GOLD Coast young gun Matt Rowell will fly home with the Suns before having scans to determine the severity of his left knee injury after his comeback game against West Coast was cut short on Sunday.
Rowell injured his left knee in a heavy tackle from opponent Zac Langdon in the first quarter at Optus Stadium and was substituted out of the match, using crutches and wearing a heavy brace when he returned to the bench in the second half.
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The Suns confirmed the 19-year-old would undergo scans once he had returned to Queensland, with a shattered coach Stuart Dew hopeful for the best-case scenario.
"It’s a knee injury and it’ll keep him out for some time. We don’t think it is season ending at this stage," Dew said after the Suns' 25-point loss to West Coast.
"We’re shattered for the lad. We want to see the best players playing and he’s one of our best. He has done so much work.
"To see him go down and have to put a brave face on again, your heart goes out to him. We’ll wrap our arms around him, reload and go again."
Rowell was returning for his first game since a serious shoulder injury ended his debut season, having made a stunning start to his career in the opening four rounds of 2020.
The No.1 pick in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, who remains eligible to win the NAB AFL Rising Star award in 2021, won four early possessions in his highly anticipated return before injury struck.
He returned to the ground on the boundary in the third quarter to the applause of West Coast fans and joined his teammates at the three-quarter time huddle.
"He is so unselfish, he put on a brave face. It would have been easy for him to say it was too hard to get from out of the room out to the bench," Dew said.
"He is all about the club, all about the team. He loves the club, we give him the love back.
"He loves the game more than anyone we have ever witnessed. It’s a big statement, but it’s true. It’s sad for him, but there are worse people off in the world, he knows that.
"He'll go off, lick his wounds and come back and go again. We haven’t seen the end of him."
The Suns took a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter but were overrun by the experienced Eagles, who kicked five unanswered goals to round out the match.
Dew said he didn't want the Suns to be an "almost-there footy club" and he was disappointed they lacked composure under the Eagles' pressure in the final quarter.
"We don’t want to be a club that says that was a good effort, and the players made the point that this has to fuel us going forward," the coach said.
"I think that will be a measure of how we’re going, how we come out next week and deliver the same, for longer."
Dom Sheed (34 possessions and nine clearances) was a standout in the midfield, while young forward Oscar Allen booted a career-high four goals.
West Coast coach Adam Simpson praised his experienced players for lifting late in a game that felt "a little bit different to normal", with the tackle count a lowly 39-33 as both teams tried to control possession.
"I think the players just went to another level, our guys," Simpson said.
"They've probably been around a bit longer than some of the Gold Coast boys and they elevated in the contest and got some good field position … we won the important contests."
Simpson was happy with his midfield's ability to hold their own without star pair Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo and said the two-pronged ruck structure would likely stay in place.
"It’s really difficult to not do that for us," the coach said after Gold Coast won the hit-outs 31-23 and squared clearances 30-30.
"The lower the rotations and the longer the game time, power athletes are going to get exposed.
"Resting forward doesn’t work for everyone, so we need to find a way to get Nic (Naitanui) involved in the game, and at the moment it means an extra ruck."