Tuesday’s announcement from the club that players Harley Bennell, Trent McKenzie and Brandon Matera have been suspended for drinking alcohol against team orders, has left the Suns on the brink of being unable to field a team for this weekend’s game.
Last weekend’s win against Brisbane came at a cost for the Suns, with Steven May suspended for three weeks, and injuries to defender Seb Tape, midfielder Jarrod Garlett, and livewire forward Jack Martin.
Combine this carnage with the long-term injuries to Nick Malceski, Jaeger O’Meara, captain Gary Ablett and David Swallow, and midfielder Andrew Boston suspended indefinitely for ‘failing to meet team standards’ and you have a club left reeling.
It will be a difficult few weeks for the Suns on the field, and will involve relying on a number of younger, inexperienced players to get the job done.
Josh Glenn and Henry Schade have played just one game each, whilst traveled veteran Andrew Raines comes in for his first game for the club.
However, while the Suns will feel the on-field ramifications of their current crisis for a while, the current suspensions could spell the beginning of a new culture and direction for the club.
Recent articles have suggested that Bennell, McKenzie and Matera have repeatedly failed to buy into the stricter culture being set down by new coach Rodney Eade.
McKenzie and Matera were not selected for the first few rounds of the season, despite being fit, reportedly due to their failure to adhere to team rules, while Bennell was criticised by teammates for not giving his all after the Suns’ poor start to the season.
Reports of a ‘rockstar’ attitude among Bennell, Matera, McKenzie and some of their teammates have led to the recent suspensions, with senior players becoming fed up with the perceived arrogance and attitude issues of some of the Suns’ young brigade.
From all reports, Eade has imposed stricter standards on his young team – the culture of young players getting by on their talent rather than developing a good work ethic is being flushed out, replaced by a team-first mentality.
By all reports, this has been sorely needed.
Eade came to Gold Coast at the end of last season under the impression that he was taking charge of a team that needed only minor tweaking – and a fit Gary Ablett – to take it to its maiden finals berth.
However, what he found was a team with an individual rather than team mentality, one prepared to rest on its laurels and rely on talent to get them through.
Eade’s comments in the first five rounds of the season give the impression that he has abandoned hope of Gold Coast advancing up the ladder this year, instead focusing on instilling a change of culture in his playing group to build a good foundation for the future.
Eade may have been judged by the Suns to be the best coach to take their seemingly finals-bound group forward.
However, the irony is that he is also a coach most capable of building a new foundation for this group.
Eade’s new mandate is to fix the team’s culture before focusing on wins, and as an experienced coach who has, in previous coaching roles, been able to get the best out of his charges, looms as a man able to make the necessary changes.
One only has to look at the most successful clubs of the past decade to see just how vital a good club culture is to success.
Players from both Geelong and Hawthorn have decided to stay and play for less money in the interests of team success, than leave and chase bigger pay packets elsewhere.
One wonders if Gold Coast players would do the same, given the choice.
The decision to suspend rather than fine Bennell, McKenzie and Matera, a move pushed by the playing group, seems to be the first step on the road towards building a team-first culture.
The Suns have been bereft of on-field leadership with Ablett’s injury, but the fact that Rischitelli, Lynch and others are taking a stand bodes well, and shows that Eade’s new mentality is starting to be absorbed by the team.
It’s a hard decision, as it makes it nigh on impossible for the Suns to win this weekend’s game, but it sends a clear message about acceptable standards of behaviour, and may be a watershed moment in setting a foundation for the Suns to achieve on-field success.