Gold Coast Suns 4.0 7.2 15.9 18.11 (119) Western Bulldogs 3.3 5.8 6.10 10.123 (73)
Goals – Gold Coast Suns: Dixon 4, Lynch 4, Matera 3, Bennell 2, Russell 2, Swallow, Shaw, Day. Western Bulldogs: Tutt 2, Giansiracusa 2, Cooney 2, Stevens, Murphy, Griffen.
Best – Gold Coast Suns: Prestia, Shaw, Harbrow, Matera, Dixon, Lynch. Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Picken, Dahlhaus, Griffen, Boyd, Minson.
Umpires: Fisher, Nicholls, Ryan.
Reports: Cooney (Western Bulldogs) for rough conduct against Ablett (Gold Coast) in the second quarter
Crowd: 14,235 at Metricon Stadium.
Half-way through the second quarter against the Western Bulldogs, and Gary Ablett was nursing a sore head. Adam Cooney had just been reported, for clattering high and fractionally late into the Suns captain as he bent to collect the ball.
Ablett’s shot went wide, and there was Liam Picken again, straight back by his side, doing whatever it took to drive the superstar to distraction. It was working, too: Ablett had just eight possessions for the half, almost unthinkable by his standards.
The Suns were getting frustrated, too. Only marginally in front in a game they were expected to take with ease, they were being made to fight and claw by their less gifted but hard-working opponents.
Picken and his fellow former rookie Luke Dahlhaus exemplify the Doggies’ spirit. Neither were expected to make many inroads in senior footy but they play with fanatical determination and application to the task at hand.
It’s not as if the Dogs don’t have any silk. Marcus Bontempelli showed early glimpses of the skill that saw him drafted at No. 4 last year. Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae are two of the best young midfielders in the competition.
With old hands Cooney and Matthew Boyd, they managed to put the clamps on the sublime Gold Coast midfield. And they really should have been in front at half-time, only an inaccurate tally of 5.8 sparing the home side’s blushes.
But within a bit over 10 minutes of the resumption, a one-goal lead to the Suns had blown out to 32, and the game was up, despite Picken still sitting in Ablett’s hip pocket. By the end of the third quarter the margin was 53 points.
That’s how the Suns play their football, in explosive bursts that can finish a match in minutes. For most of their football lives they’ve relied on their captain for delivering such bursts of brilliance, above his already freakishly high baseline. Not any more.
This time it was ball magnet Dion Prestia, the hard-running Matt Shaw and Jarrod Harbrow who did most of the midfield damage for the Suns, with Jaeger O’Meara and David Swallow, front-liners this year, providing back-up.
It’s that spread of players (throw in the under-rated likes of Michael Rischitelli, Danny Stanley and Luke Russell, who can all go through the middle as required) that allows coach the luxury of playing Harley Bennell on a forward flank.
It’s a combination that’s proving a nightmare for opposition coaches to combat. Up forward, key forwards Charlie Dixon and Tom Lynch kicked eight goals between them; Bennell and Brandon Matera another half-dozen.
All the while Picken stuck, well, doggedly to his task, Ablett not being allowed to break free even as his teammates overran their opponents. For once, he looked as mortal as any other player, even at times rather ordinary.
But with Zac Smith back in the ruck and Rory Thompson the only significant out, this was pretty close to the Suns’ best 22, and what began as a test became a romp that saw them stake their place in the top three, with seven wins for the season.
Staying there, though, will be another matter. The Suns have proved they can win the games they nominally should: six of those wins have come against opponents stuck in the bottom third of the ladder.
In the next six weeks, the club will play Adelaide (away), Sydney, West Coast (away), Geelong, Hawthorn (in Launceston) and Collingwood. Win three of those and that will tell us a lot more than this match about whether the Suns have genuinely arrived as a serious force in the competition.