GRADUAL improvement is the focus of Gold Coast's second NAB AFLW season.
Elevated into an expanded finals series as COVID-19 restrictions started to take hold around the country, the Suns faced an undefeated Fremantle in a semi-final.
It was their fourth road trip in as many weeks, including back-to-back trips to Perth, and the "cooked" Suns (according to coach David Lake) lost accordingly by 70 points.
"We won't be dissimilar to last year, we'll just be better at everything we do," Lake told womens.afl.
"I learnt so much about what I can do better, and from the girls' perspective, I see how well they went when I can consider what we can get better at as an organisation. They really did put out the best version of themselves.
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"In setting ourselves up this year, we're really organised and have a real process around the limited contact hours, having a (game) plan and living by it, but not losing your ability to play with freedom.
"I think that's probably our biggest learning. Our environment's good, the girls are good, they play with freedom, they enjoyed what they did, but if we can give them a bit more structure to do that from, I think that'll really help them go forward."
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The bulk of Gold Coast's list played some footy over winter, the majority in the QAFLW and a handful in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Lake nominated reigning best and fairest Jamie Stanton's work up forward and Jacqui Yorston's improved fitness as positives out of the QAFLW season, and was able to see draftee midfielders Annise Bradfield and Lucy Single work with ruck Lauren Bella at Bond Uni.
The Suns also added some experience to their line-up through the trade and draft periods, bringing in former Adelaide premiership forward Sarah Perkins (via Melbourne), St Kilda midfielder Ali Drennan and Southern Saints (VFLW) defender/mid Bess Keaney.
"We lacked a focus up forward, Britt Perry (at 168cm) ended up having to try and play tall, we didn't quite have that part right. We lacked a bit of run through the wings, Tiarna Ernst did a great job out there, but 'Perko' gives us something to honour our work," Lake said.
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"Players like Drennan and Keaney, from an experience perspective, strengthen the back of our game and our run forward.
"'Perko', Drennan and Bess, they're solid humans, and they've come into our environment, and through induction, they're prepared to answer questions and they don't need to feel their way in, they're comfortable with who they are."
Breakout All-Australian forward Kalinda Howarth
"We were having a club photo, and someone said to me that 'Kindy' was a bit off. I found her and asked what was going on, and she said, 'you keep leaving me off at the start of every quarter'. I said 'what do you mean? You're in a rotation', and she said, 'I know that, but I'm on the bench at the start of every quarter and I'm struggling'.
"I hadn't realised, so I fixed it on the spot and started her on the ground, which happened to be the Lions game where she kicked (three) goals and she's not looked back. It was nothing about ability, it was the obstacle I'd created, she was going straight to the bench thinking I wasn't believing in her. Then bang, her last five games were elite."
Rookie's star performance at the 2km time trial
"Lucy Single and Ali Drennan ran head to head in the 2km, and Lucy came in at 7:11 and the Ali at 7:16. Lucy ran quicker than her Combine time, but she still doesn't realise the extent of her ability.
"Drennan didn't need to beat her, but she needed to challenge her, that's such a good thing. It's two players who we didn't have last year, and when 'Drenno' finished, it wasn't 'I need to beat her', it was 'I need to help her with her footy skills to make sure she continues to develop her game'."
Maddy Levi: "Could have a bad game in a footy sense, but she'll have a dozen tackles and she's that type of player."
Daisy D'Arcy: "She's got a rugby background, but I think she's had no real formal teaching as such, so she's going to blossom the most and move along the fastest, and she ran just behind Single and Drennan. No one talks about her, because she's been hiding in Townsville.
Janet Baird: "I feel a bit sorry for her, because she's been left in that extra piece of Australia (the NT) that recruiters haven't done as much homework in. She's had a few two-week blocks last year when she came down and was immersed in the program, and she's a real natural player."
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Annise Bradfield: "Bradfield for me, she was the best player available in Queensland as a footballer goes. She's had a rough 18 months with her health, but she's got all that back in check."
Wallis Randell: "She's a basketballer that's crossed over and is improving in leaps and bounds and is a really solid human being. You feel like you can bring her in, and she has the opportunity to develop and make the most of each opportunity. (Overall), it was a really balanced pick up, it really does complete our jigsaw of pieces."