Submitted by Peter Blucher
Gold Coast medical staff have confirmed the worst… that the one player who has arguably invested most in the club’s long-term future will miss the charge to what could be the club’s greatest moment: reaching their first AFL Premiership Finals Series.
Lachie Weller will be sidelined for up to 12 months after his knee collapsed in Saturday’s 62-point win over North Melbourne in Darwin.
Among the club’s top-end talent without being their best player or their most important player, Weller is the poster boy for the SUNS’ recruiting team. After so many SUNS players had quit the League’s 17th club, he was the one young player who at a cornerstone moment of his career chose to ignore interstate alternatives to play on the Gold Coast.
Not for an over-sized contract or because he was unwanted elsewhere. Or because he was squeezed out by salary cap constraints.
He was a Queenslander drafted to Fremantle and offered a similar long-term deal at Fremantle who wanted to come home and make his football future in red and yellow. He made a statement that is starting to get some shared traction. And not just from the likes of co-captains Touk Miller and Jarrod Witts, and the club’s longest and most loyal servant, David Swallow.
The vote of confidence is coming from the likes of Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson and the injured Ben King, who have committed to the club beyond the standard draftee’s contract, and Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine, who are reportedly set to do likewise.
Like Weller, they have made a statement that they believe in the SUNS’ future.
It is dreadfully disappointing, then, that Weller will be sidelined as the SUNS make what shapes as a real charge at their first finals appearance after back-to-back wins in Darwin in Rounds 11-12.
Sitting 11th on the AFL ladder with a 6-6 record and a percentage of 108.0, they have never been better placed to challenge the top eight.
It’s not the best ladder position they have enjoyed 12 games into a season – they were 7th at 7-5 in 2014 with percentage of 102.6 only to lose superstar Gary Ablett to injury to go 3-7 in the last 10 rounds to finish 12th with a percentage of 93.7.
But it’s the best launching pad. No longer so reliant on player as they were with Ablett, they have put together a launching pad that makes a mockery of the club’s standing after 12 games in every other year.
From 2011 their win after 12 games reads 2-0-5-6-1-3-5-3-3-4-4. More telling is their 12-game percentage that was 53.8, 56.7 and 92.5 in their first three years. And after the one-off climb in 2014 went 66.3, 70.9, 88.1, 64.5, 70.1, 98.0 and 90.4.
The signs have been promising in the last two years before an all-too-familiar fadeout, but finally the football world is starting to believe that this is real.
The SUNS’ fixture is a long way from the hardest. After a bye this week they will play only three top teams presently in the top eight in the last 10 games. Ladder-wise, they will play teams 14-12-8-10-16-2-18-13-4-17.
More specifically, it’s Adelaide (home), Port Adelaide (away), Collingwood (home), Richmond (home), Essendon (away), Brisbane (away), West Coast (home), Hawthorn (away), Geelong (home), North Melbourne (away).
Significantly, they face Collingwood (8th), a rejuvenating Richmond (10th) and Geelong (4th) at home, and local rivals Brisbane (2nd) at the Gabba.
Weller, enjoying some on the wing of later after playing predominantly at half back, had been a good player for the Suns until injured on Saturday night and ranks fourth among the club’s possession winners this season.
He averages 20.5 possessions per game, behind only Miller (28.3), Anderson (25.1) and Brandon Ellis (20.6), and leads the Suns in rebound 50s.
Fellow Queenslander Connor Budarick was another standard for the Suns against the Roos with a career-high 25 possessions – his first 20+ game in his 24th game.
Budarick, seven games back from a knee reconstruction, certainly impressed the coaches, polling six votes in the AFLCA player of the year award. Only Miller (10) and Rowell (7) were ranked ahead of him ahead of what will be an even more important role in Weller’s absence.
Gold Coast Academy graduate Bailey Scott, playing his third game against the Suns after electing to play with North under father/son rules, had 14 possessions but was left with an 0-3 record against the Suns his ‘coodabeen’ club.
In the first of the abbreviated bye rounds, Adelaide Queenslander Ben Keays was a standout in the Crows’ 31-point win over West Coast at Adelaide Oval. Keays had 29 possessions for two votes.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.