The fantasy Gods giveth, and the fantasy Gods taketh away.
The incredible start to Matt Rowell’s thrust the Suns into the AFL spotlight after years toiling away in relative obscurity. The promised “next step’ was materialising in front of our eyes, in the form of a cheeky but diligent ginger kid who tucked his shirt in and put veterans to shame. Then perhaps the biggest tragedy in a year of tragedies happened – Rowell was slammed down onto his right shoulder in a regulation tackle and that shoulder did not respond well. And we were all poorer because of it, with Rowell’s back-to-back-to-back 3-vote Brownlow performances underlining the excitement we, as the wider football public, were cruelly robbed of.
But the Gold Coast isn’t just one player, and there’s plenty to like that aren’t named Rowell. Like Fremantle, the Suns are setting up for 2021 to be a year of pumping games into a talented young core that has an average age of 24 – the youngest list in the AFL.
Of the Best 22 I’ve taken a stab at below, a massive 14 players sit between the 19-24 year old age bracket, and Greenwood is the most senior at just 28 years old. With another couple of years playing together as a unit, growing together under Dew’s evolving game-plan (that wisely caters to what he has and not what he wishes he had), this team could be absolutely anything. Top 10 draft picks in Rowell, Anderson, Rankine, King, Lukosius, Weller, Bowes, and Hollands all peaking together is a list manager’s wet dream.
As you’d expect, the transition between cellar-dweller and Premiership threat is a work-in-progress. The Suns didn’t have any glaringly huge statistical weaknesses, but they didn’t have any strengths, either. Finishing middle to bottom of the pack across the board compounded together and took its toll on their fantasy game, ranking 16th for Fantasy Points generated.
I’m confident in saying that’ll improve significantly this year, with the better ball control that comes with list maturity. While the Suns were an excellent contested team in 2020 – they ranked 5th for Pressure – they were also the 16th-ranked side for Uncontested Possessions and dead last for Disposal Efficiency. As those areas naturally improve, logically so will the kicks and the marks, which will lead to more scoring opportunities, and so on. Ultimately, a better fantasy output is in store for Gold Coast in 2021.
Wright [trades, free agency]
Hanley, Horlin-Smith, Miles [retired]
Dawson, C Ellis, Fletcher, Heron, Joyce, Riordan, Schoenfeld [delisted]
Atkins (ADE), Markov (RICH), Townsend (ESS, rookie)
2-metre Peter failed to reach the lofty heights that both his name and the draft pick invested in him (pick 8 in 2014 draft) implied, so a change of scenery for Wright was the smart and mature move for both the club and the player. Hanley is the only significant loss from the group of retirees, and most of that is from a leadership and experience perspective after 13 years in the industry. He was playing predominantly on a wing in his 9 games in 2020, so the backline structure doesn’t change too much and the midfield is chock-full of talent anyway.
Atkins is one of those guys, brought in to play that specialist wing role that he can do so well when up and running. He fell out of favour at Adelaide in 2020 but was a solid citizen around the 80-point average mark in the three seasons prior. I feel that Gold Coast would prefer it structurally to have Ellis and Atkins full-time in those roles, with chop-outs only from Anderson and Weller on the wing. Like Thanos once mused; perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
Markov is a moneyball-type recruitment from the Suns, plucked out from a bulging Richmond list on the cheap. He was under-utilised and under-valued at Punt Road and he gives Gold Coast something they don’t currently have – an intercept/line-breaking defender. Lockdown backman Collins led the club for intercept marks last year, which isn’t ideal structurally to say the least.
Townsend also found a home at a 4th club. Probably intended purely as depth in the forward line initially, the journeyman has impressed in the pre-season match sims as both a goalkicking threat and with a few midfield grunt cameos, so don’t be surprised to see him shoot up the pecking order.
#7 Elijah Hollands – M/F – 84 avg from 4 games in 2019 NAB League
Considered a top 3 talent prior to the draft, Hollands slid down the order into Gold Coast’s waiting arms at pick 7 due to being smack-bang in the middle of his recovery from an ACL. The Suns have a plethora of young talent to roll out this year, so they’ll give Hollands plenty of time with an extended recovery and I expect he’ll be kept out of competitive stuff for the first half of the season. Which, by the way, will be perfect timing for DFS; Elijah’s 84-point average as a bottom-ager in the NAB League highlights his fantasy game, and he’ll be available to us at a bargain price once everyone else’s salaries have risen and plateaued on Draftstars.
Pre-selection Alex Davies – M – 74 avg from 4 games in SUNS Academy
Gold Coast’s draft concessions paid off handsomely here, with top-15 prospect Davies essentially taken off the board for nothing. Davies adds to the Suns’ inside midfield stocks, and if the Scott Pendlebury comparisons with his poise and composure are warranted, he could see some senior action in 2021… but it’s a brutal inside midfield group to try and break into.
Pre-selection Joel Jeffrey – D/F – 94 avg from 3 games in NT Thunder
After calling dibs on the best Queensland player available at the draft, the Suns do the exact same thing with the top Northern Territory prospect. Jeffrey is a genuine utility at 192cm and 80 kg, so he’s ready-made for senior action and the positional need is there at both ends. Highly athletic and an elite mark, Jeffrey has been training with the forward group so far this pre-season. Track this one closely.
Rookie #38 Aiden Fyfe – M/D – 39 avg from 5 games in 2019 NAB League
Your classic wingman who can double as a half-back, Fyfe was snapped up as a rookie by the Suns due to his Academy affiliations. Physically ready, his debut will come when he’s up to AFL standards between the ears, and that’s hard to predict externally.
Rookie #40 Rhys Nicholls – D/M – 36 avg from 5 games in 2019 NAB League
Not dissimilar to Fyfe, Nicholls is a half-back/wing prospect secured as a rookie through his Academy ties. More of a long-term selection though, so we’re unlikely to see him at AFL level in 2021.
Defensively, the Suns had serious trouble stopping teams once they gained and controlled possession. You can apply all the pressure in the world, but if the other team can just mark-kick its way down the field, it’s going to be hard to flex your strong contested game. As a result, Gold Coast conceded the 2nd-most disposals and 4th-most marks, which was the foundation for conceding the 3rd-most Fantasy points overall this season. Stacking against the Suns was, once again, a winning strategy in DFS.
They were also good for a more considered, surgical approach. The Suns conceded the most points to Key FWD’s last year, the result of allowing the 3rd most Inside 50’s and the 3rd most Contested Marks in the league. Their undersized defence was constantly under pressure, which is where Rory Thompson’s ACL injuries really hurt. They also allowed the 3rd-most fantasy candy to General FWD’s, so this was an easy DvP decision to make in DFS last year.
One thing I found really interesting was that Gold Coast conceded the 4th-most points to MID’s, yet the 6th-least conceded to “elite” MID’s (defined as top 2 scoring midfielders). This is largely due to their contested style and the ever-reliable pair of Touk Miller and Hugh Greenwood providing them with accountability at stoppages – the Suns conceded the 2nd-least clearances in the league. So instead of the big names racking up huge numbers against them regularly, it was the lesser/fringe types finding extra touches on the outside that tipped the MID DvP scales. Worth keeping in mind.
Gold Coast were a team to avoid in the ruck, with the hitout-dominant Witts powering them to the 2nd-hardest side for RUC’s to score against. He was outclassed by Gawn (131 adjusted), O’Brien (118) and Grundy (113) obviously, but everyone else in his tier or below found it hard to overcome the tide of hitouts in Witts’ favour.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Matt Rowell
After the lofty standard he set for himself in his debut season, Rowell will undoubtedly be one of the most popular DFS picks this year. I’m not sure which is my favourite Rowell-mania stat. Is it the adjusted scores of 135 and 130 with just two prior games of AFL experience? Could it be the 9 Brownlow votes over a 3-game stretch that I mentioned earlier? Or maybe it’s the 1.12 PPM in his debut season that ranked him 7th in fantasy scoring rate last season?
As for current day concerns with his shoulder, there shouldn’t be any from an availability perspective. Yes, he’s on a modified program, but the Suns say they’re actually having to hold him out (almost physically) of a bunch of drills because he’s already essentially completed a full pre-season during his shoulder recovery last year. He’s primed.
The slight concern comes from his scoring profile. He averaged over 8 tackles (adjusted) per game last year, a huge slice of his fantasy pie, and healthy shoulders are obviously a huge part of that. Any reduction in those hugs, due to either tentativeness psychologically or diminished strength physically, would be a significant fantasy hit. I’ll be subjecting him to the eye test on this one in the AAMI Community Series.
2. Noah Anderson
“Genuine eye-catcher” was the quote from Queensland beat writer Michael Whiting after a early February session in the blistering heat. He also rubber-stamped Gold Coast’s claims that Anderson will see increased inside midfield time this year, reporting that Noah was “playing on the ball for much of a 60-minute game intensity session” and that he “won a stack of clearances and looked composed and polished when he got the ball in space” during the match sim.
The phrase “more midfield time” is often just a pre-season tease, but this matches with Anderson’s tale of 2020 where he transitioned from a purely outside role to more of a hybrid threat. After not attending a single centre bounce in the first 8 rounds, Anderson evolved his game to the point where he averaged an adjusted 89 AF from a 43% CBA share over the last month of the season.
3. Will Brodie
It sounds like a question. Will Brodie ever force his way back into the side? I don’t have the answer, but he’s certainly doing all the right things after managing just the single appearance in 2020. Brodie put in a power of work with his running over the off-season, shedding 5kgs and wiping 30 seconds off his 2km time trial when the Suns returned to official pre-season training.
The top 10 draft pick hasn’t really ever had a proper run at it in the seniors, playing a high of 8 games in a season twice – in 2018 and 2019 – yet he’s still managed to show off his fantasy prowess with a career-high 88-point average in the latter . There’s unquestionably potential there, we can all see it, but the midfield for Gold Coast is stacked tighter than his coach’s club polo.
The solution? A new half-forward role for the slimmed-down, improved runner. Dew even uttered the words “Mitch Wallis-type player” as a goal for Brodie at the end of last season, which dampens his fantasy appeal for sure. But doing his thing in the forward line is still better than plugging away in a revamped VFL, so we’ll take it. Let’s get his foot in the door, then hopefully we see more games like the 142-point belter he pumped out against the Roos in Round 12 of 2019.
4. Oleg Markov
One club’s trash is another club’s treasure. Markov’s best role is as a dasher and user in defence, but with Houli ahead of him and the emergence of Short and Baker at Richmond, he was never able to fulfil that role at AFL level. Or even VFL level for that matter, at least not consistently, as he was often deployed as a forward at times during the 2019 VFL season.
With Hanley retiring and Harbow with a foot out the door, Markov fills a dire area of need at Gold Coast. Lukosius and Bowes are great users of the footy and really clever players, but they lack the ability to break lines.
Plus, when Sam Collins is leading your club in intercept marks with a man mountain standing right next to him all game, it’s fair to say that you need help in the air. I know we haven’t seen him do it at AFL level yet, but Markov was highly-rated for his ball-reading and intercept work at Richmond in the 2’s and I think Gold Coast think he can be that help.
5. Izak Rankine
Along with Anderson, livewire Rankine was name-dropped by Dew as a player who could see more midfield time this year, although with more of a cameo role than his sophomore teammate. Although he starred at times in 2020, he averaged only (an adjusted) 14 disposals along the way, so Rankine truthers would be happy with Dew’s plan: “He’ll definitely push up into the midfield at different times because he seems to create things when he’s around the ball”. Huge tick for getting the raw numbers up.
Throw in a casual top 5 finish in Gold Coast’s 2km time trial, and it looks like we’ll finally see the Rankine the Suns drafted ahead of the 2019 season before persistent hamstring issues robbed us of his best. Bring on the highlight reel, and the DFS goodness that’ll flow when he’s on song.
- Lukosius and Bowes were weekly considerations on Gold Coast slates as the designated users out of defence, reliably hitting value in DFS against softer match-ups. Against the 3 easiest teams for DEF’s (Collingwood, Adelaide and Richmond), Lukosius averaged 99 and Bowes 105. If they can add a few marks to their games (which, honestly, should happen across the board given how critically low the total mark numbers were at Gold Coast last year) they’ll win you slates regularly in DFS.
- Will Powell can play both lockdown and attacking roles in defence, which makes him highly pickable on the days where team balance suggests he’s going to do the latter.
- I privately wonder whether Ellis might be called on to play off half-back this year, which would help solve the dual problems of replacing Hanley’s drive and easing the pressure on the midfield log-jam. The same goes for Weller after he was slowly phased out of CBA’s last season. No word from the Suns yet on any role changes for this pair, but keep in mind that there are “break glass in case of emergency” roles back there for them if needed.
- Greenwood was the #1 pressure player in the competition last year, and always pickable in contested match-ups. Averaged a massive (adjusted) 121 AF when laying an (unadjusted) 9+ tackles in 7 games in 2020.
- Swallow was playing a hybrid M/F role last year before Rowell went down (28% CBA presence before, 69% after) and he’ll probably have to do the same in 2021 if they want to run Gold Coast Young Talent Time auditions as advertised.
- Sexton is your classic high-variance forward, always capable of kicking a bag and breaking a slate. Religiously slam a small percentage of him on Suns slates, if only for your mental wellbeing.
- King has put on some size (4-6kg, allegedly) during the off-season, which can only help him deal with the bigger-bodied defenders on his hammer. Popped up with a couple of 80’s last season but his real value will come when he can do that consistently.
- Witts is a delightful DFS player because he follows hit-out trends so closely. Avoid him against good tap ruckmen (Grundy, Gawn, Naitanui, etc) but absolutely smash him against the part-timers and beanpoles – he posted adjusted scores of 118 on Lobb, 115 on Sinclair and 101 on English last year.
- Hearing a bit about Lemmens and McLennan this pre-season, with both training in defence and both would play attacking roles if they made the senior side. Monitor, especially McLennan, who was talked up as a fantasy option this year by Gold Coast’s own media team.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.