Submitted by Peter Blucher.
Mabior Chol was a ‘free hit’ for the Gold Coast Suns in the trade period last November. An unrestricted free agent with an open ticket to go wherever he wanted. And happily for the Suns he wanted to come ‘home’ to Queensland.
A much-improved four-year contract at Metricon Stadium secured the Chol signature in the face of strong interest elsewhere, and on Sunday afternoon he made a down payment on the club’s investment with the best game of his career in one of the Suns’ best wins under coach Stuart Dew.
Chol kicked a career-best four goals as the Suns, coming off an outstanding Round 8 win over fifth-placed Sydney in Sydney, accounted for second-placed Fremantle by 36 points at Metricon.
He was judged the second-best player on the ground by Dew and Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir, polling eight votes in the AFL Coaches Association player of the year award. Only Suns co-captain (9) was rated more highly.
But Miller delivered what Miller always delivered. For Chol it was a breakout game. Not that he has been poor in the earlier rounds. He just hadn’t been that good.
The 25-year-old Sudanese refugee was athletic and exciting. His numbers were not huge but it seemed like every time the Suns looked dangerous up forward he was involved.
He had a career-best four contested marks and a career-best six shots at goal as the Suns, under siege a fortnight ago, continued a mini revival that has breathed new life into the club’s fortunes.
It’s not the first time the Suns have won two on the trot in Dew’s 92-game rein. The won Rounds 1-2 in 2018, Rounds 2-3-4 in 2019-20 and Rounds 6-7 and 16-17 in 2021.
But given the standing of their two latest scalps it is cause for genuine enthusiasm. And Chol, with 19 goals in nine games this year after 24 goals in 31 games at Richmond, is a big part of the reason.
The former Yeronga South Brisbane, Aspley and Brisbane Lions Academy squad member, drafted to Richmond in the rookie draft in 2015, had been six years at Punt Road.
He’d learned the caper of AFL football as a member of the support cast during Richmond’s triple premiership stint form 2017-20 and beyond but played only seven of his 31 games in the first half a season. He was back-up. He needed more opportunity and greater responsibility.
His free agency status, in place because he was de-listed and re-drafted in 2018, ensured he was in hot demand. But he chose the club that could best meet his wants and needs. A chance to play regularly as a marking forward, with an occasional run in the ruck.
The Suns’ plan was for him to play alongside highly rated full forward Ben King in attack, and spell co-captain Jarrod Witts on the ball.
But when a knee injury in February meant King’s 2022 season was over before it even began things changed. Without King the Suns picked up Carlton cast-off Levi Casboult, and Chol’s importance grew.
As good as 32-year-old Casboult has been in his 11th season in the AFL, with 20 goals in nine games, Chol has been a standout. As Dew put it, he’s been ‘fantastic’ for the club on and off the field.
The prospect of Chol playing alongside a fit and firing King next year is exciting.
Exciting, too, for Brisbane Lions fans was the return by Eric Hipwood 10 months after a knee reconstruction in their 36-point win over Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday night.
He didn’t set the world on fire, as was to be expected after such a long layoff, but he set up a goal for Charlie Cameron with his first involvement and finished with 11 possessions, four marks and a career-best four goal assists.
Most importantly, he ran and jumped without any apparent concern for his knee, which buckled against St.Kilda in Round 17 last year to deny him a place in the 2021 finals.
Hipwood was among a season-high six Queenslanders in the Lions side that took the club where no Brisbane side has ever been before. To an 8-1 start to the season.
This surpassed the 1996 effort of the Brisbane Bears at 7-2, and, with the Suns doing the Lions a favor by knocking off Fremantle, sees them outright second on the ladder a game behind under Melbourne.
Cameron and captain Dayne Zorko were two Lions standouts. Cameron kicked four goals to jump to sixth on the Coleman Medal leaderboard with 23, while Zorko had 26 possessions and kicked two goals.
They picked up seven votes apiece in the coaches voting behind best afield Lachie Neale.
Keidean Coleman, too, continued his smooth return to the side, showing great composure and decision making across half back and sneaking forward to kick a goal.
GWS Queenslander Brayden Preuss was also in the votes in his side’s loss to Carlton, picking up one after he had 15 possessions, including an equal career-best 12 contested possessions, 44 hit-outs and a career-best four contested marks. Teammate Sam Taylor was the only other Giant in the voting with two.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.