The Gold Coast Suns are quickly becoming one of the biggest risers in Season 8 after a three-game win streak has got them firming for the club's second AFLW finals appearance, which was back in 2020.
The Suns have lost just one game this season, which was back in Round 1 in a thriller at the hands of Carlton. Since then, they've knocked off two of last season's finalists in the Bulldogs and Collingwood, the latter being at the Magpies' fortress, Victoria Park.
While many look at Hawthorn, Sydney, St Kilda and Port Adelaide as the clubs that really won the sign and trade period, many seem to have underestimated the work of the Suns during the offseason, with the club identifying gaps and filling them with experienced talent.
Although losing the likes of Courtney Jones (Richmond) and Serene Watson (St Kilda) they were able to bring in Jordan Membrey (Collingwood) and Maddy Brancatisano (Richmond). Add to that the recruitments of Claudia Whitfort, Charlie Rowbottom and Tara Bohanna over the last two years, and it's easy to see how Suns have built a strong side.
Membrey, who was the Magpies' leading goal kicker back in 2020, has filled a void up forward, adding another strong marking target to take the pressure off skipper Tara Bohanna. The 27-year-old has been strong up forward for the Suns kicking four goals across the season, one in every game.
While the Suns may not be a destination club -- yet -- the acquisition of Rowbottom has seen a bit of a shift. The 20-year-old, who was raised in Victoria, nominated for the Queensland pool in the 2021 draft which led her to being selected by the Suns with pick one, head coach Cameron Joyce and the team ultimately selling her the Suns' vision.
Since arriving up north, the powerful midfielder hasn't looked back, Rowbottom quickly becoming one of the Suns' key players in just three seasons. She has become that marquee player the club has been crying out for - someone that you can build a midfield around as well as enticing people to see her play. Whether it's her ability to burst of the center and deliver the ball inside 50 or her explosive drive to get out of congestion, she's the type of player that you go to the footy to watch.
In Season 8, the reigning Suns club champion has averaged 26 disposals along with 8.5 clearances. She currently holds the AFLW record for clearances (16) after her 33-disposal, 16-clearance performance against the West Coast Eagles back in Round 2.
Between Rowbottom and Whitfort, the pair have become a dynamic midfield duo, the latter with Whitfort equally as prolific in the centre of the ground.
This season has been a breakout one for Whitford, who averages 5.8 clearance to go with her 25.5 disposals (10th in the league). Lucy Single has also started this season well, perfectly executing her tagging role against some of the competition's best talent, while simultaneously winning plenty of ball herself, averaging 17 disposals. In Round 3, she put the clamps on Collingwood skipper Brianna Davey, limiting Davey to just the 18 disposals and minimal impact on the game. Then, just a week later, Single kept Bulldogs captain Ellie Blackburn to 20 disposals, quelling her influence around the ground, while collecting 22 disposals and laying nine tackles herself.
Up forward, the impact of Jamie Stanton has been enormous. The 27-year-old ruptured her ACL in the Round 2 game against the Eagles last season before returning for the opening game in Season 8. And it was against West Coast, in her milestone match, that she really shone, booting six goals in what was a Gold Coast domination, helping them to their highest ever score in the AFLW competition. Since then, Stanton has been a focal point around goal, kicking two goals in the win over the Bulldogs last week. She is also leading the AFLW league goal kicking tally with 10 majors to her name.The Suns' forwards in Bohanna, Membrey and Jacqui Dupuy, alongside Stanton, is a real recipe for success.
The most obvious evolution of the Suns has come through their ability to end matches competitively. Over the weekend it was Meara Girvan that led from the front in the Suns backline, finishing with 14 disposals, 10 of which were intercept possessions.
Gold Coast are playing an exciting brand of footy, able to make the most of the corridor when transitioning from defense to offense and more importantly consistently showing their ability to grind out four quarters of footy.
This weekend the Suns will face their biggest challenge yet in the red hot Adelaide Crows, with a mouth watering midfield battle awaiting. Watching Rowbottom and Whitford going head-to-head with the likes of Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marrinoff will be entertaining, while Single will most likely be tasked with shutting down one of two. And don't forget Bohanna, Membrey and Stanton going head to head with Zoe Prowse, Chelsea Randall and Chelsea Bidell, either, which should also provide fireworks.
Don't sleep on these Suns.