What Went Right?
Not much would be the easy answer.
Yet, if we cast our mind back to the start of the 2018 season we can find the more considered response to the question. Back to back wins to open the year and three wins from five games was the perfect start for a team that would play in China before they played at home in 2018.
For a team banished to nomad status as a result of the Commonwealth Games, they appeared to be setting themselves us well for the doomsday road trip from hell. It was a false dawn unfortunately with the Suns in complete freefall by the time they played their first home game in round 11. They would taste victory just one more time, when they shocked the Swans at the SCG, leaving them with an away record more superior to that at Metricon. Despite this, you can safely assume that Stuart Dew will be looking forward to his team playing at home more often in the front half of the 2019 season.
What Went Wrong?
Pretty much anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Suns in 2018. From playing a ‘home’ game against the Dockers at Optus Stadium to their star player and captain announcing mid-season he would leave the club, it was a genuine annus horribilus for Gold Coast.
The Tom Lynch saga played out like Chinese Water torture for the Suns. The want away star went through the façade of indecision, that each leaving free-agent is forced into, until injury brought an early end to his season and finally brought the answer everyone expected all year. It could still get worse for the club with rumours persisting that Co-Captain Steven May might also choose greener pastures in 2019.
After fighting a losing battle with injuries in 2016-17, the Suns again had their season cruelled by an extended casualty list. Lynch, Pearce Hanley, Peter Wright and Aaron Hall were just a number of Suns who missed large chunks of the season to injury.
While it might be a season most remembered for a couple of post game run-ins with Dayne Zorko, Touk Miller’s 2018 was more than just a sideshow. Beyond shutting down the Lion star, Miller was one of the Suns most prolific ball-winners.
In his second season as a part of the Gold Coast leadership group, Miller gathered more possessions and laid more tackles than any other Sun. His performance in the first Q-Clash, which included shutting down Zorko and a match saving smother, was recognised with his second Marcus Ashcroft Medal which should see him add to his career tally of Browlow Medal votes.
An ever reliable performer, his leadership within the group was recognised with his captaincy of the club during the pre-season AFLX. With Tom Lynch gone, and Steven May widely tipped to join him out the door, it might well be a precursor to him taking the role on full-time in 2019.
With it being perhaps the biggest upset of the season, the Suns Round 18 victory over Sydney was the club’s best win by a long, long, way. Despite entering the match on the back of a 11-game losing streak, it was a confident and assured performance that saw them put a major dent in the Swans top four aspirations.
When the teams broke at quarter time with the Swans leading by five goals, there was no indication of the surprise the Suns were about to spring. Yet on the back of a four goal performance from Aaron Young, and standout performances from Lachie Weller and Will Brodie, Gold Coast would kick 11 of the next 13 goals of the match to record a 24-point victory.
Improvements for 2019
They need class, leadership and some serious improvement in their approach to player retention. The recruiting of Lachie Weller, at the cost of a first round pick, indicated an understanding that there is a greater need for ready-made players in the 50-100 game bracket than rookie players. With the possibility of two first-round concession picks, they might well be unusually well placed to continue this strategy at seasons end.
That said, as we have already seen with the revolving door at Carrara to this point, their ability to retain players is perhaps more important than getting them in the first place. To this end, Coach Stuart Dew and CEO Mark Evans, need to spend almost as much time ensuring their players are equally sold on the long term vision of the club as they are on the game plan week to week.
Final Grade: D
There is no way around the fact that 2018 was an unmitigated disaster for the Suns. A promising start turned pear-shaped fast but Stuart Dew will no doubt have taken a number of positives from their late-season win over the Swans.