Georgia Clayden celebrates after kicking a goal during the match between Gold Coast and Essendon at Great Barrier Reef Arena in round 10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

GOLD Coast's 14-point victory over Essendon showcased the exact crux of playing finals footy - find a way to win.

Playing almost the entire first quarter without the ball, the Suns' young outfit displayed a readiness to reassess and the versatility to quickly adjust without falling to what could have been a significant quarter-time margin had Essendon taken its chances inside 50.

SUNS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats

With the Suns unable to gather or hold the ball early, a shift by coach Cameron Joyce's players to play the game wider and allow their midfield space and time switched the momentum and the scoreline.

"We've been trying to get the ball to the outside a bit more this season, it's been a focus," Joyce said post-game.

"At times with the conditions we didn't want to overuse the ball. We're trying to find that balance between trying to surge and go forward at times versus using the outside and chaining the ball."


With their primary ball-user Charlie Rowbottom ruled out after sustaining an ankle injury in last week's win over Greater Western Sydney, the Bombers tested how well Joyce and midfield coach Sam Iles have been able to develop the squad's depth over the last two years.

Claudia Whitfort was expected to shine individually but her ability to adapt and pair with Lucy Single and Alison Brennan out of stoppages – making the most of Lauren Bella's hitout dominance – was far more staggering.

"Even when Charlie's been playing it's about the 21 that run out and the 30 on the list and we've been pretty strong on that all the way through, regardless of who's in the team," Joyce said.

"I thought everyone really stepped up tonight and played their role and that's what we wanted them to do."

Single and Whitfort both finished Friday's match with 25 disposals and the experienced Drennan was a key linking point into half-forward, her experience helping to plug the gap of Rowbottom's bursting intent.


It begs the question – with the Suns' 2022 best and fairest winner hopeful to return to the side next week, how deep can this team go in finals?

"The possibility of [Rowbottom's return] happening, we'll have to wait and see but it's exciting with who's playing at the minute and we'll just have to see what happens after this," Joyce said.

Charlie Rowbottom in action during round nine, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The win over Essendon also showed the ability of the Suns' young side to perform in big game scenarios. With most of the list untested in finals footy, this game marked the highest stakes match many of their players had been a part of.

Putting the ladder pressure to the side and being able to weather the on-field, sustained pressure from Essendon was an impressive showing of maturity and determination by Gold Coast's players.

"It's something that we've been really striving to do, just to qualify for finals and being able to do that up in Mackay and in the last game, the pressure that went with that I was just so pleased about how the girls went about it," Joyce said.

"The attitude all week has been really professional, preparation was outstanding."


If Melbourne defeat Brisbane on the road, the Suns will likely finish fourth and lock in a meeting with last year's premier in week one of the finals.

It's a hard ask, but one that comes with a side dish of a home semi final, just desserts for a team that rocketed from a ninth place finish in 2022 to a possible top four end to 2023, pending other results.

"We're all human in terms of wanting to know who we're going to play but we know we're in so for the girls it's just getting back home, recovering and preparing to play next week which is exciting."