A BARGAIN recruit less than two years ago, Gold Coast onballer Jarryd Lyons has risen to be one of the competition's top, and most underrated, midfielders.
On the back of a brilliant performance against Carlton last Saturday, Lyons became the first Sun other than Gary Ablett to enter the top-20 of the Schick AFL Player Ratings, at No.19.
Who needs Ablett anyway when Lyons is recording monster numbers as he did against the Blues, racking up 36 disposals, 26 contested possessions, 14 clearances, 10 inside-50s, a goal and a mammoth 919m gained.
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That's a mischievous contention because Ablett is a champion but Lyons is showing he thrives when handed greater responsibility.
The Suns love when Lyons wins the ball in tight – he has clean hands, impressive skills and a supreme football IQ that makes up for any athletic deficiencies.
He works hard defensively as well and is No.47 in the AFL for pressure acts since the start of last year.
He is the equal-ninth quickest person to reach the top 20 of the Player Ratings, measured by games, since the overall standings began in 2012.
For his former coach Rodney Eade though, Lyons' rise isn't a shock.
Between rounds three and 16 in 2017, he had fewer than 24 disposals just once. Lyons finished sixth in the best and fairest – won by Ablett – after an ankle injury sidelined him late in the campaign.
"He was a little bit slow to start and then he missed a couple of (pre-season) games but after that, his numbers were excellent, and so was the way he was able to win contested ball, so … (his rise) doesn't surprise me at all, because what I saw last year was a really positive sign that he was a very good footballer," Eade told AFL.com.au.
Making the 25-year-old's ascension sweeter for the Suns is how cheap he came. The trade at the end of 2016 saw them give up No.43 and 67 in that year's NAB AFL Draft, while also receiving No.71 in the process.
"We got him for a bargain," Eade said.
It wasn't as if Lyons hadn't shown what he could do yet either. That season, he established himself in Adelaide's best 22, managing 20 matches as the Crows made a semi-final.
But there were struggles earlier in his career with Lyons assigned the now-defunct green vest as the substitute player nine times.
While working to establish himself as a senior player, opposition interest did come. Melbourne and St Kilda were among the clubs seeking to secure the Victorian's services in 2014 before he eventually went to the Suns at the end of 2016.
Whether he stayed at Adelaide or left for Gold Coast was a decision he agonised over and while the Crows would have wanted to keep Lyons, they were handicapped partly by their pursuit of Bryce Gibbs, who they would not land until 12 months later.
In the end, the move made sense for Lyons, who was coming out of contract at the time. His relaxed nature suited the Gold Coast atmosphere and the club's three-year contract offer was more appealing than the Crows' proposal.
"There were a couple of clubs interested but he was keen to come to the Gold Coast," Eade said.
"We met him a couple of days before the trade period finished and we had a good conversation. Apart from his footy, he just seemed like a really good character."
The trade made plenty of sense for the Suns too. As much as Lyons wanted the opportunity to be the key pillar of a midfield group, they were desperate for an inside ball-winner.
A very handy plus was his durability, considering how injuries have restricted Gold Coast in recent years. It's good for Lyons too, apart from the obvious reason, because he's the type of player who needs continuity to be at his best.
He's a gun now and is respected by opposition teams. In round one, North Melbourne sent respected tagger Ben Jacobs to Lyons. The move worked, with Lyons restricted to 21 disposals in a game played in torrential rain – conditions tailor-made for his work on the inside – but Lyons nevertheless managed to contribute to the win with an important late snapped goal.
It was an interesting match-up, because the pair played together at the Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup, before Jacobs went at No.16 in the 2010 draft as a highly-rated midfielder, while Lyons was left until No.61.
Lyons has steadily improved since then. Since crossing to Gold Coast, he ranks No.4 in the AFL for loose ball gets, No.6 for centre bounce clearances and No.14 for contested possessions.
Those skills will again be necessary on Saturday as Gold Coast faces Fremantle at Optus Stadium.
Number of games from debut to reach the top 20 of the Player Ratings
1. Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs) – 35 matches
2. Max Gawn (Melbourne) – 57
3. Tom Liberatore (Western Bulldogs) – 64
4. Zac Williams (Greater Western Sydney) – 67
=5. Jack Steven (St Kilda) – 68
=5. Josh Kennedy (Sydney) – 68
6. Nic Naitanui (West Coast) – 71
7. Trent Cotchin (Richmond) – 74
=9. Dylan Shiel (Greater Western Sydney) – 75
=9. Jarryd Lyons (Gold Coast) – 75