As Richmond, Carlton and Essendon cop a hammering from the media following their poor starts to the season, oblivious to many, a team from up north has had its best start to a season in its history.
At a win-loss record of 4-2 and sitting sixth on the ladder after six rounds, many may be surprised to discover the Gold Coast Suns are beginning to shape as a legitimate finals contender.
Not only that, but their home ground advantage will soon become one of the toughest asks in the AFL.
We all knew the development was going to come from a side with a plethora of first-round draft picks, surrounded by the best player in the competition in Gary Ablett Jnr. But just when this team was going to arrive was the uncertainty.
And while the 2014 season will not not see the Suns become genuine premiership contenders, which it may do in 2015 and years to come, instead it is a year of consolidating itself as a top-end, middle-of-the-road team.
The most promising aspect about Gold Coast is the organisation seems to understand its players and coaches development better than anyone else. This reflects in the club’s victories this season – three out of four they were expected to secure wins (GWS, Brisbane & Melbourne) and they did.
And while a win against Richmond at home was not expected, it’s almost certain that head coach Guy McKenna and his team touted it as a game they should win, which is exactly what top-end, middle-of-the-road teams do – win at home.
It’s an advantage that the Suns need to consolidate this season at Metricon Stadium as they climb up the ladder to contest for the premiership in the coming years.
Think back to the Brisbane Lions of the early 2000s where many feared the trip north to the Gabba, or even the West Coast Eagles of 2005/06 and the taxing trip many endured across the Nullarbor to the ‘pressure cooker’. More recently, even Port Adelaide has made what many people are already calling the ‘Portress’ at the newly revamped Adelaide Oval.
While many believe the strongest teams originate from Melbourne, the heart of AFL, it is an advantage interstate teams have over the rest of the competition like no other.
But The Courier Mail’s Robert Craddock believes it may be a hard task.
“One of the problems they face is it’s quite a nice away game for a lot of teams,” Craddock tells upstart.
“Teams look at away games to Perth as a bit of a doomsday scenario, but the match at Metricon against the Gold Coast is quite a really little nice pit stop on the calendar. It gets them out of Melbourne, they get the sun on their backs and it’s a really nice experience for them.”
Yet just one of the pair of losses they have endured so far this season has been at Metricon Stadium, coming against the reigning premiers, Hawthorn. The other came out west against last year’s grand finalists, Fremantle, in a gallant effort.
It is inevitable that Gold Coast will form some sort of home ground advantage and this season may very well be the season it is established.
And Craddock contends some sort of dominance at home will happen in the near future, but still has doubts.
“They will get there,” he says. “They like playing there (at Metricon Stadium) and they play well there, but I still think there will always be that factor of that teams are really happy to go there.
“If they’re not a top-eight team this year, they’re close to it.”
Gaining and maintaining respect at home is naturally the next step for the Suns.
Last year they finally squared the ledger at home with a 6-5 win-loss ratio. And this year, with 11 of 22 games at home, they cannot afford to drop more than three games. Innately, wins interstate will come, and with that too, the next phase of the Suns turning into a genuine premiership contender.
Jake Keating is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) student at La Trobe University and is the sports co-editor for upstart. You can follow him on Twitter: @JKeats10.