We have looked at the likely bottom three for 2016 and now head a little further up the ladder with one of the most disappointing sides of 2015 and a club at the crossroads
Gold Coast Suns (15th)
Injuries and ill-discipline – the simplest way to describe the Suns in 2015. The number of serious, long-term injuries seemed as incomprehensible as the quality of players missing time. Gary Ablett, Jaeger O’Meara, David Swallow and Dion Prestia all missed significant amounts of time while Charlie Dixon, Jack Martin and Harley Bennell committed off-field indiscretions. For Bennell and Dixon it cost them their career on the Gold Coast, and 2016 figures to be a critical point in time for this club as it looks to establish its identity.
B: Jarrod Harbrow, Steven May, Adam Saad
HB: Kade Kolodjashnij, Rory Thompson, Nick Malceski
C: Jaeger O’Meara, David Swallow, Jack Martin
HF: Aaron Hall, Tom Lynch, Touk Miller
F: Jarrod Grant, Sam Day, Brandon Matera
FOLL: Tom Nicholls, Gary Ablett, Dion Prestia
I/C: Michael Rischitelli, Matt Rosa, Mitch Hallahan, Jesse Lonergan
In Day and Lynch the Suns have one of the more impressive, yet understated young forward pairs in the AFL. Both may pinch hit in the ruck but above all else they are the foundation of this forward line and justifiably so. Lynch is coming off a season where he kicked 43 goals and led the league in contested marks per game and at just 23 years of age he figures to come on even further in 2016.
Grant joins the club after a woefully underwhelming career at the Western Bulldogs and coach Rodney Eade will be hoping he can deliver on some of the promise that exists in his athletic 193cm frame; if he can play the third forward role that the Suns so desire this move is a success. As far as small forwards go, Brandon Matera is as talented as most but his work ethic and consistency are highly questionable while the high half-forward turnstile should see Miller and Hall play significant roles after excellent seasons in 2015 when injury created opportunity.
Forward line rating – 4/10
There is a significant amount of talent here, and as is the case up forward in Lynch and Day the Suns trot out key position players in May and Thompson who are not as highly regarded as some others around the league but still highly effective. Third year player Kolodjashnij was a revelation in 2015, averaging over 20 possessions and ranking among the league leader in rebound 50s as he used his foot skills to great effect.
Malceski was one of the AFL’s great disappointments in 2015, coming to the Suns with a huge reputation and a contract to match but failing to deliver anything but consistent mediocrity. He will be expected to improve in 2016 but at almost 32 years of age one wonders whether the game has gone past him, or he has the work ethic to keep up with the increased demands.
Backline rating – 5/10
If you forget the fact all four are coming off injuries, the midfield quartet of Ablett, O’Meara, Swallow and Prestia contains more natural talent than almost any other in the AFL. Add exciting young ruckman Tom Nicholls to the mix, and most clubs would move heaven and earth to get their hands on this Fab Five.
That is far too simplistic a view given the extenuating circumstances with Ablett going on 33 years of age and O’Meara having missed 12 months of football. Swallow and Prestia are arguably the lesser lights of the four but are no less important, both having excelled in their young career and theoretically still 24-36 months from their prime at just 23.
Beyond the studs, the likes of Rosa and Rischitelli provide stability but very little scope for improvement while Martin looks set to explode provided he can stay on the tracks off-field.
Midfield rating – 5/10
They play Fremantle twice, but no other 2015 finalists as they double up against the Giants, Bombers, Demons and Lions with their first four weeks featuring winnable clashes with Carlton, Brisbane and Essendon. Two trips to Perth and no Friday night football are not surprising given last season’s struggles, but on the plus side they have been handed an AFL-lowest four 6-day breaks.
It is clear that the AFL don’t see them as a commercial attraction, but this draw is far from challenging and one from which the Suns can possibly generate some momentum.
Fixture rating – 6/10
Rodney Eade is one of the more experienced, respected figures in the industry but his first season as Suns coach was a nightmare. He could not have been handed a worse injury hand but the volume of major off-field distractions were an indictment on his ability to impart a changed culture on the club.
Suspending Dixon, Bennell, Trent McKenzie, Martin and Matera for breaking team and consuming alcohol was Eade’s way of ensuring this young side would learn the hard way, and the dismissal of Dixon and Bennell smacked of a ‘my way or the highway’ approach that ‘Rocket’ will stand by.
Whether or not his antiquated coaching approach can stand up in 2016 remains to be seen, but at the very least he deserves having a full complement of players available to prove the doubters wrong.
Coaching rating – 3/10
All football fans want Ablett, Swallow and O’Meara on the field and performing at their best as all are elite talent. With the removal of the sub rule, all three should play forward and improve this side immeasurably.
The issue is that the remainder of the competition will improve and there doesn’t seem to be many teams that the Suns can hurdle on the ladder; this prediction may well be proven to be foolish if their best 22 remains on the park but the safe bet is that a club with so many critical injury-prone players and a questionable culture is a safe bet to stumble through another season.
Predicted finish – 15th