The 2013 season is going to be one of development, improvement and self-discovery for the AFL’s newest sides. Both Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney will have their sights set on improving on what they showed the football world in 2012 but the goals they set, and the way they go about achieving them, will be very different.
2012 was a step backwards for the Suns; they struggled to show the improvement that was expected of them after a commendable first season in the AFL which notched them three wins. In their second season, the Suns didn’t register a win until July, defeating Richmond in Cairns, and finished the season with three wins, equalling their 2011 efforts.
Head coach Guy McKenna came under criticism for his approach to teaching his players the game plan he wanted to employ, as did the game plan itself. McKenna’s philosophy of allowing the kids to just play with freedom and learn in their first season in the big league before trying to implement a more defensive game plan in 2012 appears to have set Gold Coast back a season.
The appointment of Malcolm Blight to oversee and assist McKenna as director of coaching towards the end of the season proved to be a wise decision, as it coincided with improved performances on the field. Blight’s experience and expertise will prove invaluable in what is a young and inexperienced coaches’ box.
Three wins in their second season would point to a lack of improvement from the Suns who suffered from injuries to key players Nathan Bock and Michael Rischitelli, with poor form and inconsistency afflicting senior players Jared Brennan and Campbell Brown. A lot will be expected from the Suns’ senior players in 2013 if they want to prove the fledgling club belongs in the AFL.
There were some highlights in a poor season for Gold Coast, namely the rise of Harley Bennell. The number two pick in the 2010 National Draft was almost lost to the game at the end of 2011 before being taken in by teammate and Rugby League convert Karmichael Hunt. Both Bennell and Hunt had outstanding seasons and will look to lead the side up the ladder in 2013.
If the young Suns are to meet the lofty expectations set by chairman John Witheriff, who said they would win a flag and have 20,000 members by 2015, they will need to drastically improve in 2013. Players like Bennell, Dion Prestia and David Swallow will need to continue their improvement to take the load off captain Gary Ablett.
The return of Bock, a fit Rischitelli and another pre-season into the young brigade should help Gold Coast push up the ladder in 2013. Six wins will be the pass mark for the Suns, anything less should see McKenna come under immense scrutiny.
The other expansion side, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, were quite impressive in their inaugural season. With legendary coach Kevin Sheedy at the helm, supported by former Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams, now at Richmond, the Giants showed ferocity at the ball and a hard edge to their football that surprised and impressed their opponents.
Whilst the Giants may have only managed two wins and suffered several blowouts, the attack on the ball and pressure displayed by Sheedy’s young chargers bodes well for the future. The only real downside in an otherwise commendable debut season was the Israel Folau farce. With that experiment now behind them, the Giants can look at moving forward with their best 22 on the park as often as possible.
GWS has several exciting players and fans of the AFL’s newest side will be salivating over what a forward line with the likes of Jonathon Patton, Jeremy Cameron and Will Hoskin-Elliot could achieve. Senior players like Callan Ward and Chad Cornes fit the bill of hard-nosed combatants that Sheedy loves; they will set just the example that the master coach would want for his younger players.
Sheedy’s experience will prove to be invaluable for the Giants and the difference in his methods and McKenna’s are already visible. From the outset, Sheedy has made sure his players are disciplined, hardworking and follow the team structures. There has been an emphasis on the contested ball at the Giants.
The challenge for Sheedy and his new right-hand man Leon Cameron, who will take over as coach in 2014, is to avoid the second-year blues that afflicted the Gold Coast Suns and continue to develop their impressive young list.
GWS should be aiming for at least four wins and reining in the margin of their defeats for season 2013 to be deemed a success.
Heading into the new AFL season, both the expansion sides have a lot to play for and a lot of hype to live up to. It is crucial for the competition and the culture of the new clubs that they improve on the promise they showed in 2012.