THE FINALS flame is still flickering for Gold Coast after a thrilling three-point win over West Coast at Metricon Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
In a game that had everything from high-flying marks to simple mistakes and wild fluctuations in scoring, the Suns staved off a valiant Eagles fightback to win 16.11 (107) to 16.8 (104).
Their ninth victory for the season leaves them two wins outside the top eight with three rounds remaining. They face Hawthorn in Launceston, Geelong at home and North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium to finish the season.
The win was anything but easy, though, as the Eagles played with dare and bold ball movement after half-time.
SUNS V EAGLES Full match details and stats
Gold Coast led by 37 points late in the second quarter, had it whittled down to 13 in the third, re-established a 31-point buffer early in the fourth and eventually hung on by the skin of their teeth.
Jake Waterman got the visitors back within three points with 45 seconds remaining to set up a tense finish, but a centre clearance to Matt Rowell and goal to Mal Rosas jnr ultimately iced the victory for the hosts, despite Jamaine Jones kicking the Eagles' seventh goal for the final term right on the siren.
The free-scoring affair was full of highlights, with Mabior Chol kicking a career-high five goals in his 50th game and Jack Darling kicking six at the other end in a vintage display.
Ultimately it was Gold Coast's midfielders that had just enough of the ball and just enough advantage. The Suns won the clearance battle by 15 and the inside 50 tally by 17, to provide just enough opportunities.
Touk Miller continued his wonderful 2022, finishing with 31 disposals, 16 clearances and 10 tackles, while the always-improving Noah Anderson (29 and six clearances was not far behind. Both men added three direct goal assists to their big days.
While it was Darling that helped orchestrate the fourth quarter surge for West Coast with two of his half dozen goals, Tom Barrass was just as critical at the other end, flying for intercept marks and saving precarious situation after precarious situation.
Following a slow start where they conceded the first two goals, the Suns upped their defensive pressure and began forcing West Coast into repeated errors from their back half.
Chol and Izak Rankine kicked two goals apiece to give the home team a 15-point buffer at the first change, which was aided by a couple of poor Eagles misses from close range.
The second quarter was played largely on Gold Coast's terms as they locked the ball inside 50 and forced turnovers when it came out.
Miller and Anderson were feasting on the ruck work of Jarrod Witts, while brilliant snaps from Rankine and Rosas jnr finished off the midfielders' work.
More Izak Rankine magic
In what has been an almost weekly occurrence this season, Gold Coast dynamo Izak Rankine set Metricon Stadium alight with a piece of first quarter magic. Lining up for a set shot from outside 50m, Rankine took the full 30 seconds before starting his approach and was called to play on. In a piece of incredible improvisation, the young South Australian chipped the ball over his oncoming defender to Touk Miller, ran past him to receive a handball back and then straightened up from a slight angle to thread through a most brilliant goal.
Jai Culley's stray elbow
West Coast's mid-season draftee Jai Culley will almost certainly come under scrutiny from the Match Review Officer following a second quarter incident with Noah Anderson. After the ball had cleared congestion and been gathered by Anderson, Culley came in to apply pressure, but that's when things went awry. Just as Anderson handballed it away, Culley lifted his right elbow and struck the young Sun in the head. The one saving grace is Anderson bounced back to his feet and played the game out, but it wasn't a good look from the third-gamer.
Air Mabs v Flyin' Ryan
It promised to be a match of highlights and two of the high-flyers did not disappoint. Late in the third quarter it was Mabior Chol, playing his 50th game, using another milestone man Andrew Gaff (in his 250th) as a stepladder to take a towering mark. But not to be outdone, 'Flyin' Liam Ryan had his turn just minutes into the fourth quarter when he went soaring above Sean Lemmens to pull down a mark right on the goal-line.
GOLD COAST 5.1 10.5 13.8 16.11 (107)
WEST COAST 2.4 5.5 9.7 16.8 (104)
Gold Coast: Chol 5, Rankine 3, Rosas Jnr 2, Sharp 2, Ainsworth, Anderson, Casboult, Holman
West Coast: Darling 6, Petruccelle 3, Redden 2, Ryan 2, Cripps, Jones, Waterman
Gold Coast: Miller, Anderson, Witts, Rankine, Swallow, Sharp
West Coast: Darling, Barrass, Foley, Hurn, Redden, Kelly
Gold Coast: Nil
West Coast: Culley (hamstring)
Gold Coast: Brandon Ellis (shoulder) replaced in selected side by Oleg Markov
West Coast: Nil
Gold Coast: Hewago Oea (unused)
West Coast: Hugh Dixon (replaced Jai Culley in the fourth quarter)