THE SUNS never quite got on track, copping a string of long-term injuries to key players in the opening rounds and battling to keep their heads above water. Their best form was exciting, but their worst – which happened too regularly after the mid-season bye – left you scratching your head. Most of the club’s high-end young talent continued to develop, but with finals still a long way off, a huge 12 months looms.
It’s been many years since Gold Coast has beaten genuinely good teams, but victories over Sydney, Richmond and Greater Western Sydney – all top-eight outfits when they played – showed the Suns’ best football could match it with the top tier. The club’s leadership group was incredible, with co-captain David Swallow and his deputies Touk Miller and Sam Collins bringing their best every week.
This can be summed up with one word – inconsistency. Too often you had no idea what type of performance you were getting when the Suns ran out. Young teams can be excused for the odd down showing, but the fluctuations in effort and execution would frustrate everyone at the club. Leading Brisbane by 27 points at half-time before losing by 49 was the perfect encapsulation of not only between games variance, but within games.
There can be only one winner here – Touk Miller. What the midfielder did in his seventh season was quite remarkable. Not only did he average in excess of 30 disposals a game, but he improved his ball use to become a damaging player forward of centre, and also stamped himself as the hardest two-way runner in the competition.
Wil Powell finished last season as a player with promise and took a leap towards stardom in 2021. Playing across half-back the lightly framed West Australian showed an ability to lockdown an opponent, as well as generate attack for the Suns with his intercept marking and penetrating kicking.
After bursting to life in 2020, Izak Rankine had a dose of the 'second season blues' in 2021. The prodigiously talented South Australian struggled under the close attention of the opposition’s best small defender most weeks and was eventually relegated to the VFL. Rankine will learn plenty from this year and come back a better player.
After poor losses to Fremantle, Port Adelaide and North Melbourne, and then having their home game re-routed to Melbourne 48 hours before bounce down, defeating Richmond in the Thursday night prime time slot was not only the highlight of the season, but one of the best wins in club history. Miller was brilliant and Ben King kicked four goals as the Suns overturned a final quarter deficit to triumph.
The ruptured ACL for co-captain Jarrod Witts in round three was a horror moment. It came in the same fortnight as long-term setbacks for Matt Rowell, Sam Day and Connor Budarick, but Witts was the hammer blow. They lost a terrific ruckman integral to the midfield, their physical presence around the contest and one of their most dominating voices on-field. The remainder of the season proved Witts is almost irreplaceable.
How should they approach list management?
The core of a top-eight team is in place and with a tight salary cap, they can only really tinker around the edges. They desperately need key position support at either end of the ground and a back-up to Witts following the retirement of Zac Smith. Their first-round pick would be a great bargaining tool to chase an established player, but only if they fit into Gold Coast’s early-mid 20s age demographic.
Early call for 2022
They should be aiming to play finals for the first time in club history next season. The young players have spent enough time together and are at a stage where consistency can be demanded.
4/10. Not expected to play finals and injuries hurt them, but another season treading water.