DURING his first pre-season at Gold Coast, Jarrod Witts was given an ultimatum by coach Rodney Eade if he wanted to play in round one.

Witts had headed to the Suns during the 2016 off-season in the hope he could unseat Tom Nicholls and Dan Currie as the club's incumbent ruck options.

But the then-24-year-old giant hit a hurdle in his first JLT Community Series match against Brisbane at Broadbeach, splitting the webbing in his hand.

Fearing infection after he suffered the same injury at Collingwood less than 12 months earlier, Witts missed the next pre-season match.

Jarrod Witts contests the ruck against Jack Silvagni for the Gold Coast Suns against Carlton in round four, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"I was umming and ahing whether I was going to get up for the last game and Rocket said, 'If you want to play round one, you've got to play in this'," Witts recalled for AFL.com.au.

"I put a guard on, wore a glove for a little bit and was able to get some continuity."

With that final hitout against the Western Bulldogs before the 2017 season, Witts shut the door on Nicholls and Currie and has not looked back.

His evolution from wanting an opportunity, to becoming a club captain and now one of the most dominant ruckmen in the AFL, is quite incredible.

Witts played 40 games in four years for the Magpies, but realising Brodie Grundy was ahead in the pecking order, looked elsewhere.

He wanted the No.1 mantle.

Gold Coast star Jarrod Witts contests the ruck against Fremantle's Sean Darcy in round nine, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

The Suns scouted him closely through the VFL and were impressed with his workrate, decision-making and ruck craft.

Eade, who knew Witts from his time at Collingwood in his roles as football and coaching strategist and director of football, was also a believer.

The Magpies got picks 44 and 62 for Witts at the trade table, which they used to access father-son selections Callum Brown and Josh Daicos.

"What helped coming up here was I had a relationship with Rodney Eade," Witts said.

"He seemed keen to have me up here and I think it's always important to have belief from the coach.


"By no means did he say, 'It's your spot'.

"I wasn't really too fussed on staying in Melbourne or a footy state, I just wanted an opportunity and it seemed like the best one."

Witts said he always had the self-belief that if he got continuity at the top level, he was good enough.

He played 18 games in 2017 before late-season shoulder surgery.

Eade was then sacked on the back of a third tough season at the Suns, with Gold Coast bringing in Stuart Dew to take over – a new face for Witts to impress.

David Swallow, Stuart Dew and Jarrod Witts at the Gold Coast Suns 2022 photo day. Picture: AFL Photos

It's the kind of challenge he thrives on.

The 209cm New South Welshman quickly became a favourite of Dew's. In fact, he didn't miss a game until the catastrophic ruptured ACL he suffered in round three last season.

That period from 2018-2021 was one of huge upheaval for the Suns, losing co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May, undergoing a complete list rebuild, and winning just 19 games.

Witts became central to the overhaul, quickly moving on from worrying about his own game to the health of the club.

On a pre-season training camp in New Zealand in December 2018, Witts stood like a colossus at a team dinner, declaring he loved the club and couldn't wait to stick around for "Five. More. Years". As he threw his five fingers in the air with a huge smile, Witts was mobbed by his young teammates.

Gold Coast Suns celebrate a win over Sydney in round eight, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

"It's never appealed to me to leave," he said.

"It just wasn't in my thinking.

"Other guys have got their own reasons, but for me, that's easy to do, to go and jump on the back of what someone else has created, but I think if you want that deep fulfilment, you build it and see it through.

"I don't think there'd be many better feelings than that.

"I didn't really understand what it was going to take to see the list we had in 2019 to the list we have now.

"We've obviously got a lot of work still to go, and are nowhere near where we want to be, but it is encouraging what's happened in the last little period.

"I thought I could have a positive influence on this group. 

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"I just felt like this is my purpose. The club gave me an opportunity and I never ever thought to leave."

In those early years under Dew, Witts was central to a conservative gameplan. Gold Coast played a high-stoppage game, where Witts could keep the ball in tight with his ruck dominance.

With his brilliant return from knee surgery this year, that's changed.

The Suns are playing more direct, and Witts has a greater licence around the stoppages.

He has a mind-boggling 123 hitouts-to-advantage through nine weeks – 43 more than his nearest opponent.

Witts says new midfield coach Steven King has been a big advocate of "playing to the players' strengths", which has allowed him to be more expansive with his hitouts to assist a powerful midfield of Touk Miller, Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson and David Swallow.

Jarrod Witts and Touk Miller lead the Suns off after their win over Fremantle in round nine, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Witts trails only Max Gawn among ruckmen for total clearances as his game continues to evolve.

He says there's always an element of the unknown when coming back from such a serious injury, but he gained confidence from the mountain of preparation he did over his 12 months sidelined.

Although Witts' game continues to flourish on an individual level – he would be a near-certainty for the 40-man Therabody AFL All Australian squad at this point of the season – it's the 4-5 Suns he's more interested in.

"It'd b amazing to have success, not just for myself, but Dewy, Dave (Swallow), Sammy Day, Rory Thompson … it'd just mean so much to us.

"We've put in a lot of hard work and we'll continue to do it until we get there.

"I don't really know what it would feel like – you'll have to ask me when it happens."