Suns ‘nearly there’ as Hardwick settles on best fit

Murray Wenzel |

Gold Coast’s Sam Clohesy (centre) gets a chance to build on his impressive debut against the Giants.
Gold Coast’s Sam Clohesy (centre) gets a chance to build on his impressive debut against the Giants.

Damien Hardwick thinks he is close to settling on the Gold Coast side that will challenge for a maiden AFL finals berth as the coach gives his re-imagined backline another chance against Hawthorn.

Midfielder Sam Flanders and forward Jack Lukosius have been named in the Suns’ back six for Saturday’s clash at People First Stadium, where Gold Coast (2-2) are unbeaten in two games this season.

Flanders has spent his career in the midfield or at half-forward while the versatile, big-kicking Lukosius thought he’d finally consolidated himself as a forward-50 weapon.

But former Richmond mentor Hardwick has been creative since taking over at Carrara and thinks – after trialling another forward, Alex Sexton, in the backline this season – he’s onto something.

Sam Flanders.
Sam Flanders (centre) has been moved into the back six by new Suns coach Damien Hardwick. (Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS)

“He’s one of those players I’d heard of and I don’t think I realised just how good this young lad is,” the three-time premiership coach said of Flanders.

“A high draft pick (No.11 in 2019), shows he can play the game.

“But what I love about him, whatever challenge you give him he grabs it and runs with it.

“He’s a wonderful player, those sort of guys can play anywhere. They thrive on it.”

Sam Clohesy will again be around the ball after an impressive debut against Greater Western Sydney in round four, while tall defender Mac Andrew can firm up his spot after also starring against the Giants.

It’s all part of Hardwick’s attempt to strike a balance between exposure and short-term success.

“We think we’re nearly there,” he said.

Damien Hardwick directs training at Gold Coast.
Hardwick (centre) is close to settling on his favoured line-up with Gold Coast. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Defender Sam Collins said the side’s return home after two games on the road and a bye carried certain expectations.

“We want to make it an absolute fortress; we want teams coming here knowing what they’re coming up against,” he said.

“There’s a few new faces down there; Flanders had a really great game and Mac came in and absolutely lit it up … players that can really dominate.”

Hawthorn are winless in four games this season but pushed Collingwood in a five-point loss last week.

Blake Hardwick was moved up-field and had an impact with a career-high four goals to go with 15 disposals and seven marks, while fellow Hawks forward Mabior Chol will face his former club for the first time.

“They pushed Collingwood last week and have played some really good footy,” Collins said.

“They have the ability to really take it to us.”