In 2016 the Gold Coast Suns will be without Harley Bennell and Charlie Dixon.
Even just typing it I feel a blow that will land with some force to many Suns fans who have loved watching the pair play for the red and yellow, and it will continue to be a sore point for yet more fans every time either one of them have a massive game for their new clubs.
On one level, it is easy to feel like the Suns are falling apart all over again, losing two of their best players in one week at a time when confidence could not be much lower.
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But fans should stay strong, because while Dixon’s decision in particular will have ripped the heart out of many a supporter, the departures of Harley and Charlie have gifted the Suns the chance to do what very few clubs gets to do – execute an ‘in-window’ rebuild.
Rewind to the start of the 2015 season and there were plenty of pundits announcing with absolute confidence that the Suns would not only make the top 8 but challenge the better sides come finals time.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. Injury struck (a lot) and the lower tier of Suns players were exposed as raw and unprepared for the physical and mental rigours of top flight footy.
But Suns fans need only to look at what happened to the West Coast Eagles in 2014 to have hope for next season.
In 2014 the Eagles were touted as a top 2 side right at the beginning of their ‘premiership window’ period of what is generally considered to be 3-4 seasons, but injury and form combined to see them bundled out of the 8 altogether.
Their ‘shocking’ season had experts perplexed as to ‘where they were’ and at the start of this season absolutely no one had them in their top 8, let alone finishing second.
But the results of the Eagles this season highlight that while teams in a premiership window can have a bad season, they can just as easily climb straight back up to where everyone thought they should be the following year.
This bounce-back is caused by the sheer talent of the list and by the dual factors of premium talent returning from injury and second tier talent getting the taste of league footy and going to a new level with their off-season training.
Right now the Suns are in a rare position indeed.
They have absolute premium talent, they have second and third tier players who now all KNOW unequivocally what it takes to play AFL footy after being thrashed and bashed all season long.
But most importantly they have a high first round draft pick thanks to their finishing position, coupled with the potential that not one but two star players could be arriving via the Bennell/Dixon trades.
This on top of any other signings they make in the off-season.
The 2015 season may have wrapped up for the Suns but in the next month some savvy, shrewd and intelligent list management could ensure that this time next year the Suns are still well and truly in the hunt!
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