Damien Hardwick is expected to deliver the Gold Coast Suns nothing short of AFL finals in 2024 as club chairman Bob East tells the three-time premiership winner, he must win the club a flag before the end of 2026. Hardwick's job brief is simple this season, finals or bust after the super coach made some bold claims about the squad ahead of the new season.
The Suns have yet to make the finals since their inception into the league in 2011 and have gone through five coaches in that time but the club has lofty ambitions for Hardwick. But Hardwick isn't worried, declaring 80 per cent of the side’s maiden premiership list is already at the club and the remaining 20 per cent are academy prospects he snapped up in the AFL Draft.
East is of the same opinion and is vocal about the perennially underperforming club being premiership contenders as early as this year. "I think the pass mark for 2024 is finals," East told 7News.
"We’ve developed a three-year plan that goes about setting this organisation up for success in the near term. I think it is fair to say that we are more mature in our approach and we're ready for success."
Hardwick is signed to a lucrative six-year deal to coach the Suns and the club has one of the most well-rounded lists in the AFL. That squad was only added to in the AFL Draft with Gold Coast snapping up Jed Walter (pick No.3), Ethan Read (No.9), Jake Rogers (No.14) and Will Graham (No.26) to the team.
Suns players have also been vocal about the season ahead, with Wil Powell telling SENQ Breakfast, that the squad is eager to learn from the great coach and foresees a finals berth this year. "He’s awesome. It’s so good with a new coach and he’s got the runs on the board. Everyone is so eager to learn from him," Powell said.
"Every time he stands in front of us and speaks it’s like, ‘Wow, this bloke knows what he’s talking about’. The game plan he's implemented is so exciting. It’s such an exciting brand of footy. We’ve been training really well and I think he’s starting to get really happy with the way we’re playing. It should be a very fun and exciting year for a finals berth."
AFL committed to making the game safer
The AFL is confident it can improve the on-field product all while making the game safer after rubber-stamping rules around smothers. On Monday the league ticked off on a raft of changes for the upcoming season, headlined by the amendment of the smother rule, first floated in December after Collingwood vice-captain Brayden Maynard's infamous tribunal case during last year's finals.
Maynard knocked out Angus Brayshaw in the Pies win over Melbourne in the first week of the finals. He was facing a season-ending three-game ban for his high bump on Brayshaw, which left the Demons player unconscious on the MCG turf. But after a marathon four-hour AFL tribunal hearing, Collingwood lawyers managed to clear him, successfully arguing the incident was unavoidable after Maynard leapt into the air to attempt a smother.
The AFL has now tweaked the rule so when a player elects to leave the ground in an attempt to smother any high contact, graded as low impact will be deemed to be careless. It comes as the AFL continues to deal with an ongoing class action from dozens of former players over complaints around concussions.
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