New Gold Coast Suns coach Damien Hardwick has hailed next year’s opening round home blockbuster against his old club Richmond as a beautiful “bomb”.
Hardwick led the Suns on their first day of pre-season training on Monday, the first step in his quest to turn around 13 years of failure in which the club has failed to reach the AFL finals.
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The three-time premiership winning Tigers coach was salivating at the prospect of welcoming Richmond to the Gold Coast on March 9.
“I reckon it is great. I think it is a great idea and (AFL CEO) Andrew Dillon has come in with a bomb,” Hardwick said.
“The more we can promote the northern states (the better). The participation rate in Queensland is leading the country, which is awesome.
Hardwick barks out the orders on the Suns’ first day of pre-season training. Credit: AAP
“We want to encourage that. We have four home-grown kids that we have brought into our footy club this year, which is incredibly exciting. We can’t wait to show those kids off. Hopefully some of them are putting their hand up to play against Richmond.”
Hardwick makes no bones about the fact he is planning to shock the visitors.
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“Richmond are an incredible club. I was honoured to be a part of it but we can’t wait to see them on our home deck and hopefully we get the win,” he grinned.
Hardwick said the building blocks were in place to turn the Suns into a premiership force and pinpointed a key area that needed improvement to play finals.
“There are a lot of things. It’s funny. We are always measured by the ladder,” he said.
“That is ideal. It’s the outcome, obviously. There are a lot of things that we do in the process of winning that we do really well here.
“(Former coach) Stuart Dew and his team did a terrific job with the contest and the defensive elements of the game plan. Offensively we could work some things we could do better. Most of the things are already in place so I am looking forward to what we can achieve.
“There are 17 other sides that want to make finals and challenge for premierships and we are no different.”
The Suns have struggled to win the big moments in games that are often the difference between finals teams and also-rans.
“It is (about) playing those moments as well. Those moments are going to come, and they have come for us in the past and will in the future,” he said.
“All we can do is educate the players the best we can, learn from our opportunities and, more importantly, grasp those opportunities when they come.
‘We are looking forward to training some of those concepts within our sessions but more importantly, carrying them out in games.”
Hardwick said high performance manager Alex Rigby had the players in great shape for day one of pre-season, while acknowledging how hard the players had worked.
“They are in real good nick. I couldn’t be happier with how they have presented themselves for the start of pre-season,” he said.
Hardwick said it would “take some time” for the players to adapt to his systems
“It will be a little bit clunky at the start but I was really happy with what we saw today,” he said.
“Their endeavour is certainly there. The understanding and execution will come.”
Hardwick defends four Suns tyros as critics take aim at academy
Hardwick has also defended the AFL draft rules as they apply to northern academies as vital for the growth of the game after southern state disquiet.
Rising Suns academy products Ethan Read, Will Graham, Jed Walter and Jake Rogers – all in the top 40 draft picks – were snapped up by the Suns in the first round of the draft and other clubs had no look in.
Under current rules, clubs outside of Queensland and NSW cannot stop rivals from poaching their Next Generation Academy (NGA) players if a bid is placed inside the first 40 draft picks.
The northern clubs are not restricted and are able to match a bid on their academy players no matter where it comes on draft night.
Jed Walter with Hardwick during the AFL draft. Credit: AFL Photos via Getty Images
This has caused angst outside of NSW and Queensland but Hardwick had no time for the naysayers and backed the system as it stands.
“I know there are always going to be people who will try and bring it down but for the greater good of the game it is an incredibly important part of the game moving forward,” Hardwick said of the current rules.
“I am really excited about those four players and getting to show the greater Australian population what those kids can do.
“To grow the game if we want this sport, which it is in my opinion, to be the greatest sport within Australia we have got to continue to grow it in the northern markets.”
Hardwick was asked about the “chat” from clubs outside of the northern states about the Suns getting an unfair advantage from the current system, but the coach said the rules as they stood should be cause for “a celebration”.
“These four kids might not be in the AFL system without the academy. The investment under (Suns Academy coach) Jarrod Cotton and his team is incredible with the time and effort they put into it,” he said.
“To have four kids that have primarily grown up here to play our great game is incredibly important to the success of the AFL in general.”
Hardwick said he hoped all four would push for a spot in the side to play Richmond in round one next year.
He said it was “hard to say” whether that would be the case after one day of pre-season training.
“We have had one session and some guys have had a limited preparation,” he said.
“Jed and Jake are probably a little bit further back at this stage with injury. From our point of view, we won’t put a ceiling on these guys.
“If they put their hand up and are in the best 22 they are in the best 22.
“They have all got incredible talent and we are incredibly lucky to have them at our footy club to make it better.”
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