It was a season of development for the Suns, but perhaps not as much as it looked early on. After winning three straight matches when the season resumed in June, things looked to be on the up, but they managed just two wins and a draw in the final 13 rounds. However, with a percentage in excess of 90, it was evident the nucleus of a team that could play finals in the not-too-distant future was formed.
The Suns unearthed a crop of young stars – who have all recommitted – that can take the club forward, with Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Izak Rankine and Connor Budarick all emerging. The additions of Hugh Greenwood and Brandon Ellis were both a success, while the move of Lachie Weller to the midfield gave the Suns a more dynamic on-ball look. For one of the rare times in club history, the Suns avoided a significant number of injuries and had good player availability – a big tick for the physical performance department.
The last five weeks was unacceptable. After so much promise and many narrow losses, the Suns were uncompetitive against Carlton, Brisbane and Hawthorn – a familiar tale of fading out late in seasons. With shorter quarters, fewer games and plenty of players to choose from, fatigue was not an issue. Gold Coast was dealt a good fixture hand, playing just four games outside of Queensland, and it was embarrassed in two of them.
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It has to be Sam Collins. In just his second season at the club, the robust fullback was sensational. Like his teammates, Collins battled in the last couple of matches, but that should not detract from a season that saw him finish among the top five intercept markers in the competition. His performance against the Western Bulldogs in the wet, with 14 intercept possessions, was a standout.
After earning an under-18 All Australian selection, there was high hopes for Academy product Connor Budarick, but he far exceeded those expectations. A midfielder by trade, Budarick was thrust into defence to start his career, regularly getting the opposition's best small forward and locking down the spot all season. His 16 disposals and a goal against Adelaide earned him a NAB Rising Star nomination.
Peter Wright. 'Two Metre' Peter was uninjured but didn't play a single senior game, and must be questioning where his career is heading. Now 24, Wright was beaten to the second tall forward position by Sam Day, and failed to do enough in the reserves to dislodge him. Wright's best can take the Suns to another level, but he needs to be more aggressive and more consistent.
This came on the season resumption – defeating West Coast. Wins against genuine premiership fancies have been few and far between, and although the Eagles had some 'bubble trouble', this was less than a week into their stay on the Gold Coast. The Suns outhunted, outworked and outplayed them. It was a momentous victory. A special mention should also go to Izak Rankine's spectacular three-goal debut against Melbourne.
When Matt Rowell dislocated his shoulder early in the round five contest against Geelong, a little steam went out of Gold Coast's season. The No.1 draft pick had set the competition alight with three successive best-on-ground performances, and the season-ending injury left every fan of the game feeling flat.
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Gold Coast has the nucleus of a good team, and now just needs to work around the edges. It seems Rory Atkins is all-but certain to join as a free agent, while experienced help at half-back and key defence should be targeted following Pearce Hanley's retirement, Jarrod Harbrow's signs of decline and Rory Thompson's ACL keeping him out of 2021. Interest will come for contracted duo Wright and Will Brodie. The former should be kept, but tough inside midfielder Brodie seems surplus to needs and a trade might be best for both parties if one can be struck.
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Early call for 2021
The Suns should be in the finals mix next season, although it would be unfair to expect they make it. A full year of Rowell and another pre-season of development for so many 19 to 22-year-olds should see a few more wins.
C+. Players developed and the team became more competitive, but the mark could have been higher if it wasn't for the poor final five weeks.