Sam Collins is seen during a Gold Coast training session on June 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

AMONG a handful of top-line key defenders, Gold Coast's Sam Collins should be right near the head of the All-Australian conversation.

Whether you watch games or read statistics, his case through 15 matches is compelling.

So are those of Jacob Weitering and Harris Andrews, perennial candidates in this conversation, although the former is yet to crack the final 22.

Injured duo Alex Pearce (arm) and Sam Taylor (ruptured testicle) have also mounted strong arguments during 2024, although the latter is expected to miss another month, which might take him out of the picture having already missed four games this season.

Sam Taylor looks on during the R14 match between GWS and Port Adelaide at Engie Stadium on June 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Supporters of Callum Wilkie and Jeremy McGovern would also hold hope that a late-season flurry could see them right in the mix.

And just for clarity here, we're talking about players that genuinely defend the opposition spearheads, not the 'third tall' type that sometimes take a lesser opponent.

What has Collins done to push his case this year? More importantly, why should All-Australian selectors take notice if they haven't to date?

Since getting to Gold Coast from the VFL ahead of 2019, he has been a rapid improver and then a key cog of the Suns' team.

Sam Collins gathers the ball in round nine, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

He won a best and fairest in 2020 and has finished fourth, fifth and second in subsequent years.

Having just turned 30, Collins is at the peak of his powers in 2024, striking the perfect balance between negating his dangerous opponent, and winning the ball back for his team.

He is first in the AFL for intercept possessions (134). While his intercept marking is impressive (ranked fourth behind Andrews, Liam Jones and Tom Barrass), his work once the ball hits the deck is just as impressive.

No key defender has won as many ground balls as Collins (68).

Sam Collins is tackled by Sam Sturt during the R15 match between Gold Coast and Fremantle at Optus Stadium on June 23, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Ultimately, a key defender should be able to defend. And Collins can do that on any size opponent. He hates losing.

In 52 contested one-on-ones this year, he's lost just seven. Among players in the top 20 for quantity of contests, the 13.5 per cent he loses ranks behind only Weitering (a stunning 5.3 per cent), Giant Connor Idun (12.1) and Andrews (12.9).

When the Suns are floundering, it is often Collins and his backline mates keeping them in the contest.

Sam Collins gets a handball away during round 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The rose-coloured glasses of coach Damien Hardwick describe his vice-captain as a "gift" to the Suns, an incredible leader, combative and an "inspiration" to those around him.

"I'm lucky enough to see him every day, what he does to get up to play, but outside of Gold Coast I think people look at him and don't realise how good he is," Hardwick said.

"He's an incredible player. We are very very lucky to have him at our footy club."

Another eight good matches and the All-Australian selectors are going to find it very very difficult to keep out of their 44-man squad and ultimately their 22-man team.