Submitted by Peter Blucher.
Alex Sexton will go into the AFL off-season one very motivated person after emerging from 140 days of football exile to deliver a goal-kicking exhibition bettered by only two players in Gold Coast Suns history.
Sexton returned to the SUNS side on Saturday for the first time since Round 3 and kicked a career-best six goals, grabbing a slice of club history as they closed out the 2022 season with a 67-point win over North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium.
It was the biggest goal haul by a Gold Coast player in 103 games since Tom Lynch, now at Richmond, kicked eight in Round 2 2018.
Only Lynch, also with a bag of seven in red and yellow, and Charlie Dixon, who also kicked seven in a game once for the SUNS before moving to Port Adelaide, have bettered Sexton’s six of Saturday afternoon.
Others to have kicked six goals in a game for the Suns have been Dixon (twice) and fellow foundation players Brandon Matera and Harley Bennell.
It was a stunning return in his 158th game for the 28-year-old forward, who now has kicked 163 goals to rank second on the SUNS all-time list behind Lynch (254) and fourth on the games list behind David Swallow (197), Jarrod Harbrow (192) and Touk Miller (160).
Sexton, a product of the Springwood Pumas via the Redland Bombers, was dropped after Round 3 following a slow start to his 11th AFL season.
Coming off an injury-disrupted preparation, he was the unused medical sub in Round 1, had three possessions in Round 2 and six possessions and one goal in Round 3 to lose his senior berth.
It was a powerhouse reminder of the importance of a good, strong pre-season campaign, and will ensure Sexton is 100% focussed as he hopes for an injury-free 2022-23 off-season.
Sexton was the shining light in a Round 23 SUNS win that saw them equal their best overall result of 10 wins and finish with a percentage 102.8 – the first time they have scored more points than they have conceded.
SUNS IN SUMMARY
Individually, it was a mixed season for Queenslanders at the Suns.
Mabior Chol was a resounding success overall after joining the club as a free agent. He played every game and despite a tired finish he was the club’s leading goal-kicker with 43 – 16th in the League and 5th best season in SUNS history behind Tom Lynch (66-46-44) and Ben King (47).
Caleb Graham, who recently signed a four-year contract extension, continued his growth. He played a personal best 15 games as a shut down tall defender and finished 8th in the League in aggregate spoils and 2nd in average spoils.
Alex Davies, who debuted in Round 23 last year, played 15 games and did enough to suggest he will be a regular in 2023, while Lachie Weller (11 games) and Connor Budarick (9 games) had their 2022 campaigns ended early by knee reconstructions.
Rory Thompson was one of the feel-good stories of the year when he played his first game since 2018 in Round 8, but sadly a Round 10 injury ended his AFL season.
Jack Bowes is the interesting one. A Cairns junior who joined the Suns as pick #10 in the 2016 National Draft and played 78 games in his first five seasons, Bowes played just five AFL games in Rounds 14-15-16-17-18 after a delayed start due to injury but finished 2022 out of the top side on merit.
NON-FINALISTS IN REVIEW
The season ended last weekend for seven Queensland players from the non-finalists.
North Melbourne’s Bailey Scott played 21 of 22 games in a breakout year. He averaged 18.2 possessions to rank fourth on the Kangaroos’ list – up from 12.8 last year. A big plus.
Aliir Aliir, a 2021 All-Australian at Port Adelaide, had another solid 19-game year without being quite the same standout, while Charlie Dixon, a 2020 All-Australian at Port, missed the first 10 games through injury, returned prematurely due to the club’s dire circumstances, and got better as the year went on in a role which featured more time in the ruck.
Ben Keays, who shared the captaincy at times at Adelaide, was his side’s No.2 ball-winner behind Rory Laird, averaging 26.6 possessions a game. This was down on his 28.1 average of 2021 due mainly to a change in roles late in the season when he was taken out of the midfield and used as a defensive forward.
Elliott Himmelberg finished with an equal career-best 11 games and 14 goals, but after playing the first nine games of the year he added only two more in Rounds 20-21.
At GWS, Lachie Keeffe, who debuted in the AFL in 2011, played 18 games to equal his best season of 2014 at Collingwood. He was used as a fix-it player in attack and defence, and even as a makeshift ruckman, and is expected to be rewarded with another contract for 2023.
Brayden Preuss had a frustrating season at GWS. Having not played at all in his first year in orange in 2021, he chalked up 10 games but was frustrated by three different suspensions and recurring injury problems.
IN THE FINALS
Seven Queenslanders are set to play a role in the AFL finals – Brisbane’s Dayne Zorko, Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood, Charlie Cameron, Keidean Coleman, Jack Payne and possibly Tom Fullarton, Sydney’s Tom Hickey and Richmond’s Noah Cumberland.
Noah Cumberland, who will return ‘home’ to the Gabba to take on the Lions in the qualifying final on Thursday week (1 September), has been one of the boom successes of 2022. An unused medical sub on debut in Round 11, the Maroochydore junior had to wait until Round 17 for an active role but grew immeasurably from that point on.
Indeed, in the last seven rounds Cumberland’s 18 goals was bettered only by one player in the competition – teammate Tom Lynch. He finished 4-4-8-5 for 21 goals in the last seven rounds.
Set to watch the finals from inside the Tigers camp after not getting a chance at AFL level in the home-and-away season are Zillmere junior Will Martyn and Sherwood junior Ryan Samson.
Tom Hickey will go into his second consecutive finals season with Sydney in good form and fitness after a wretched first half of 2022. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that the Swans’ six-win streak heading into September has coincided with Hickey’s return to the side ahead of his qualifying final with Melbourne at the MCG on Friday week (2 September).
Oscar Baker, an Aspley draftee, will be among the Melbourne players in the support crew for the Demons after not playing at AFL level this year.
The Brisbane group are collectively in re-set mode after last Friday night’s loss to Melbourne, with Sunshine Coast pair Jack Payne and Tom Fullarton keeping a close eye on selection.
With captain Dayne Zorko, vice-captain Harris Andrews, All-Australian squad member Charlie Cameron, Keidean Coleman and Eric Hipwood are guaranteed selections after 19-21-22-15-14 home-and-away games respectively, Jack Payne and Tom Fullarton are on the edge.
Payne has played nine games this year, including Rounds 22-23 when Marcus Adams was sidelined by injury, while Fullarton has played only four games, including Rounds 17-18.
Among the Lions’ other Queenslanders, Connor McFadyen and Blake Coleman will play in the VFL finals, but sadly Carter Michael will miss after season-ending shoulder surgery.
Peter is a consultant for Vivid Sport.