Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna has praised his developing band of second-year players for their key roles in helping steer the Suns to a respectable back-half of the year.
Speaking after his side's comprehensive season-ending 91-point loss to a determined, finals-bound Adelaide at AAMI Stadium on Saturday, McKenna believes his young side made significant progress in 2012, with several of last year's debutants at the forefront.
"Quite clearly we did (take steps forward)," McKenna said. "Percentage is generally a good mark of defending the ball well and attacking.
"That moved up from last season and we won more quarters than we did last year.
"Clearly, most of our grunt work and heavy lifting was done by our second-year players into the AFL system.
"Most of our senior players were injured and, bar Gary (Ablett), Danny Stanley and Campbell Brown, the rest of them are injured or not in great form.
"Most of our movement going forward was on the back of our second-year players and that's the exciting thing."
With the seasoned likes of Nathan Bock, Andrew McQualter, Nathan Krakouer, Josh Fraser and Michael Rischitelli unable to get on the park, the likes of Charlie Dixon, Josh Caddy, Harley Bennell, Matt Shaw and Brandon Matera, all inaugural Suns, have impressed McKenna this year.
The second-year coach expects all of them to be even better in 2013 as several approach the half-century mark in games played.
"We'll have nine guys (on track to) play 50 (career) games next year," McKenna said.
"There's a couple of boys on 30 games... you would think seven of those nine boys would play 50 games next year and they're certainly talented boys."
Despite the massive final margin that the Crows got home by as they extended their lead significantly at every change, McKenna liked what he saw at times.
While he couldn't question his charges' endeavour, McKenna noted the sheer body-size difference between the two sides and hopes to bridge that gap with the help of Adelaide's long-serving fitness coach and former inaugural Crows player Stephen Schwerdt, who was poached by the Suns a fortnight ago.
"You saw today, just physically they (Adelaide) looked like M1 tanks playing the little dune buggies out there," McKenna said.
"We weathered the storm a little bit and the stats may have been a little bit flattering (to Adelaide).
"We certainly showed some punch and it would have been very easy for the group to turn their toes up from last week (when they beat Carlton).
"I think they (players) have got the smarts to compete, but just that physical contested brand of footy Adelaide play, that's why they're playing finals football.
"You look at the Sydneys, Hawthorns and West Coast, they're just very big sides.
"We've had two years of a very measured (fitness) program.
"We get Stephen Schwerdt up to Gold Coast next year.
"With his experiences, we'll take another step physically."That's going to enable the boys to compete for longer."