At home on the ground: Harley Bennell of the Suns. Photo: Getty Images
GOLD Coast chief Travis Auld freely admitted yesterday his club had made mistakes in establishing itself as an AFL team last season.
One of those, he said, was underestimating the level of homesickness suffered by so many of the club's elite young footballers.
Despite boasting footballers earning more than $1 million above the salary cap and a majority of its playing list made up of teenagers, the Suns employed only one welfare manager last season.
The decision by West Australian midfielder Harley Bennell to commit to the Suns until the end of 2014 is a strong indication that the AFL's 17th club has corrected that early oversight.
If homesickness could be measured among the group last season, said Auld, on occasion he felt as if ''there was a room full of it''.
Famously pining for home during 2011 and attracting strong interest from both West Coast and Fremantle, Bennell not only found a friend and mentor in Karmichael Hunt - with whom he lived last season - but also joined forces with Hunt's manager, David Riolo, distancing himself from former manager Carlos de Costa, who had also managed Nathan Krakouer.
Riolo was one of the NRL's suspended player agents for his role in the salary cap rorting by Melbourne Storm two years ago, but is believed to be considering a challenge that ban. He also manages Sydney's Kieren Jack and clearly has won the faith of the Suns through the impressive Hunt.
Bennell said yesterday he owed his survival at the Gold Coast to Hunt, but his new manager is understood to have proved a more co-operative prospect than De Costa, who drew the ire of Port Adelaide for the manner in which Krakouer left that club.
Krakouer is now gone from the Suns because of the challenges in his private life and his failure to adapt at the Gold Coast.
But of the long list of early draft choices secured by the Suns in year one, only Josh Caddy remains out of contract at the end of this season and Gold Coast is quietly confident it will secure him. Last year, it knocked back Essendon's offer of pick No. 19 and Scott Gumbleton as a trade.
The Suns doubled their welfare team this year, employing Sam Coen, from the Queensland Reds, and the club has found that while players are still requesting extra time in their home towns after playing games, those requests have diminished.
''We certainly haven't got everything right,'' Auld told The Age. ''We had 31 players under the age of 21 and we realised we needed a significant increase in our welfare component than we had in year one.
''Our immediate strategy was focused about securing a lot of our elite talent because we knew a lot of other clubs would come at these players because we had first bite of the cherry. Part of that challenge was creating a culture and an environment that would make this an attractive place for these boys to want to stay and be a part of a successful club.''
David Swallow, Sam Day, Tom Lynch, Brandon Matera, Jeremy Taylor, Luke Russell, Jaeger O'Meara and Alex Sexton have all committed to the Suns until the end of 2014, with Seb Tape, Matt Shaw, Dion Prestia, Trent McKenzie and Zac Smith until the end of 2013.
Hunt has also re-signed for two seasons, while Gary Ablett signed a five-year deal and Jarrod Harbrow four years. The remainder of the senior players were all secured on three-year deals. The contracts were significantly front-ended given the extra money in the salary cap. By 2015, the Suns must compete on equal terms.
Auld said the club faced significant issues retaining its elite talent in its fifth season. ''That will mean we've done something right,'' he said.