Jed Walter poses for a photo during Gold Coast's official team photo day on February 15, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

DAMIEN Hardwick began coaching Gold Coast thinking he had 80 per cent of a premiership list at his disposal.

Now just six months after taking the job, he thinks that's closer to 100 per cent.

Since that introductory press conference last August where he likened the Suns to "a set of brand new toys", Hardwick has been blown away by the talent at Carrara.

So much so, the three-time premiership coach says their "floor" is making finals.

There's a big mountain to climb, though.

Damien Hardwick during Gold Coast's training session at Heritage Bank Stadium on February 19, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Gold Coast has not finished higher than 12th in its 13 seasons, and now Hardwick expects to vault them into the premiership conversation.

Is it hyperbole of a man that has the ultimate belief in himself or is there substance behind the confidence?

Speaking to just weeks before coaching his first game, Hardwick says Gold Coast is further advanced than he expected.

"I've never seen a side eat up work like these guys have," he said.

"God, they can just run, and I've got to utilise that strength.

"They're just sponges. They love learning.

"I wasn't quite sure where we'd be with our gameplan implementation, but I've been really pleased with how far we've progressed so quickly."

From the moment Gold Coast brass Bob East and Mark Evans chased him to the other side of the world to get his signature, Hardwick has been plotting.

Once manager Paul Connors got off the phone to tell Hardwick the Suns chairman and CEO were keen to pitch to him in Italy, Hardwick began scouring the club's list. Until all hours that night.

He was only two months removed from walking away from Richmond during his 14th season at the helm.

He always wanted to coach again, and says the time overseas gave him the distance required to rekindle his love for the job and industry.

"When that season (with Richmond) wasn't panning out the way we thought, my message … all of a sudden it becomes ho-hum, and I thought it became a good time to step down," he said.

"I didn't think it was the right thing to do to continue to go.

"The difference here is I'm coaching more. Whereas previously you become more of a man-manager.

"It's doing what I love doing, which is the coaching aspect and that's the thing I've really enjoyed and it's reinvigorated me and re-energised me.

"That is the difference in taking over a new club, teaching the things you want to implement and watching them come to fruition, which is the art of coaching and the art of teaching."

Gold Coast CEO Mark Evans, coach Damien Hardwick and chairman Bob East on August 21, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Hardwick took over from his 2004 Port Adelaide premiership teammate Stuart Dew, who was sacked during his sixth season in charge at the Suns.

He said Gold Coast would always be indebted to Dew, who "made it a footy club" – one that went from players wanting to leave to players wanting to stay.

While getting his coaching hands dirty, Hardwick said the Gold Coast lifestyle had also helped him settle into his new home.

"One of the things I was hoping to change if we were lucky enough to win a couple of flags, I was hoping we could change daylight saving and bring it in up here, but I've grown to love the fact you get up early and you go to bed early," he said.

"You don't bunker down. You're out, you walk, you exercise, you swim, it's been an incredible lifestyle change for me, and a reinvigorating lifestyle change as well.

"I shake my head at times and wonder why I was living in Victoria for so long. You come up here and it's a magical place.

"I've settled in Burleigh, I love it to death, and I can't see myself going back any time soon, results prevailing."

At the start of a six-year contract, those results will dictate his success.

In Bailey Humphrey, Hardwick believes he has a match-winner.

Then there’s the four Academy graduates – Jed Walter, Ethan Read, Jake Rogers and Will Graham – taken in last year's AFL Draft.

Will Graham, Ethan Read, Jed Walter and Jake Rogers after the 2023 AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

Hardwick is glowing of Walter, saying the key forward was a lock to play in Opening Round before fracturing his collarbone.

"Sometimes you just watch players and you marvel," he said.

"This kid as an 18-year-old is incredible the way he goes about it.

"He's still got a fair bit to learn, but his intensity and his desire to compete are unquestioned. It's phenomenal.

"It was quite an innocuous incident that he did his collarbone on, but it's just his desire to get to the ball. Everyone else would have thought 'I'll let it bounce', but he's diving three metres to the side to try and mark it.

"His ability to compete and his workrate and ability to cover ground – I think he's going to play a lot of footy for us."

Jed Walter poses during Gold Coast's 2024 official team photo day. Picture: AFL Photos

Read and Graham are in the frame for early season debuts.

There's been positional switches too. Noted goalkicker Alex Sexton has gone to half-back. Rugged defenders Darcy Macpherson and Ben Long are playing forward. Midfielder James Tsitas is now a pressure forward.

Will we see a similar gamestyle to the one that swept the Tigers to three flags?

"This side has some strengths Richmond didn't have, and vice-versa," Hardwick said.

"One thing I've learned over the course of coaching is you can't fit square pegs in round holes.

"Some players have played certain positions, but they suit our positional types in another part of the ground.

"That's the biggest challenge of coaching is to get the players to understand every person at every stage has got a role and they need to execute their role."

Alex Sexton during Gold Coast's training session at Heritage Bank Stadium on February 19, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Asked whether he still believed there was 80 per cent of a premiership list at his disposal, Hardwick was clear.

"I nearly think I've got 100 per cent of it to be fair," he said.

"The talent level here is incredible. What we've got to do is get that talent to play together in a system that provides a great framework for them and then allows them to bring their strengths within that framework.

"They're a great stoppage side.

"Turnover-wise, probably not as good, but my strength and style of game is more turnover based, the game is based off turnover, so that's what we need to implement and that's what we need to train.

"But we don't want to lose that stoppage strength either.

"Hopefully the style of our game … can implement the turnover game more consistently and allow our scoring to improve, and defensively reduce those scoring impacts.

"I think they're starting to realise how good they can be, which really excites me.

"They’re a wonderful bunch of buys and a wonderful footy club that I just reckon is ready to go and I'm so excited to be a part of it."