Ablett out for the rest of the season
THE hole that needs to be filled in the midfield is obvious. But Gold Coast will also need to find extra goalkickers if it is to successfully cope without the all-round services of captain Gary Ablett for the remainder of 2014.
It's not just the 32 disposals, six tackles, eight clearances and five forward-50m entries that the superstar provides to the Suns, on average, each week, but also the almost two goals a game.
Ablett underwent surgery on his left shoulder on Thursday, sidelining him for the rest of the season, and possibly denying him a first finals appearance with the Suns and a third Brownlow Medal.
Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna yesterday revealed he had received word from the surgeon involved that it had been "a wise decision in the end" to put Ablett under the knife, "because it was a bit banged up more than what the MRI showed".
"Apart from that, everything went well. All the staples and stitches are all in the right place, and he'll start his recovery," he said in Cairns ahead of the club's clash with the Western Bulldogs at Cazaly's Stadium today.
The Suns have so far lost all five games they have played without the normally durable Ablett, who AFL great Dermott Brereton described this week as having the "body shape of a fire hydrant".
The first two in 2011 were by a combined 240 points to Melbourne and Geelong. But they went down by just 34 and seven to North Melbourne and Fremantle in rounds five and six, respectively, in 2012, before suffering a 33-point defeat to Brisbane in round 15 last season.
Harley Bennell stepped up on that occasion with 28 disposals and two goals, and will need to remain that dangerous proposition across half-forward for the rest of the season.
The vastly improved Tom Lynch last week became the first Suns player to notch 30 goals in a season, and leads the club's scoring from Ablett (24), Brandon Matera (22) and Charlie Dixon (21).
While Matera (groin) also remains out of the side, Dixon remains under an injury cloud after suffering a calf problem in the win over Collingwood last week.
Though roaming big man Sam Day returned to form last week, booting four majors after going scoreless in his previous six games, Aaron Hall (10 goals in 12 games) and Danny Stanley (four in 15) may also be required to hit the scoreboard more often.
In the middle, the Suns can rely on Dion Prestia, averaging 27 disposals this season, and David Swallow, who collected 31 touches last week, to continue their great form as they battle Bulldogs' on-ballers Tom Liberatore,
Matthew Boyd and skipper Ryan Griffen, if he is fit to play after missing training yesterday due to illness.
But McKenna said the likes of Jack Martin, Jesse Lonergan and Alex Sexton would be presented with a "great opportunity".
"So the door shuts on Gary this season, but the door certainly flies open for some of these other boys to jump in and grab an opportunity," he said.