HOPES were high for Gold Coast after a promising first NAB AFLW season in 2020, even if the Suns had only qualified for finals on the back of a rushed, expanded series ahead of COVID-19.
But the Suns crashed to a winless season, beset by injuries, inconsistency and an inability to use the ball cleanly once won.
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams in reverse ladder order.
WHO'S HANGING UP THE BOOTS? Your club's retiring players
Coach: David Lake (has since resigned)
Leadership group: Sam Virgo, Hannah Dunn (co-captains), Sarah Perkins, Jade Pregelj, Jamie Stanton
2021 finishing position: 14th, zero wins and nine losses, 36.5%
Best team performance: Gold Coast 5.5 (35) lost to Melbourne 9.2 (56) in round one.
Possibly a controversial choice, given the Suns lost by one point to West Coast, but they were full of running against the Dees and played with purpose. The midfield and forward line had a strong connection – which could not be said for most of the season – and Sarah Perkins kicked two goals on club debut.
Best individual performance: Key defender and best and fairest winner Lauren Ahrens had a magnificent season, named in the All-Australian squad, and had an absolute day out against West Coast. She finished with 19 disposals, 11 intercepts seven marks and five inside-50s.
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Lauren Bella
Debutants: Janet Baird, Annise Bradfield, Daisy D'Arcy, Bess Keaney, Maddi Levi, Wallis Randell, Lucy Single (AFLW debuts); Georgia Bevan, Emma Pittman, Ali Drennan, Sarah Perkins (club debuts)
Retirees: Sally Riley, Sam Virgo
Most improved: Ruck Lauren Bella continued to take her game to a new level this year. While she doesn't get a heap of the footy around the ground, she's got an excellent leap and gives her midfielders first use of the ball.
Star recruit: Ali Drennan's desire to move north came at a perfect time for Gold Coast, who snaffled up the former Saint. She instantly added depth to the midfield and became the Suns' primary ball-winner by the end of the season, working her guts out every match.
Unsung hero: Kate Surman. "Spud" caught the eye last year with some flashy moves up forward, but put her head down in the midfield in 2021. She averaged 15.2 disposals and 3.4 tackles across her nine games in her second year of AFLW.
BEST AND FAIREST WRAP Who was your club champion?
- The Suns were actually one of the best contested possession sides in the competition, sitting fourth for average contested ball. That may signify they were often under pressure, but at least they were winning the footy when the opportunity presented itself.
What needs improvement:
- Working on what happens after Gold Coast wins its contested possessions should be first port of call for the new coach. The Suns ranked second last for uncontested possessions, and in the bottom four for disposals, kicks, handballs and marks.
- The forward line needs work, whether it’s the connection with the midfield, personnel, supply or leading patterns. A fully fit Sarah Perkins will help, and Kalinda Howarth rebounded to finish strongly after a very quiet seven or so games, but the Suns had the lowest leading goalscorer tally, with six players kicking just three goals.
- Injury luck will also help. Sarah Perkins and Jamie Stanton failed to finish the season, top draftee Annise Bradfield ruptured her ACL early in the season, young gun Jacqui Yorston tore her own ACL over summer after a star QAFLW season and last year's academy pre-selection Ellie Hampson only overcame her foot injury in time for the final game of the season.
Early call for 2022: Getting games into the kids this year will help immeasurably in 2022, but there's still a long road ahead for the Suns. Winning one game will be a big confidence boost, and in a 10-week season, three victories would be a good step forward.
Season rating: 2/10