The story of 2015

The Suns were pegged for greater things in 2015. Rodney Eade took over the reins of a young, blossoming squad that teased the top eight at times the previous season and only had improvement to come.

What followed was carnage. Pure, utter carnage.

Gary Ablett played three games at full fitness – he polled Brownlow votes in all three, mind you – and a host of other young Suns either missed most games or all as Gold Coast crawled to four and a half wins. The cattle was thin, the game plan faulty and the mood sombre. The season had suggested so much promise yet delivered so little.

Blow it up and start again.

What went right

Footy is quite redeeming in many instances. As catastrophic as their injury toll was in 2015 it provided plenty of opportunity to a brigade that hadn’t yet had such exposure, some of whom relished it.

Solace came through the form of Aaron Hall, who transformed himself from a middling medium forward to a line-breaking midfielder, ranking #2 in the competition for metres gained and inside 50s from round 14 onwards. An impressive pre-season, in which he led the Suns for centre clearances, tackles and inside 50s, suggests his late 2015 was more flair than form. He proved himself more than good enough to start in the centre square every week, even when the likes of Ablett, O’Meara and Swallow give him some competition.

Touk Miller was the only 2015 draftee to play all 22 games and blossomed as the year went on, enjoying increasing time in the midfield and ranking top three at the Suns for disposals and contested possessions. Jesse Lonergan and Mitch Hallahan also relished the opportunity. There are worse things than depth and flexibility – Hallahan at this stage is not a best 22 player when everyone is fit, but the Suns will know he can come in and more than play a role when required to. There are better teams out there without this luxury.

The Suns’ slow play is also beneficial to their backline, in a sense, as they became hard to transition against. Just 34% of the Suns’ points conceded in 2015 came from the defensive half, the second best in the competition, only behind similarly-styled Melbourne. If the Suns can work it forward enough and retain a sound structure they’ll lock it in their forward half for longer and stay in the game more often.

What went wrong

What didn’t?

Six games from Gary Ablett, six from David Swallow, eight from Dion Prestia and none from Jaeger O’Meara. Nick Malceski missed games, Jarrod Harbrow missed games. If there was a hospital wing scratch match Gold Coast would have won by 300 points.

The Suns also played a laboured brand of football. They kicked long and far more than any other side. Hawthorn and West Coast set the standard for offensive play by emphasising short, smart and quick ball movement, looking for the best path to goal and not the shortest. Even Richmond, who play a slow style of football, moved it with purpose, and were a reasonably strong side offensively as a result. There are two ways to score – move it fast or move it smart. The Suns’ kick-it-and-hope style is neither.

The Suns ranked last for contested possession differential, conceding by far the most points from centre bounces, and last for kick rating – a Champion Data stat that measures expected kicking efficiency versus actual. In short: they were killed around the ball and, on the rare occasion they won it, they killed themselves by foot. It’s a horror show and even with absences in mind this problem lies deep. Eade has his work cut out for him.

2016 preview

It’s still disappointing to say for a team that had finals and dynasties written for it, but the Suns still have a lot of work ahead of them in 2016.

The backline still needs to find the perfect balance – Malceski, Kolodjashnij and Saad are excellent players but all are best used with their offensive talents in mind – so much rests on the shoulders of Steven May and Rory Thompson. This is Trent McKenzie’s time to shine in the third tall role. Henry Schade or rookie Tom Keough may get an early opportunity to cement themselves in a similar spot as well.

Worse is their forward line, with Tom Lynch the most relied upon forward in the competition now Charlie Dixon and Harley Bennell have moved elsewhere. Forward support acts include the second-year Peter Wright, the fledgling Sam Day, the flashy Brandon Matera and the young Jack Martin. Ablett will surely spend plenty of time forward this year, probably ahead of schedule, and Ryan Davis may earn a spot off the rookie spot to help out as well. Their kick-long-and-pray style prevalent under both McKenna and Eade hasn’t worked before and with only one established and recognised forward in Lynch it may be less successful yet.

Eade has a challenge on his hands – not only to ensure the squad is all on the same page and all buying in, but simultaneously to remain tactically up to speed. There is enough talent to see them win games, and enough talent to make Metricon Stadium a tough place to visit as it was across 2013 and 2014. With everything in mind 2016 looks like the continuation of a slow build, but Suns fans will again hope for those glimmers of promising things to come.

Best 22

B: Nick Malceski, Rory Thompson, Sean Lemmens
HB: Kade Kolodjashnij, Steven May, Adam Saad
C: Aaron Hall, Michael Rischitelli, Dion Prestia
HF: Touk Miller, Tom Lynch, Jarrod Harbrow
F: Brandon Matera, Peter Wright, Jack Martin
Foll: Tom Nicholls, David Swallow, Gary Ablett
Int: Jaeger O’Meara, Trent McKenzie, Matt Rosa, Sam Day

Ladder prediction