AFL 2024: Nathan Buckley warns AFL about Gold Coast Suns, different team to the past, selection statement vs GWS Giants, Garry Lyon reaction, Jonathan Brown comments, On the Couch, latest news

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This iteration of the Gold Coast Suns is “nothing like” the versions of years past, and you only have to look as far as their tantalising talent on display last Sunday to see why.

And, while that’s a promising development for the embattled expansion outfit, it might spell trouble for the casualties of last Thursday’s selection axing.

The Suns went down to GWS by 28 points at Mount Barker in Gather Round — evening their 2024 ledger at a modest 2-2 — but the Carrara devil is in the details.

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Fringe names have become household following Damien Hardwick’s arrival. The style of play is unprecedented, structured and predicated on defensive accountability.

It means that those who were omitted at the selection table — including the likes of 2017 premiership player Brandon Ellis, 13-year Sun Alex Sexton, 34-year-old stalwart Levi Casboult, out-of-contract ruckman Ned Moyle and veteran retreads Ben Long and Rory Atkins — will struggle to find their way back to AFL level, you’d think.

Then there’s 224-gamer David Swallow, who was relegated to sub duties — is an exclusion under the ‘managed’ guise next?

“It’s bad news for the guys that were dropped last week that are north of 25, 26 years of age,” said two-time flag-winner David King on Fox Footy’s First Crack.

“You ain’t getting back in for a little while, because these kids are about to go bang. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen quick at the Suns.”

“We’d been hoping the young kids could come in and do this for years, and (in the past) they haven’t had the structure and the standards to do that.”

Added 287-gamer Leigh Montagna: “They’ve got a strong system now that they’re (playing) under Damien Hardwick, and they’ve got some belief. I was impressed with their performance (against GWS).”

The Suns matched it with the premiership-contending Giants at Adelaide Hills, trailing by just eight points at the final change before being overwhelmed by the fearsome Orange Tsunami.

In addition to tactical changes, the on-field personnel adjustments have paid dividends — and we might not have seen the end of them just yet, even after those seven Suns were axed last Thursday night.

“I think we’ve seen slightly different stuff from the Gold Coast,” started Collingwood great Nathan Buckley On the Couch on Monday.

“I think, in eight weeks, or even less — maybe in four weeks — the side that you play wearing the Gold Coast guernseys will be nothing like the Gold Coast teams you have played in the past.

“There are young players that weren’t there, but there are (also) four or five guys who were fringe players (who have emerged) — Sam Flanders is one, who played 44 games in four years, (he was) in and out of the side.”

Flanders, who turned heads in the second half of last season as an inside ball-winner, has taken his game to an unforeseen level as a half-back-flanker under Hardwick.

The 22-year-old — whose 24.2 disposal average last season already obliterated his 16.4 career mean — is averaging 29.0 disposals per game through his first four outings as a line-breaking distributor.

“You need diversity, don’t you?” asked Fox Footy’s Nick Dal Santo during Sunday’s broadcast.

“You need to be able to play multiple positions to be a good, consistent player at this level. Flanders goes to half-back – a position he hasn’t played a great deal – and he’s played it really well … He’s been so damaging.”

The regional Victorian product collected 29 disposals and went at 83 per cent efficiency against the Giants.

While some have emerged from the shadows, other pre-eminent Suns have had to adapt to survive and be a part of Hardwick’s brigade.

“Jack Lukosius, we’re saying to you: ‘Jack, you’ve played forward last year, you look like (kicking) 30-40 goals, like you can make a good fist of it’ — Damien Hardwick’s looked at you and said ‘well, you’re not fitting into my forward line, so go back (in defence) before you go out (of the side)’,” Melbourne legend Garry Lyon said On the Couch.

“He went back (against GWS), he had plenty of metres gained, but that pressure that ‘Bucks’ is talking about, he wouldn’t have that level of pressure in Hardwick’s forward line,” Brisbane icon Jonathan Brown added.

“You’ve got to be able to compete, here. You’ve got to be able to compete, otherwise he’ll find himself out of that team, I would’ve thought.”

The 23-year-old — who booted 39 goals as a full-time key forward in 2023 — recorded 22 disposals at 82 per cent efficiency and seven inside-50s as a hybrid rebounding defender against GWS.

“He’s got the curse of talent,” Buckley said.

“We’ve seen him do it really well at both ends with his talent, but if you put his intensity next to a Mac Andrew — who had a season-high, competition-high 16 intercepts on the weekend at three-quarter-time, and the energy and intensity he displayed defensively — that was chalk and cheese.

“Mac Andrew has played 21 (games) over two years, but he was coming along, there was some injury involved in that. (Brayden) Fiorini was another that was in and out. Tom Berry played six (games) last year — he’s played every game this year due to his pressure and his speed.

“I think that Damien Hardwick has a different opinion of the type of footballer that he wants in his football teams, and they’ll be very different.”

Andrew, 20, is another of the notable emerging Suns, having not been able to solidify a permanent senior spot across his first two AFL seasons.

Sunday was just his first senior outing of the 2024 season, but if it’s any sign of things to come, he’ll find it hard to drop back out of the side.

Andrew accumulated a career-high 24 disposals against the Giants, to go along with 10 marks, 16 intercept possessions and seven rebound-50s.

“He’s been absolutely fantastic, just electric,” Sydney Swans Hall of Famer Gerard Healy told Fox Footy on Sunday. “He’s only played a few games of footy, so everybody can just sit back and watch his career unfold. He’s got tricks in the air (and) he’s got tricks on the ground.”

Yet to even receive a mention are the three fresh faces who debuted on Sunday — No.9 pick Ethan Read, 26th choice Will Graham and rookie draftee Sam Clohesy — and perhaps the most exciting “toy” under Hardwick’s Christmas tree: Jed ‘Walt Disney’ Walter.

Walter, who’s already been appraised with nicknames such as “Movie World” and the above, excites whenever he gets near a contest and on Sunday snagged his maiden AFL major.

He’s only had the 11 combined disposals across his pair of AFL games, but at this stage, the eye test is much more fruitful than his stat sheet.

“He will be the main attraction on the Gold Coast,” declared Fox Footy’s Ben Dixon. “He’ll be the biggest thing in two years on the Gold Coast. Bigger than Ablett.”

Gold Coast’s AFL future might be brighter than the Surfers’ Paradise sun if Dixon’s prediction rings true.

Originally published as ‘Bad news, you ain’t getting back in’: Brutal Suns cull that will turn club around