Here comes the Suns: How a final-term flourish snapped 672-day drought

ARRIVING at Whitten Oval to face West Coast on Sunday afternoon, Gold Coast had not won a game in 672 days.

The Suns had last sung the team song in round six, 2020 at the Eagles' home ground of Mineral Resources Park, in what was the club's biggest winning margin in its history. 

Just 11 Suns from that last win were on the field on Sunday, and new coach Cameron Joyce was at the helm as they battled through a stoppage-heavy game until three-quarter time. They were able to get the ball forward but would see it almost immediately fly back over their heads as the Eagles won back possession and rebounded out. 

Going into the final quarter, the Suns had kicked just two goals and led by two points. They then conceded the first three goals of the term and were 16 points down with nine minutes left on the clock. While the Gold Coast side of 2021 might have let the scoreline blow out, the 2022 edition decided to shift the momentum. 

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They began to attack the contest at speed and operate in constant motion to create opportunities. Kate Surman's day had been one of almosts, never flat-footed in the forward line but unable to convert.

In the final quarter, however, her proactivity around packs finally got some reward, kicking her first goal with eight minutes left on the clock and reigniting the belief in the side. 

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From there, the Suns chose to take risks and attack more directly - it was all or nothing. Charlie Rowbottom's footy IQ was key to getting this moving, clearing the ball out the front of stoppages in order to gain ground at every opportunity, and looking for clear targets ahead rather than kicking long in hope. 

Rowbottom did exactly this to set up Tara Bohanna's first goal of the match. Moving with strength out of the middle of the ground, the NAB AFLW Rising Star nominee made an important decision. Rather than kicking long to Sarah Perkins close to goal who was battling multiple opponents, she instead spotted up Bohanna who had found space on her own at the top of their forward 50. But it wasn't just the creation of this set shot that was crucial. While Bohanna is one of the longer kicks in the AFLW, she still needed some help on the goal line.  

Gold Coast's Charlie Rowbottom and West Coast's Kellie Gibson battle for the ball in R2, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Perkins is a noted goalkicker in her own right, but it was her leadership on the field that really drew the Suns to signing her, never more evident than the vision of her battling against three Eagles to ensure the ball went through for a goal. Four points down, seven minutes remaining. 

The quick but considered ball movement from the Suns continued, and Surman's run in the forward line saw her kick a second and put her side in front just two minutes later. 

As Dana Hooker threatened to be the player to get the Eagles back in a winning position, Alison Drennan became her shadow, leaping to tackle or smother every time Hooker got near the ball. This sacrificial role from Drennan allowed her teammates to jump at opportunities created when Hooker was removed from the equation.

Meanwhile, Kalinda Howarth sat behind the play, using her expert ball reading as an extra layer of defence when West Coast did surge the ball forward. 

With less than four minutes left, Bohanna showed off her marking chops, plucking the ball out of the sky behind Perkins and three Eagles. A pep talk from Perkins before her set shot routine didn't go astray, and the second-gamer went back to slot her second goal for the day and the Suns' fourth goal in a row. Eight points up, 3:30 on the clock. 

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Kate Surman and Tara Bohanna have kicked another set of back-to-back goals to give their side the lead and some breathing space

From here, the Suns showed real maturity. Slowing the game down again and playing some possession football allowed them to maintain control while letting the clock tick down, they were then quick to put their bodies on the line when a long kick down the line was won by an Eagle. 

The icing for Gold Coast was the final passage of play which saw Rowbottom steal the ball out of the air at a stoppage at half-forward and deliver expertly to Bohanna in the forward pocket—the two stars of the final-quarter show setting up the last goal of the game. 

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In 2021, the Suns kicked five goals in a game just once - in round one against Melbourne. At the weekend, they achieved the feat in the space of eight minutes on their way to the highest score in club history.

What would no doubt please Joyce most, however, is the maturity that emerged and the leaders who stepped up across the field: Rowbottom and Drennan around the ball. Perkins, Surman and Bohanna up forward. Ahrens and Pregelj in defence. 

Gold Coast coach Cameron Joyce and Dee Heslop after the win over West Coast in R2, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

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