17.19 (121)
ESSENDON 1.0 5.1 7.5 9.6 (60)
Gold Coast: Lynch 4, Martin 2, Day 2, Hall 2, Ah Chee, Malceski, Lonergan, Miller, Sexton, Prestia, Ablett
Essendon: Stokes 3, Zaharakis 2, McKernan, Daniher, Crowley, Langford
Gold Coast: Hall, Ablett, Rosa, Sexton, Rischitelli, Lynch, Malceski
Essendon: Zaharakis, Stokes, Parish, Z.Merrett
Gold Coast: Kolodjashnij (illness) replaced in selected side by Ah Chee
Umpires: Hosking, Hay, McInerney
Official crowd: 16,239 at Metricon Stadium