ALTHOUGH Gold Coast made clear strides in 2020 with its exciting young list competitive most weeks, for coach Stuart Dew the hardest work is about to begin.
Dew is entering his fourth year in charge and knows it is time the Suns took a step.
How big, he's not prepared to speculate, but the two-time premiership player knows the expectations are coming and is prepared to embrace them.
Gold Coast went from 18th in 2019 with a paltry percentage of 60 and marched up to 14th last season with a far superior percentage of 91.
The Suns won five games, drew one and lost five others where they were within a goal of the opposition during the final quarter.
With No.1 draft pick Matt Rowell taking the competition by storm in the first month, Izak Rankine producing a highlight reel the envy of many 200-plus gamers, and Noah Anderson and Ben King impacting results, the Suns have a young crop the envy of many.
Then there's smooth-moving Jack Lukosius in the backline and tenacious Connor Budarick alongside him. The list goes on. And on.
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"People would say what we've done is hard, but the next step is even harder," Dew told AFL.com.au.
"Plenty of teams have gone from a reset, rebuild, from 17th, 18th and got to somewhere around 14th, 13th or 12th and aren't able to take the next step, and we want to make sure we're not one of those teams and we push through that next step and start to impose ourselves on games.
"The feeling in general here is we really believe we can win every week.
"That has certainly shifted from hope that would have been there a couple of years ago."
After implementing a gameplan based on plenty of stoppages and not being hurt on the outside for his first two seasons, Dew opened the Suns up last season.
They were more aggressive, used quicker ball movement and went from last in scoring to 12th.
As they attempt to climb the ladder in 2021, you can expect to see more of the same.
This is largely based around personnel.
Gold Coast was starved of speed prior to 2019, but the acquisition of Rankine and Anderson, as well as Lachie Weller's move onball and Brandon Ellis' addition to the wing, has given the team a turn of foot it previously lacked.
The Suns endured plenty of lessons last season too, including another – less dramatic – fade late in the year in which they were largely uncompetitive in three of their final five matches against Carlton, Brisbane and Hawthorn.
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Dew believes the continuity of playing a largely unchanged team last year, along with another pre-season of training for his team's younger bodies, will help them see out a full season as games return to 20-minute quarters and 22 matches.
One area he hopes to develop is the midfield – mainly its depth.
With co-captain Jarrod Witts doing a fabulous job as a one-out ruckman and hard nuts Hugh Greenwood, Touk Miller and Rowell great at extracting the ball, they have the nucleus of a strong group.
But beyond that core and the minutes provided by Weller and Witts' fellow leader David Swallow, it thins out quickly.
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Dew is ready to throw Anderson and Rankine into the fray though, with the former set for extended minutes onball after an ultra-impressive pre-season.
"Noah's ready for that," Dew said. "He's done the whole summer inside. He's got poise, he's really clean with the footy. We're excited by that.
"We've been planning on it (depth) and drafting towards it.
"If you look at the teams that are flexible, so if things aren't working you can change them, or if certain individuals are getting shut down, you've got a couple of different levers to pull.
"The season is a long season, we're going back to normal game time with less rotations, so there'll be times when players miss games, that's the reality, and we need to make sure that when that happens the next person that steps in is on an even par with the one that has had to step out."
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Former Crow Rory Atkins and Oleg Markov from Richmond came in during the off-season to add another layer of pace to the half-back flank and wing.
One young talent we might not see much of in 2021 is No.7 draft pick Elijah Hollands, who came to Carrara after suffering a ruptured ACL almost 12 months ago.
"We're not in a rush that once he hits 12 months to wheel him out," Dew said.
"It was probably the most difficult year for a young lad to have an ACL … access to different staff and rehab wasn't there.
"We're really patient. We've sat down with Elijah and made that really clear and he's on-board importantly. He sees the opportunity to build the rest of his body.
"Everyone is focused on his knee, but when you come in as an 18-year-old, it's about building the whole package. His knee is coming along well, but he's spending a lot of time and positivity on the rest of his body as well.
"We'll probably check in in a month or so. We'd envisage he won't play any football early on at the start of the year, but that's by design."
With so much talent and so much speed and an arrow pointing up, what does Dew expect from the Suns in 2021?
"We certainly would love to be knocking on the door (of finals) and putting ourselves in a position," he said.
"It's really hard to predict. You can win 12 games and finish 12th.
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"In terms of finals you probably take a breath at the middle part of the year and see where you're at.
"We've also made decisions that we think is in our best interests to not just play finals … but impact those. When that timeline is we're not sure.
"If we went back three years ago and sit here today with the players we've got and the systems and processes, we feel like we've given ourselves a good foundation to buck that trend of the teams that take a step but then can't get over that next hurdle."
Time will tell.