Jack Bowes in action for Gold Coast against Carlton in round 21, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

GOLD Coast's list strategy during the Continental Tyres AFL Trade Period is a little bit different, but it's one the club is fully committed to.

Much like Geelong and Hawthorn in the past decade, who chose to prioritise experienced players ahead of draft talent in bids to remain perennial contenders, the Suns' strategy certainly bucks current convention.

And the success of it should not be judged now, but in the future.

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Gold Coast's attempt to move the heavily back-ended two-year contract of Jack Bowes by attaching a first-round draft pick (currently No.7) has understandably raised some eyebrows.

So too has the willingness to move on Brayden Fiorini, just 12 months after doing likewise with Will Brodie.

Both Bowes and Fiorini are aged 25 and under, were first-round draft selections, and are seemingly about to enter their prime (as Brodie showed with a brilliant first season Fremantle).

How can a club allow its salary cap get into the position where it needs to attach picks to quality players just to get them – and their money – off the books?

To understand the 'how', as well as the 'why', you need to turn the clock back a few years – and then do a little crystal-balling.


Gold Coast is not trying to move Bowes on in order get back under the cap. The club is doing so to get a jump-start on what it hopes will be a successful period ahead.

At the end of 2018, the Suns were rebuilding, and the club wasn't far short of a mess.

Tom Lynch had left via free agency to Richmond, while fellow co-captain Steven May fast-tracked his departure as a 'pre-agent' by going to Melbourne.

Jack Scrimshaw left, as did Kade Kolodjashnij and Jarryd Lyons.

The Suns were essentially starting from scratch.

Steven May and Tom Lynch after Gold Coast's win over Carlton in round two, 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

On the final night of a pre-season training camp in New Zealand, Jarrod Witts stood in the middle of a restaurant full of Suns to thank the players and club for the year.

He said he loved the club, that he couldn't wait to start the upcoming season and – raising his hand like a colossus – said "and the next five years", before he was mobbed by his teammates.

Witts' signature started an avalanche of long-term deals that aimed to stabilise the club. In 2019, David Swallow signed for five years, Bowes for five, Alex Sexton for four and Rory Thompson for four. These would be the pillars of the Suns over the next five years.

At the same time Gold Coast hit the draft – hard.

Watching Witts declare his long-term intention at that Queenstown restaurant in late 2018 were Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine and Ben King, all in their first three weeks at Carrara after being taken inside the first six picks at that year's NAB AFL Draft.

The next year it was Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Sam Flanders and Jeremy Sharp.

At the end of 2020 it was Elijah Hollands. That period also netted Connor Budarick, Malcolm Rosas jnr, Alex Davies and Joel Jeffrey via the club's Academy.

That's 11 players either drafted in the top 30, or capable of being taken that high if they weren't pre-selected Academy players.

Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine and Ben King after the 2018 NAB AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

If stabilising the list with long-term deals – many of them on generous contracts to ensure they stayed after the previous departures – was the first phase, retention of young talent was the next.

While so many high-end picks are great, it can also put the salary cap into difficulty in a real hurry.

Once the standard two-year contract is served, a player selected in the first round will often get the average AFL wage ($370,000) or higher for years three and four.

For the Suns, that means a big chunk of their cap can be consumed by players yet to fully prove themselves. They're paying on potential, rather than performance.

You could call it a necessary evil of having so many high draft picks.

The Suns have made mistakes that have forced this squeeze, too. Rory Atkins has done very little to justify his lengthy deal since coming from Adelaide, for instance.

Rory Atkins ahead of the clash against Melbourne in round two, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Ultimately, though, the move to free up salary cap space this off-season is a bet on the future.

After winning 10 games and having a percentage of 102 this season, Gold Coast should be playing finals in 2023 and pushing for the top four shortly after. Like Brisbane four years ago when it lured Lachie Neale and then Joe Daniher two years later, the Suns should soon be looking for that one star trade target or free agent to help tip them over the edge.

The only benefit – if you can call it that, because it's a huge loss – in Rankine deciding to return to Adelaide is the Suns have an extra $600,000-700,000 in their cap, and they will have even more room if Bowes and/or Fiorini leave.

The Suns are due to have even more space in 12-24 months when the deals for Sexton, Fiorini, Thompson (2023) and Witts, Swallow and Bowes (2024) all expire.

The moves in this off-season will only fast-track that and allow them to bring money forward if they need to, while keeping extra space for when they need it most.

Gold Coast's leaders, including Witts, Swallow and two-time All-Australian Touk Miller, are part of the list management strategy and are across what the club is doing.

With Anderson, Rowell, Miller and Swallow automatic midfield starters, and the likelihood of Davies and Flanders pushing their way into that group in the near future, the chances for Bowes and Fiorini to play regular senior footy in their preferred positions will be limited.

Touk Miller celebrates a goal in Gold Coast's clash with North Melbourne in round 23, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Bowes has slid down the pecking order since he inked his long extension in 2019.

After being thrown into various roles in his first few seasons, the Cairns product – who came through the club's Academy program and was taken with the No.10 pick in the 2016 draft – found a home at half-back, with his calm head and good decision-making the hallmark of his game.

However, prior to last pre-season, Bowes told coach Stuart Dew he wanted to win a spot in the midfield – the position he excelled in as a junior.

He trained there during the pre-season until a tackle on Rowell went wrong and forced Bowes into having surgery that would sideline him for four months.

By the time he returned mid-season, Gold Coast's midfield was humming and the only avenue for a return to the AFL team was again in the backline after the Suns suffered some injuries in that part of the ground.

Bowes is 187cm, talented and hard-working, and like Brodie last season, might see an opportunity to flourish elsewhere.

Gold Coast's strategy is different, and one that could blow up in a few years if the club continues to miss finals.

But we could just as likely be sitting back in five years looking at this move as one of great foresight.