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Long and winding road

Date

Emma Quayle

Saturday's clash is just a glimpse of the future.

Work in progress: Youngster Harley Bennell with Skipper Gary Ablett.

Work in progress: Youngster Harley Bennell with Skipper Gary Ablett. Photo: Getty Images

WE'RE discussing two baby-faced teams, so it seems appropriate to start with a reference to Dawson's Creek. I don't want to wait, went the theme song to US television's ode to late-90s teenage angst, I want to know right now, what will it be?

It's human nature to want answers to things that haven't happened yet, which is why Gold Coast's first encounter with Greater Western Sydney is intriguing and filled with some potentially false meanings.

Will Jeremy Cameron or Jon Patton monster more opposition backlines than Sam Day and Tom Lynch? Who'll prove more miserly in defence, Jack Hombsch or Seb Tape? Will Harley Bennell or Stephen Coniglio dance down the wings more often? Which team will play finals first and which will pinch the first premiership?

Opinions will be formed, and conclusions drawn, based on what happens on Saturday in Canberra. The question has even been asked: would a loss hurt Guy McKenna's chances of a new contract? No doubt, the likes of Toby Greene, Dylan Shiel, Tom Bugg and Liam Sumner will relish taking on David Swallow, Dion Prestia, Josh Caddy, Trent McKenzie and co; players who are just 12 months older yet strangely feel like last year's toys. But as Karmichael Hunt and Bennell have shown in the first six weeks of this season, making instant assessments isn't always smart. Both teams have only just begun to take shape.

They're also difficult to compare. The Giants are grateful they got to see how the Suns did things before piecing their own approach together, and selling their club to players who had seen Gary Ablett prove life at an expansion club wasn't all bad, even if you lost every week. Taking into account the additional concessions the 18th club was granted, they have trod a similar path.

It's early days, but the Giants may end up with the bigger/better bunch of 17-year-olds, with each club able to sign a dozen ahead of their state league season. That's got a bit to do with luck: aside from Adelaide's Brodie Smith, who was eligible, the Suns didn't overlook anyone they'd be regretting. Already, Shiel, Cameron, Bugg, Adam Treloar and Hombsch look the goods and we haven't really seen Tim Golds, Nathan Wilson or Josh Growden. That said, Russell, Mav Weller, Josh Toy and Jack Hutchins are talented players and Gold Coast's version of Cameron, Alex Keath, chose to play cricket instead.

The Giants could end up finding more players in the Northern Territory. Where Gold Coast had two years to list players from there, they have three. Already, Curtly Hampton and Shaun Edwards have shown some exciting glimpses. They have a call to make on Jed Anderson, given he spent time with their TAC Cup team but went back to Darwin homesick. The Suns expect Steven May to hold down full-back for many years, but Liam Patrick was the only other player to come through in that time, although they may end up finding more in their local zone. The Giants don't have a Zac Smith at this stage (then there's Charlie Dixon, Rory Thompson, Joel Wilkinson, Alex Sexton and Jackson Allen), although high hopes are held for Josh Bruce and Jacob Townsend.

It's too early to compare the draftees, although GWS, obviously, has more. Finish last this year and they'll get another No. 1 pick, something the Suns missed out on after finishing bottom last year. They were also able to lure some potential 10-year players - Callan Ward, Phil Davis, Tom Scully - where Gold Coast has been criticised for bringing in an older bunch of uncontracted players. It's worth noting though, that not only do the Giants have a second year to chase uncontracted players, they also have a more flexible list to work with. This year and for two more, they can have anywhere from 44 to 50 players. From there, it drops from 48 to 44, then 42, and so on, until they're back to 38.

The Suns were required to fill every spot, which gave them less flexibility and meant they needed more (cheaper) kids. Their list dropped by two players this year, to 46, and will keep falling by two until they're back to 38. By that time Josh Fraser and Campbell Brown will be gone, freeing room and cash.

That both clubs know they've only just started a lengthy process has been obvious in the last two trade periods, with both desperate to snaffle as many compensation, or future picks, as they could. The Giants have three, and the Suns another two.

You can't do it all in one draft and you can't see the future in one game, as interesting as Saturday's glimpse should be.

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