Are Greater Western Sydney or Gold Coast closer to a flag?
In the last week of September, 2019, the answer was clear as day. GWS were preparing for the club’s long awaited first grand final, fresh off a monumental upset in the preliminary final over Collingwood.
Gold Coast won three games for the season, and had just picked up the club’s second wooden spoon.
How quickly the footy landscape can change.
On September 28, GWS flunked their grand final debut, which was no doubt the biggest game of the club’s short history. They were slaughtered by 89 points at the hands of Richmond, and scored just 3.7.25.
The very next day, September 29, it was announced Gold Coast would be receiving a 3 year assistance package from the AFL.
These two events completely threw the new franchise flag race off course.
The scars of a grand final thrashing are real, and history proves it. Eight other teams have lost a grand final by 40 points or more this century. The next season, just three of those made finals, and none made it further than the second week.
Looking beyond that, just two of the eight teams made a grand final in the next five years, and only one went all the way. That was West Coast, who lost to Hawthorn by 46 points in the 2015 grand final, and won the 2018 premiership.
GWS are no certainty to play finals, and currently sit outside the eight at 6-5. This comes off the back of a disastrous 41 point drubbing at the hands of cross-town rival and bottom four side Sydney. Comfortably the Giants worst performance of the year.
Leon Cameron is under significant scrutiny. The side looks lost, even described as “hopeless” in a half time interview by captain Stephen Coniglio. The scars are showing.
The season where they went the furthest, could be the one that put GWS the furthest away
GWS have not only made finals every year for the past four years, they’ve won a final every year for the past four years. They’ve made a grand final, and two preliminary finals, yet their trophy cabinet remains bare.
All that time at the top, coming tantalisingly close to the ultimate glory, but never achieving it.
Richmond have made finals for the last three years, in that time they’ve won two premierships.
It took the Western Bulldogs two years of finals footy to taste an oh so sweet premiership.
In six straight years of finals action, Hawthorn won three premierships.
Have GWS missed their premiership window?
Not only is the window closing, they now have the added pressure of overcoming the scars of a grand final thrashing. Something just one in eight teams have achieved this century.
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On the contrary, Gold Coast’s premiership window looms large. The league’s former basket case is now bursting at the seams with exciting young talent.
Gold Coast’s assistance package included pick one and the first second round pick in 2019, a mid-first round pick in 2020, and the first second round pick in 2021.
They were also given provision of the Darwin region as an academy zone, the ability to pre-sign Suns academy players without bidding, and a rookie list increased by up to 10.
This may sound like it’s skewing the parity and giving Gold Coast an unfair advantage. In reality, GWS were given extra concessions upon entry into the league across salary cap, list size, and draft selections. Think of Gold Coast’s assistance package as an overdue present, squaring the ledger.
With that assistance package Gold Coast were able to draft wonderkid Matt Rowell’s right hand man, Noah Anderson. Not only is Anderson himself a bright young talent, the second best in the 2019 draft class, he was the key piece in Gold Coast’s player retention puzzle.
Even when he's injured, Rowell steals the limelight, but his mate Anderson can play too
Steven May, Tom Lynch, Jaeger O’Meara, Charlie Dixon, Josh Caddy, Dion Prestia, Adam Saad, Aaron Hall and Jack Martin all walked out the door. Losing that calibre of talent, no club would be able to compete.
Matt Rowell, who’s off the charts debut season was cut short by a shoulder injury, has all the hallmarks of a future superstar. More importantly, he just resigned until 2023. Having his best mate Noah Anderson up there with him no doubt made the decision easier.
Rowell’s signature signified a new dawn for Gold Coast. Not only do they have the brightest crop of young talent in the country, they have a crop that’s in it for the long haul.
A premiership team can certainly be built around Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Jack Lukosius, Charlie Ballard, Connor Budarick, Izak Rankine, and Ben King. All of which are under 22 years of age.
Throw in the likes of David Swallow, Touk Miller, Hugh Greenwood, Lachie Weller, Jarrod Witts, and Sam Collins; they could be contending in the very near future.
You can put a line through the Giants’ premiership chances this year. Whether they bounce back or not in years to come will define who has the shortest odds in the new franchise flag race, because Gold Coast are headed on a steep upward trajectory.
Don’t be surprised if the Suns overtake the Giants, and even go all the way.