Submitted by Peter Blucher.
The Gold Coast SUNS have showcased the heart-warming reach of AFL football as they contemplate a nine-week stretch which will be either the most exciting time in club history, or an all-too-familiar late season fade-out.
Having beaten the Adelaide Crows by 43 points at Metricon Stadium on Sunday, the SUNS warmed the hearts of fans when the grandfather of 12th-gamer Alex Davies joined the players’ circle for the celebratory rendition of the club song.
Davies, who grew up in Cairns and is a product of the SUNS Academy, has Japanese heritage from his mother’s side and had welcomed his grandfather to Australia for his first ‘live’ AFL game.
Dressed in full SUNS colors, which he is said to wear often at home, his grandfather was also spotted hugging coach Stuart Dew after the pair had traded a goal umpire finger-pointing salute, which is such a fascination to people overseas.
The warmth in the SUNS rooms and the unity within the club was palpably obvious as the SUNS kept their finals hopes alive with a commanding win over an unpredictable Adelaide.
It sees the club 11th on the ladder with a 7-6 win/record in their 12th AFL campaign – more advanced at the equivalent point this year than every year except one.
In 2014 they were 8th with eight wins from 13 games before a season-ending injury to Gary Ablett in Round 16, when they posted their ninth win, effectively ended their finals tilt. They lost six of their last seven to finish 12th.
The SUNS’ win tally after 13 games year by year since they joined the AFL in 2011 has been 2-1-5-8-2-3-5-3-3-4-4-7. Their corresponding ladder position has been 18-17-13-8-17-16-14-15-17-11-16-11.
But close observers inside and outside the camp say there is a different feel about the place this year and offer as vindication the fact that they have lost only once by more than five goals – to Brisbane in Round 6. Last year they suffered seven five-goal losses.
Also, this year they have registered some quality wins, most notably by 36 points over third-placed Fremantle and 30 points over fifth-placed Carlton at Metricon, and by 14 points over seventh-placed Sydney in Sydney.
Significantly, too, their percentage after 13 games is 111.6. Their previous best at the corresponding time was 105.8 in 2014, and only twice in the other 10 years has it been above 90.0.
But the SUNS’ timing is poor. With West Coast and North Melbourne having tailed off so badly, each with just one win in 13 games, the cut-off mark for a spot in the finals this year is tipped to be as high as 13 wins with a good percentage.
This has happened only once since the SUNS joined the competition in 2011 – in 2015 North took 8th spot with 13 wins and a percentage of 106.5, leaving Port Adelaide 9th with 12 wins and a percentage of 106.8.
If 13 is the target this year, the SUNS will need six wins from their last nine games.
Happily for Queensland fans, they play six sides currently outside the top eight – Port Adelaide (12th), Essendon (16th), Hawthorn (14th) and North Melbourne (18th) away, and Collingwood (9th) and West Coast (17th) at home.
But even one slip-up means they would have to account for either Richmond (6th) or Geelong (4th) at home, or current ladder leaders Brisbane at the Gabba to reach 13 wins.
As the SUNS are locked in a battle for a position at the bottom of the top eight and the competition re-sets after the three shortened bye rounds, the Lions are in a jam at the top of the ladder, with one win separating the top five sides.
It’s Brisbane, Melbourne and Fremantle with 40 premiership points from Geelong and Carlton (36). Making up the sides still in finals contention are Richmond, Sydney, St.Kilda and Collingwood (32), Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast (28) and Port Adelaide (24).
As the run to the finals begins, Round 15 is a dream for the League, with the top eight sides playing each other. It’s 1 v 2, 3 v 5, 4 v 6 and 7 v 8.
It is just the fifth time since the introduction of the top eight system in 1994 when each of the top eight sides play each other. The others were Round 11 1995, Round 21 1998, Round 7 2008 and Round 17 2012.
Also this weekend we will see 11 v 12 in a virtual elimination final between Gold Coast and Port.
Already looking to next year are GWS (13th), Hawthorn (14th), Adelaide (15th), Essendon (16th), North (17th) and West Coast (18th).
The draw will be critical as the Lions chase a top two finish which will be critical given the fact that Fremantle is in top tour contention. Home finals are a prized incentive.
Brisbane have five games against top eight sides, including premiers Melbourne twice, and have four interstate trips. In order, they will play Melbourne (away), Western Bulldogs and Essendon (home), GWS in Canberra, Gold Coast at home, Richmond away, Carlton at home, St.Kilda away and Melbourne at home.
Melbourne also have to play five top eight sides and make three interstate trips. They play Brisbane (H), Adelaide (A), Geelong in Geelong, Port Adelaide and Western Bulldogs (H), Fremantle (A), Collingwood and Carlton (H) and Brisbane (A).
Fremantle have five top eight sides still to play and five interstate trips. They play Carlton (A), Port (H), St.Kilda (A), Sydney (H), Richmond (A), Melbourne (H), Bulldogs (A), the derby against West Coast and GWS (A).
Geelong have only four top eight sides and two interstate tips, and they have five games in Geelong. They play Richmond at the MCG, North and Melbourne in Geelong, Carlton at the MCG, Port in Adelaide, Bulldogs and StKilda in Geelong, Gold Coast on the tourist strip and West Coast in Geelong.
Carlton have the toughest run of the top five sides, with six games against top eight opposition on top of three interstate trips. They round out the home-and-away season against Richmond at the MCG, Fremantle and St.Kilda at Marvel Stadium, West Coast in Perth, Geelong at the MCG, GWS at Marvel, Adelaide in Adelaide, Brisbane at the Gabba, and Melbourne and Collingwood at the MCG.
With the Lions having a bye, only 10 Queenslanders were in action last weekend.
The highly-rated Jack Bowes, coming off a disrupted preparation, made his long-awaited return to the AFL side off the substitute’s bench. But sadly, he was injected into the game when fellow Queenslander Connor Budarick, starting to hit his straps in his comeback from a knee reconstruction, went down with a hamstring problem.
Caleb Graham played 100% game time as he continued to find his feet in defence, while Mabior Chol kicked three goals to take his season tally to 27. He sits equal 11th on the Coleman Medal leaderboard.
Ben Keays had 27 possessions for the Crows and after 13 games he has 385 possessions to sit 7th on the League list. Only Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver (448), Brisbane’s Lachie Neale (421), Bulldogs’ Jack Macrae (416), Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw (404), Essendon’s Darcy Parish (395) and Carlton’s Sam Walsh (386) are ahead of him.
There were more headlines to emerge from the GWS camp after their 20-point loss to the Bulldogs in Sydney, with ruckman Brayden Preuss copping an ankle injury and his third one-match suspension in seven games this season after he was reported for a dangerous tackle.
Fellow Queenslander Lachie Keeffe, playing his 50th game for the GIANTS after 40 games at Collingwood, found himself rucking virtually solo and was one of the standouts in a beaten side with 13 possessions, 24 hit-outs and four tackles.
Charlie Dixon got through his third comeback game with Port Adelaide, starting to look more like his normal self with 14 possessions and two goals in their 23-point home win over Sydney.
The Swans’ Tom Hickey returned from injury in the VFL side, and with Peter Ladhams receiving a one-week suspension Hickey is set to resume his #1 ruck role this week.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.