As they say in the classics, it was a big weekend for Queensland football. Especially on the Gold Coast. And for all sorts of reasons.
The Gold Coast Suns emerged from a tumultuous week to post the biggest win in club history, Nick Riewoldt confirmed he is still a marvel of the AFL, and, at the other end of the scale, Braydon Preuss won rave reviews yet again.
No less than six Queenslanders scored 100 Champion Data ranking points as three ex-Suns and three “coodabeen” Suns were among the other Queensland standouts.
It could not have been any worse for the Suns after their 102-point loss to the GWS Giants in Round 2 followed an upset loss to the Brisbane Lions in Round 1.
The club was said to be in disarray as Gary Ablett was besieged by the media for a lack lustre performance against the Giants and accused of being disinterested.
Coach Rodney Eade, too, felt the media blowtorch.
But against Hawthorn at Metricon Stadium on Sunday the Suns put out the fires with a masterful performance.
They beat the power club of the past decade by 86 points, surpassing their previous biggest of 83 points against GWS at Metricon in 2013 and sentencing the Hawks to an 0-3 start to the season.
Having never scored 100 points in eight previous meetings against Hawthorn they did so before three-quarter time and finished with 21-13 (139). The highest score of the round.
Among the better players for the Suns in his first AFL game of the season was veteran defender Jarrod Harbrow. He had 26 possessions, seven marks, four tackles and a goal for 103 Champion Data points.
Alex Sexton, too, was a star. He had 25 possessions, one shy of his career best, to go with seven marks and seven inside 50s.
Rory Thompson was rock solid in defence with 12 possessions and eight one-percenters, Jesse Joyce had 19 possessions and Jack Bowes had 11 possessions in his first AFL win.
Riewoldt, arguably the tourist strip’s most famous AFL product, was nothing short of magnificent in leading St.Kilda to a 31-point win over the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium Sunday.
At 34 Riewoldt continues to be a marvel.
Fifteen days after it was feared his season and even his career may have been over following a nasty knee injury the former Saints skipper had 28 possessions, 12 marks, three goals and 161 Champion Data ranking points.
It was the third-highest Champion Data score of the round behind only Adelaide’s Rory Sloane (168) and St.Kilda teammate Leigh Montagna (164).
In the same game Tom Hickey, who began his career at the Suns, earned 112 Champion Data points for 15 possessions, 33 hit-outs, five clearances and seven tackles.
And Sam Gilbert had 13 possessions as he enjoyed his 102nd AFL win to move to outright second on the all-time Queensland list ahead of Che Cockatoo-Collins.
Dayne Zorko, zoned to the Suns before being traded by the club to the Lions, earned 109 Champion Data points for 26 possessions, seven clearances, nine tackles and a goal against St.Kilda.
Zorko is the only Queenslander to have posted 100 CD points three weeks in a row.
Brisbane captain Dayne Beams, another Gold Coaster who knocked back the opportunity to begin his AFL career as a foundation Suns player, also had 109 Champion Data points. He had 30 possessions, five marks, four clearances, eight tackles and a goal.
In the same game, Harris Andrews had 12 possessions and 10 one-percenters, Tom Bel 15 possessions and a goal, and Eric Hipwood a quiet two possessions for the Lions.
It goes on. Zac Smith, another former Gold Coast Sun, had 127 Champion Data points in Geelong’s win over Melbourne – the second-highest CD score by a Queenslander this year.
Smith, returning to the side after an injury-delayed start to the season, had 17 disposals, 38 hit-outs, four clearances and a goal.
Also, Charlie Dixon, another former Sun, was among Port Adelaide’s better players with 12 possessions (nine contested), five marks, four hit-outs, six tackles and a goal in their Showdown loss to the Adelaide Crows.
Completing the ‘coodabeen’ Suns stories was Preuss, who is a product of the Gold Coast Academy before being overlooked by the club and ultimately drafted by North Melbourne.
In just his third AFL game the 21-year was lauded by no less than AFL legends Jason Dunstall and Kevin Bartlett in commentary on his performance against GWS in Hobart.
Said Dunstall: “What he is doing in just his third game is incredible … and he doesn’t have an AFL background. His craft is so good”.
Added Bartlett: “He’s going to be a star … what he’s done so far is quite extraordinary”.
Nick Dal Santo, recently retired former North teammate, joined the Preuss fan club when he said what he liked most was that his game was based so much on effort. “The boys at North love him,” said Dal Santo.
The stats painted a remarkable picture. He had 16 possessions (11 contested), nine marks (four contested), 26 hit-outs, four clearances and kicked two goals. And all against GWS ruck colossus Shane Mumford.
His 11 contested possessions was second most for North behind only captain Jack Ziebell (14).
His four contested marks was twice as many as any other North player.
His 26 hit-outs was almost triple that of much-admired teammate Todd Goldstein.
And he was North’s only multiple goal-kicker.
He had a team-high 105 AFL fantasy points, equal with Ziebell, but only 87 Champion Data points because his disposal efficiency was only 50%.
In the same game, GWS Queenslander Sam Reid had 19 possessions and kicked two goals. It was only the second time in 32 AFL games the former Sunshine Coaster has kicked multiple goals.
Fremantle’s Lachie Weller, a Tasmanian-born Gold Coast junior product who didn’t qualify as a Suns Academy choice because he didn’t live on the tourist strip long enough, also had a good weekend.
Weller had 19 possessions and a goal in Fremantle’s shock win over the Western Bulldogs, while fellow Queenslander Lee Spurr had 14 possessions.
Collingwood’s Jesse White (15 possessions, eight marks and a goal) and Josh Smith (19 possessions) also enjoyed their first win of the season as the Pies upset Sydney, who were well-served by Aliir Aliir (12 possessions and six tackles).
Brendan Whitecross had 12 possessions for Hawthorn in his first game of the year.
The only disappointing AFL news from the weekend was Josh Wagner’s broken thumb in his return from injury in the VFL. The young Melbourne defender will miss four-five weeks.
In the same practice match, though, Jake Spencer confirmed he is ready to take over from injured Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn with another solid effort for Casey in the VFL.
Spencer, an emergency for each of the first three rounds, had 12 disposals and 30 hit-outs and according to coach Justin Plapp “was able to mark the ball really well around the ground”.
In the NEAFL, Claye Beams kept his name front of mind with the Lions selectors with another good effort in the Lions Reserves win over the NT Thunder in Darwin. Matthew Hammelmann (three goals), Archie Smith and Jono Freeman (two goals) also played well.
By Peter Blucher