SUNS Senior Coach Stuart Dew believes the club has built a platform from the 2021 AFL season to attack what he describes as an “important 12 months”.
After having some time to reflect on the season, Dew believes the biggest improvement in the group has come from the development of the first-to-fourth year players.
Dew pointed to examples like Wil Powell finishing second in the SUNS Club Champion and Noah Anderson claiming the AFL Coaches’ Association Best Young Player award as clear signs the club’s young players are taking strides in their young careers.
He credited the work of Head of Development Rhyce Shaw and VFL Head Coach Tate Kaesler in also driving the development of the club’s youngest players, particularly 2021 debutants Malcolm Rosas Jnr, Joel Jeffrey and Alex Davies.
Dew also highlighted the growth in players such as Ben King, Charlie Ballard and Jack Lukosius who have all now played over 50 games for the club.
“It’s that individual development (which has been the biggest improvement area), a lot of these guys have gotten another 15-plus games into their system, but importantly, together,” Dew told SUNS Media.
“We are young in terms of games experience and age but it’s more about the games experience so for those guys to be able to clock up a number of games together with our middle-tier players and experienced leaders, we think that’s important.
“We’re not going to go out and buy a finals berth, we’re not going to go out and buy a premiership, we need to develop from within so we want to be known as a really good development club and those guys are improving year on year.”
Dew said one of the biggest challenges of 2021 was adapting to injuries to key players throughout the year.
The biggest loss was in the middle of the ground after co-captain Jarrod Witts succumbed to an ACL injury, while back-up rucks Zac Smith and Matt Conroy were both also out of action for large portions of the year.
Dew believes the ruck crisis created opportunity for players like Chris Burgess and Caleb Graham, and was confident the club could see great improvement in that area of the game next season with Witts hopefully back in the frame.
“Clearly our stoppage work took a hit this year without a recognised ruck for a large part and those guys did a fantastic job,” Dew said.
“But it’s a different role, even they’ll say it’s physically a more demanding role than what they were used to and certainly not one they had trained for.
“We lost territory off the back of that so we think our stoppage work can improve and how we exit stoppage can certainly improve and we think that will lend itself to hitting the scoreboard more.
“We were under the pump defensively but the statistics will show the we were able to stand up and I think that’s another strong component of our game that we want to maintain.
“If we can play more of a front-half game on the back of some really good stoppage work (next year) that will be exciting for us.”
After the conclusion of the AFL Grand Final on the weekend, the industry looks ahead to the upcoming trade and draft period prior to pre-season commencing in November.
Dew said the club would look to bolster areas of the list in need and was bullish about what the next year could hold.
“It’s a pretty important 12 months for us – we think that we can play finals,” Dew said.
“A lot of things have to go right for that to happen, we understand that but this list certainly has that belief and we want to make sure that we foster that.
“We feel like we’re just a normal footy club now in that we’ve got the bulk of our list ready.
“Obviously with the injuries we had to the tall department we’ll try to strengthen that.
“The rest will be guided a little bit by the draft pool and we’ll let the dust settle through trade period and see what’s there as to what needs we have.”