Just as things were starting to look up for the Gold Coast Suns during another lacklustre home and away campaign, they have reached new lows.
At 4:30pm last Saturday, there was a buzz around the Suns camp. Stuart Dew had led his team through a nice three-week patch of form that saw them knock off the reigning premiers, beat top-eight hopeful Giants and relentlessly compete against the top of the table Bulldogs.
Not only this, but they were half way through putting a dagger through the Brisbane Lions' top four aspirations, upstaging their fellow Queenslanders as they head into the sheds with a 27-point lead.
Thats when the Suns started to do what they have been known for since entering the competition.
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A 13-goal half to one spelled one of the most epic collapses by a team this season. The Suns didn't prepare for a response from an underwhelming Lions and paid the ultimate price, allowing Brisbane to run away with a convincing 49-point demolition.
The scene was set after the game. Heads were down. Coaches left without answers.
And it was clear they were left to lament all week long, letting the previous week's horror half bleed into their clash against the Demons.
The stage was set for the Suns to bounce back and compete against the benchmark team in the competition.
A crazy weekend full of lockdowns and rescheduled games saw the Demons fly to Queensland only to be sent back after two hours sitting on the tarmac. Less than ideal preparation for the opposition gave the Suns a perfect opportunity to shake the game up.
The Suns allowed 14-straight goals after quarter-time in a performance that was arguably their worst for the season.
Over the last six quarters of play, the Suns have produced record numbers. Kicking 4.11 for 41 points, they have been outscored by a staggering 174 points, allowing their opposition to run rampant with 31.29 (215).
With another disappointing season in the books, coach Stuart Dew is well and truly in the hot seat. With the worst win-loss record by any Suns coach and contract that expires at the completion of the 2022 season, his position looks to be the most volatile in the competition.
It leaves us thinking, where to from here for the AFL's most miserable franchise?
A boost in on-field personnel?
The Gold Coast have struggled to attract on-field leaders to truly lead them in the heart of the battle.
Greenwood and Ellis have performed well since putting on the Suns jumper, but have been unable to turn around the clubs poor win-loss record.
That is why the Suns need to acquire a flat out superstar. A leader on the way out of his own club that can help install a better on-field culture and help lift the Suns who are struggling to consistently turn up week in week out.
There have been many successful implementations of this strategy from the last handful of seasons alone.
Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie were able to help carve a path for the Eagles in 2017 after consecutive finals campaigns that fell short. Although being knocked out in the semi final, the two led from the front and installed new standards in the group, helping the Eagles complete a fairytale run in 2018 eventuating in their first premiership win since 2006.
The same was apparent when Jordan Lewis left his premiership winning side Hawthorn to instil a winning mentality to the mediocre Demons, who made a 2018 preliminary final and are now one of the competitions benchmark sides.
Stevie Johnson to the Giants for their 2016 finals run as well as James Kelly and Paul Chapman leading the post drug-saga Bombers are similar examples of Geelong leaders making their mark on other clubs.
At the end of the 2017 season, the Lions were last on the ladder finishing with a record of five wins and 17 losses. A position they were all too familiar with, finishing in the bottom four six out of the last eight seasons.
Fagan identified the need for an on-field leader and made the phone call to a recently retired Hodge to help lift a side in trouble.
In Hodge's first season in 2018, the Lions finished at the bottom end of the ladder once again, but showed promising signs for what the future might entail.
And in 2019, the Lions finished second on the ladder, with an equal win loss record as the top of the table Cats.
Ever since, the Lions have been a new side, a side that have lived in the top half of the ladder and continuously pushing to make their deep finals run and win their first premiership since the 2001-2003 three-peat.
There is plenty of proof that an ageing superstar to a struggling club has huge benefits in the long run and should be an approach the Suns seriously consider.
But who should they pick up?
Ultimately, the perfect bloke to target is also one that might sound a little far-fetched. But given the current circumstances, also makes a lot of sense.
Now, before you instantly dismiss the plausibility of this admittedly big call, the time for a move so outlandish is perfect.
The Magpies have a very transparent and public issue with their salary cap. After a huge fire sale at the end of last year's trade period - that saw superstar Adam Treloar, Tom Phillips and rising star Jaidyn Stephenson shown the door - Collingwood are reportedly still feeling the "hangover" of cleansing their list.
Now with Collingwood commencing a forced list rebuild, the Pies are looking to gain picks for this year's draft. Father-son prospect Nick Daicos looks likely to join the Pies, but will require most of their draft points to acquire him if taken with the first pick.
The Pies will likely look to move on some of their established talent to gain more picks in the draft. And it isn't out of the realms of possibility that Pendlebury might be on that list.
Gold Coast have already expressed their intention of moving high picks with a focus on luring an experienced player to the club, so the likelihood of Collingwood and Gold Coast doing a deal at season's end in some capacity is very high. Who knows, maybe Pendlebury is on that list.
Another factor that might come into play is Pendlebury's mentor Nathan Buckley is obviously no longer at the club. Pendlebury was a big follower and believer in the ex-Collingwood coach and now that Buckley was forced out midway through the season, the Pies captain might not have the same desire to stay throughout the clubs rebuild phase.
Other than Pendlebury, the Suns can still target players like Bachar Houli, Shaun Burgoyne, Nathan Jones and Seb Ross, who will likely provide similar on-field leadership that can help the Suns take the next step.
A relocation to Tasmania?
It has been rumoured, gossiped about and lobbied for years. But the time has finally come.
Tasmania needs an AFL side.
Since the VFL started accepting interstate clubs in the 1980's, the demand for a Tasmanian side has been astronomic.
It is no secret that that same sentiment still remains, with many believing their best chance is to have the AFL's baby Gold Coast relocate south of the Bass Straight.
A round 14 blockbuster between the Hawks and Bombers saw record crowds flood the University of Tasmania Stadium. 14,834 rowdy and passionate supporters piled in to watch a tight contest between two interstate clubs, the highest crowd for round 14 and a larger crowd than the Suns average home crowd since entering the competition of 12,596 (and their average crowd pre-COVID of 13,929.11).
And Gold Coast's record since being introduced to the league has done themselves no favours in squashing talks of a relocation down south.
The Suns have failed to finish a season higher than 12th, where they were led to 10 wins by Gary Ablett in 2014 before a season-ending shoulder injury soured their top-eight aspirations.
*2021 season at completion of Round 20
Keen Tasmania football fans have used the Suns poor performance as a vehicle to boost their own aspirations of an AFL club, believing a relocation from Gold Coast to a passionate Tassie is the answer to the clubs woes.
This sentiment has been laughed off as farcical by Gold Coast's chairman Tony Cochrane, who had a peculiar and equally entertaining back and forth with Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein earlier in the year.
Cochrane claimed a Tasmanian team would be "insanity", which saw the Premier jab back claiming a Tasmanian team would "flog" the Suns. He also implored Tasmanian footy fans to boo the Gold Coast chairman during the Suns round 15 game against the Kangaroos in Hobart.
Glad to see even the most prestigious aren't above a bit of petty tit for tats.
Cochrane also shared transparently after round 14 that not even a further expansion would happen in the next "three-five years".
“The money is not there, the depths of playing group is not there and at the end of the day, thank God, that decision has to go to the 18 existing presidents,” he told SEN SA.
On Fox Footy's On the Couch, the message was still the same.
"Firstly, if you actually listen to my commentary," Cochrane said. “The AFL as an industry cannot afford a 19th franchise, I don’t care whether that franchise is in Timbuktu, Tailem Bend, or Tasmania. That is my point.
“Right at this point in time, we’ve got 12 of the 18 clubs have significant loans, are significantly in overdraft or whatever financial cover you want to put on it. So I don’t believe we’re in a position to expand the competition; as simple as that.”
It will take a lot for the AFL to consider the Gold Coast a failure and pack their bags to Tasmania, but it might be an unforeseeable result if the Suns continue on their current trend.
There are plenty of options that the Suns can take that can either work or fail miserably.
The answer isn't entirely clear.
However, THE answer might have just landed in their lap.
And no, I'm not talking about Allen Iverson.
The Suns desperately need a senior coach that can shift the current culture, demanding and developing more from the current list.
St Kilda champion Leigh Montagna believes there is only one answer to the Suns woes.
The coaching great's resumes speaks for itself.
4x premiership coach. 59% winning percentage over the course of 17 seasons. The last successful "three-peat".
Clarkson is the best coach of the modern era. And Montagna believes the AFL should do every within their power to help the Suns snare him.
"They need to do whatever it takes to get on the phone, Gil McLachlan, and ring Alastair Clarkson and say: ‘Whatever you need ‘Clarko’, we need you at the Gold Coast Suns’,” Montagna said on Fox Footy's First Crack.
“It’s always been a bit of a hypothetical about getting someone like a Clarko, well now it’s real, he’s available. Something has to change (at the Suns) because the culture has not changed in 11 years."
Similar to acquiring the likes of Pendlebury and Houli for their on-field presence, Clarkson provides a huge opportunity to get the best out of the current personnel, as well as bringing in his past experiences with success to really boost the sides development and ability.
“He’s the man because the playing group needs someone with some premiership aura about them." Montagna continued. "He can attract some staff, he can attract sponsors, he can sell hope, he can be an ambassador for Queensland football...He’s the perfect target and Gil McLachlan should be bending over backwards to do whatever they need to do.”
Bend the rules? Montagna thinks the AFL should consider doing so. Any way they can help the Suns acquire Clarkson's services needs to be seriously examined, and changing the rules around the soft cap may be a necessary evil.
“If they have to change the rules the AFL to say in 18 months we’ll change the rules so the coaches’ money is outside the soft cap we’ll do it for every other club in the competition,” he added. I know other clubs might kick up a stink and they might say that’s not fair, but we know the AFL competition is not fair – (it) never has been, (it) never will be.
“For the sake of the competition and for the future of the Gold Coast Suns, the AFL need to do whatever they can to get Clarko.”
What do you think the Suns should do to turn the club around? Let us know what you think in the comments section.