Gold Coast Report Card

Sportal September 10, 2012, 7:33 am

'''This year:''' 3 wins, 19 losses, 60.82 percentage.

'''This year's grade:''' C+

'''Positives from this year:''' This was another one of those seasons that Gold Coast had to have, and they'll be so much better for it in 2013. While they only just leveled their three-win output from their inaugural season, the strides that the Suns have made throughout this year are plain as day. What started as a bunch of 50-odd teenagers and a handful of senior players has now transformed into a team. The good ones have put their hands up and claimed roles and the iffy ones are on their way out. Gary Ablett had another stunning year, but he now has a right-hand man - the irresistible Harley Bennell, who surged to finish second in the club's best and fairest count. Karmichael Hunt has progressed from code-hopping circus act to a ruthless, cold-blooded, bonafide AFL player. In defence, Melbourne discard Matthew Warnock proved to be one of the finds of the year, seamlessly filling in for the injured Nathan Bock. There are still question marks in attack, but surely at least one out of Sam Day, Tom Lynch and Steven May will become an elite power forward. These are all individual positives, though - overall, Gold Coast are another year older, another year wiser and another year closer to realizing their incredible potential. The hard lessons, you assume, are done. But living up to expectations will certainly not be a walk in the park.

'''Negatives from this year:''' The first half of the season was appalling, and it nearly cost Guy McKenna his job. Bluey tried to teach his troops a new defensive structure and clearly it took a long time getting used to it. Perhaps there weren't as many beltings as in their inaugural year - indeed, there was only one triple-figure defeat, this one away to West Coast in Round 14 - but the 95-point loss at home to St Kilda midway through the campaign was a low point for the club as a whole. Fortunately the Suns were able to claw back some credibility from there, but there's no doubt they were suffering from the sophomore blues. Also concerning was the Coast's horror run with injuries, which at one stage made 20 players unavailable. Another off-season in Arizona and a new fitness coach in long-serving Crows mentor Steven Schwerdt should help the younger players build further endurance, both physically and mentally.

'''Likely departures:''' At least seven players will be cut from the Suns' list. We know who four of those names are - ruckman Josh Fraser is retiring, homesick Hayden Jolly is set to return to Adelaide and mature pair Michael Coad and Andrew McQualter have been shown the door. The Coast brains trust will take their time over deciding who else will be trimmed because of the advent of free agency, but expect Josh Toy to be one of them - and Josh Caddy could be another, given the persistent rumours about him and Essendon that have just not gone away. Word also has it Hawthorn like the look of nuggety midfielder Maverick Weller.

'''Next Year'''

'''Type of players needed:''' Kurt Tippett. He is the final piece of the puzzle. Well - at least that's what we thought before Round 21, when forward-cum-defender Steven May's breakout three-goal performance solved the argument once and for all about where the Darwin product should be playing. The answer is in the goalsquare. And in all honesty, given how poor Tippett has been for Adelaide on occasion this season, it might be worth Gold Coast saving some coin and giving the likes of May, Sam Day and Tom Lynch more time to develop. Apart from a proper power forward, the Suns don't really need anything else - the return of Nathan Bock should shore up the defence, while there are a host of names that could potentially run through that midfield and assist key trio Ablett, Bennell and David Swallow.

'''Likely improvement:''' The same as last year - they'll stay in games for longer, kick bigger scores and keep opponents quieter. That's the plan, anyway - and yes, it takes time, but after two seasons the Suns are due for a step up. Six wins should be an absolute bare minimum.

'''Finals in 2013''' Why not? If the Suns can play the way they did in the second half of the season on a consistent basis, and keep their key men fit and firing, and the planets align, then anything is truly possible. It will be a task to crack into the top eight but if Gold Coast don't deviate from their development pathway, then it's a possibility. They've certainly got the list for it.

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