The Gold Coast Suns have undergone some rather wholesale changes over the past 18 months, and will start the new season with a lineup bearing little resemblance to the one that finished last year. As well as a new chief executive, the AFL’s perennial strugglers are heading into the new campaign with a new pair of joint captains and ten new players on the back of a busy off-season. One aspect of the team that the Suns desperately didn’t want to change, however, was the presence of arguably their best player, Gary Ablett, whose future on the Gold Coast had been in some doubt since the end of last season.
And, despite the best efforts of the player himself to move away, the Suns will start the 2017 campaign with the instrumental talisman still on their books. Coming off the second shoulder reconstruction of his career, Ablett will begin the new season without the captaincy for the first time in his Gold Coast career, having stood down from the role after unsuccessfully attempting to push through a return to Geelong. The two-time Brownlow Medallist requested a move back to the Cats at the end of last season citing family reasons, only for the Suns to instantly make it clear they expected Ablett to not only stay for the 2017 campaign but also next year as well.
There have been few real bright spots for Gold Coast in their first six seasons in the AFL, but the form and leadership of Ablett has been one of them. Even if the 32-year-old does manage to get himself back to where he was physically before his latest shoulder problem, if his heart and desire aren’t fully in it this season, it’s unlikely we’re going to see the same player who earned Brownlow honors in 2013 despite playing in a team that finished 14th in the AFL ladder. For a club with odds of around 4/1 to finish in the top eight this year, having their star man in-form and committed to the cause will be essential to Gold Coast’s hopes in 2017.
In spite of a three-season run plagued by injury, Ablett’s position as one of the best players still competing in the AFL remains. At 32, the midfielder might not have the same body he did when he won two premierships with Geelong almost a decade ago before his lucrative move to the Suns, but his talent to read a game and drive his team has only improved over the years. Playing in a club still looking to establish itself as a force in the league, Ablett has had, and will continue to have, a huge role in helping Gold Coast finally break into that top eight.
Entering the second full season of the three-year extension he signed at the beginning of the 2015 campaign, Ablett is contracted to the Suns until the end of the 2018 season. While it’s almost certain he will try to push through a move again at the end of this year, it’s looking as though Ablett will remain on the Gold Coast for at least the next 12 months. During that time, the Suns’ fans will be hoping one of the best players ever to wear their colours can finally deliver a little bit of success to the Metricon Stadium.