Season review: Gold Coast

AS COACH David Lake said, Gold Coast wasn't around to just make up the numbers in 2020.

The Suns had a big impact in their first season in the competition, qualifying for the expanded finals series and unearthing some exciting talent in the process.

Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams, kicking off proceedings with Adelaide and moving alphabetically from there. 

Coach: David Lake

Leadership group: Leah Kaslar, Sam Virgo (co-captains), Tiarna Ernst, Sally Riley, Jamie Stanton

2020 finishing position: Fourth in Conference A, two wins, one draw, three losses, 101.3%. Lost to Fremantle in a semi-final.

Best win: Gold Coast 5.3 (33) defeated West Coast 1.2 (8)
The Suns well and truly dominated this game, with the Eagles only managing two points to three-quarter time. Kalinda Howarth starred with four goals while Kate Surman found plenty of the footy. While not a win, the 13-point loss to North Melbourne was also one of the Suns' better performances.

AFLW Match Highlights: West Coast v Gold Coast

04:30 Mar 15. 2020. 7:36 PM

The Eagles and the Suns clash in Round 6 of the AFLW

Best individual performance: Midfielder Jamie Stanton was always going to be one of Gold Coast's best this year, and was particularly strong against Richmond in round two. Despite carrying a shoulder injury in the second half and under close attention from Katie Brennan, Stanton was crucial in the win with 20 disposals and a goal.

Club best and fairest candidates: Jamie Stanton, Kalinda Howarth, Kate Surman, Tiarna Ernst

NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Kalinda Howarth (round three)

Debutants: Lauren Ahrens, Cheyenne Hammond, Alexia Hamilton, Ellie Hampson, Dee Heslop, Kalinda Howarth, Jordann Hickey, Jade Pregelj, Molly Ritson, Taylor Smith, Kate Surman, Serene Watson

Star recruit (existing AFLW player): Tiarna Ernst's leadership and flexibility were crucial to the inexperienced Gold Coast line-up in 2020. Needing to move north for work commitments, the former premiership Bulldog played as a tall at both ends of the ground and even on the wing at times.

Ernst's earnest effort earns her first ever goal

00:37 Feb 29. 2020. 5:32 PM

Suns defender Tiarna Ernst kicks her first goal after 26 games in the AFLW competition

Star recruit (open-age or draftee): Kalinda Howarth is definitely an option in this category, but the work of Kate Surman shouldn't go unnoticed. The small midfielder (who also pushed up forward) was incredibly dangerous throughout the season, averaging 14 disposals and five tackles and booting three goals.

Unsung hero: We didn't get to see the best of Brittany Perry during her 2019 season at GWS, but the forward was an integral part of the Suns' attack this year. Perry was tenacious in her attack on the ball, kicking three goals and averaging 11 disposals.

New Suns rise: Gold Coast's first AFLW goal

00:34 Feb 8. 2020. 1:41 PM

Brittany Perry makes history by scoring Gold Coast's first ever goal in AFLW

What worked:

- The tall defensive duo of Lauren Ahrens and Jade Pregelj. Untried at AFLW level, the pair proved to be quite the handful for opposition sides. Local Ahrens had done the rounds at VFLW level before returning home, while Pregelj had been a star junior midfielder before giving the game away for seven years after she joined the army.

- The young talent acquired through the draft and under-age academy signings. Ellie Hampson, Serene Watson and Dee Heslop all had important moments during matches, and while injury prevented Kitara Whap-Farrar from playing, the young defender is another high-quality long-term prospect.

What needs improvement:

- The midfield was an issue at times, with Gold Coast battling to win the ball out of contests and control it on the outside. Despite a strong ruck in Lauren Bella, the Suns were second-last in average clearances, fourth-last in uncontested possessions and last in uncontested marks.

- The Suns were an impressive first-year outfit, but struggled against the established sides, with their wins coming against Richmond and West Coast. The improvement and ability to take the next step looks certain to come with time.

Game on after hot Suns' rapid-fire majors

00:38 Feb 29. 2020. 7:24 PM

Kate Surman and Kalinda Howarth get the Suns back in the game with two quick goals to start the third term

Season in a song: Roar (Katy Perry). The Suns' AFLW side was unburned by their AFL counterpart's difficulties and burst into the competition with a bang. They played with confidence and a sense of freedom and fun.

Early call for 2021: The gap between Gold Coast and the upper echelon of teams was exposed in the semi-final thumping. A jump like that isn't made in a season, so the Suns should be hunting for one of the bottom finals spots in 2021.

Season rating: 6/10