GOLD Coast coach Stuart Dew has no concerns Izak Rankine will reclaim the dazzling form that captivated the AFL world in 2020, saying another pre-season will do the young South Australian wonders.
Rankine came back to earth with a thud last season, kicking 16 goals from 18 games before being dropped ahead of round 20, not to return to the senior team for the remainder of the season.
It continued a rollercoaster journey at the Suns for the 21-year-old after his first season in 2019 was derailed by injury before his breakout 2020.
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But as last season wore on, the energy, the speed, the polish and the cheek that characterised his best football began to wane.
Speaking to AFL.com.au, Dew said it was a combination of reasons.
"Clearly he has a target on his back when we play teams," Dew said.
"Talking to opposition coaches, he's the number one (small) forward they put their number one defender on. There's a reason for that.
"He's still only played 30 games.
"He's still in that phase of learning to deal with, 'hey you don't have the best under-18 defender on you, you've got the best small defenders in the game'.
"Another pre-season will be good for him in terms of building that resilience, adding a couple of things in his toolkit."
Dew said omitting Rankine late in the season was a "two-way" decision, with the player conceding he wasn't at his best and would benefit from a stint in the VFL.
That plan was railroaded though when a lower-level game against Southport was cancelled after just 10 minutes due to a COVID breakout in south-east Queensland that forced a snap lockdown.
Gold Coast, due to play Melbourne at Metricon Stadium later that day, was on a plane south just hours later and did not return until its season finished.
Rankine did not make the trip, with the club deciding it best he got in a block of training to physically and mentally prepare for the coming pre-season.
"Pre-season is a good place for that because there's not the pressure for performance," Dew said.
"He would feel the pressure on the ground because he has the best defender and then there's external expectation, which is far too high for a player of his experience.
"We're not trying to play that down, that's reality, and those small forwards, some days they have four goals and some days they have none. That's the way it is.
"We love Izak. In some ways we try to protect him from that, but the pressure gets in from all angles."