GOLD Coast needs to improve NOW or its season could quickly tailspin.
With coach Stuart Dew entering his fourth season at the helm, the Suns were expected to make a jump in 2021.
They won five-and-a-half games (from 17) last season, have arguably the best list of players aged 21 or under in the competition and now have enough continuity and stability as a club to progress.
Through the first month of the season, that hasn't happened.
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It has won once from four games – against hapless North Melbourne – and is staring down the barrel of a 1-4 start with a trip to Marvel Stadium on Saturday to play the white-hot Western Bulldogs.
The Suns then host an undefeated Sydney the following week.
Unless Gold Coast does something quickly, it risks falling too far behind the eightball to challenge for finals, like many thought they would.
Midfielder Hugh Greenwood summed it up at his press conference on Tuesday.
"We're all frustrated," Greenwood said.
"The players are frustrated, the coaches are frustrated, I'm sure the supporters at home are frustrated because we're so close to winning games of footy.
"We've seen our best, and it's capable of beating some of the best teams in the comp."
You see, that's the problem. No one expects Gold Coast to suddenly launch into the top four – although Brisbane showed such a jump could be made in 2019 – but they want to see more incremental improvement.
Over their 10-plus years in the competition, the Suns rarely throw a spanner in the works, rarely cause an upset.
They stunned Sydney at the SCG in 2018 and shocked West Coast last year when the season resumed following the COVID shutdown.
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Aside from that, surprise victories almost never happen. They give effort, there's no question. But where's the improvement?
You can point to some of the younger players. Noah Anderson is already a high-level midfielder, which is remarkable for someone who has played 21 games.
Jack (of-all-trades) Lukosius has handled his positional switching well. He's a whisker away from taking over games.
Ben King is every bit as accomplished as his twin Max, without the fanfare.
Touk Miller has improved to the level where his ball use is now as damaging as his tackling, while Jack Bowes, Wil Powell and Charlie Ballard are also better.
But something's missing.
In the past fortnight, a team that's improving would have beaten one of – or both – Adelaide or Carlton. But the Suns buried themselves under a pile of turnovers and poor decisions.
Saturday night against the Blues was a re-run of the same movie the club's supporters have seen 50 times.
Try hard, compete around the contest, but turn the ball over and fall short.
Do they play too conservative? That's a 'watch this space'.
Through four games they've taken the second-most marks in the competition, most of them uncontested in the back half.
Whether it's system or a lack of confidence to transition quickly, it's not helping a forward line that is light on for tall options.
Gold Coast has young players with speed and it's time to release the shackles.
Lukosius might need to return to defence to help the ball movement, but Oleg Markov, Powell and Lachie Weller from the midfield/wing should be free to run and take the game on.
It's unfair to question the Suns without mentioning their injury toll though.
Jarrod Witts is not just a ruckman, but the Suns' nominal and physical leader. Matt Rowell is, well, Matt Rowell. Sam Day is a reliable sidekick for King, and Connor Budarick the best small defender at the club.
That's a quartet of key players, both in output and structurally, most clubs would struggle to cover.
All are missing for extended periods, if not the entire season.
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Some players need to lift.
Ben Ainsworth, Darcy Macpherson and Will Brodie should all be contributing more by this stage of their careers.
The Suns need to improve, and fast, or risk watching another season evaporate before it gets started.
St Kilda did it last week. A ballistic backs-to-the-wall effort against West Coast.
Time for Gold Coast to step up.