You could be forgiven for not realising Charlie Ballard had ascended to become the competition's most prolific intercept marker this year.

Shouldn't that be a category led by Darcy Moore, Jeremy McGovern, Harris Andrews, James Sicily, or even Ballard's Gold Coast teammate Sam Collins?

While all those men are having fine seasons hauling in opposition kicks, it's 22-year-old Ballard that leads the way.

Taken with the No.42 pick in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft, the wiry South Australian headed north less than two months after Stuart Dew was appointed the SUNS' new coach.

He has been on a steady improvement curve since.

Ballard got to the SUNS as the forgotten part of a deal the club still gets critiqued for today.

When Fremantle acquired pick No.2 in that draft – which it later turned into the ultra-impressive and prolific Andrew Brayshaw – in exchange for running defender Lachie Weller, many saw the deal as a landslide win for the Dockers.

However, Gold Coast got a first round draft pick in Weller who had almost 50 senior games to his name and was motivated to return 'home' to where he was developed as an Academy product.

All this at a time of great upheaval for Gold Coast.

The other part of that trade was Fremantle giving up pick No.41, which the Suns turned into Ballard.

With patience and development, he has forged a terrific partnership alongside Collins and is now able to defend tall and small players with his mobile 197cm frame.

It's taken time though, with Ballard forced to play as a second key defender for most of his career, despite not having the physical strength to match many of his opponents.

"I was playing on bigs, but was quite frail," Ballard told

"I was just trying to use my body the right way, running and jumping. A lot of forwards probably want that wrestle because they're going to win that.

"The last three years has been a lot of learning that craft. I'm not the strongest bloke ever, so that has held me in good stead."

Ballard watches film with Collins and defensive coach Josh Drummond, picking the brains of the pair to improve his positioning.

Along with playing against stronger opponents, Ballard was in a backline that was often being peppered with inside 50s as the SUNS battled to win games.

That has changed in 2022 though.

The SUNS are ranked third in the competition for time in forward half differential as their midfield and forwards apply a level of pressure not previously seen at the club.

The other key ingredient has been the return of Rory Thompson from more than three years on the sidelines and the development of Caleb Graham.

Thompson played in wins over Sydney and Fremantle, while Graham came in for the victories over Hawthorn and North Melbourne after the luckless full-back suffered a minor knee injury.

The result has seen Ballard shift from the second tall defender to the third tall, where he's been able to implement his intercept marking.

It's a trait he's always been blessed with, but one that has been able to come to the fore with a sustainable backline structure.

"I really like the dynamic we've got as a backline, we're all really flexible," Ballard said.

"Having either Caleb or Rory down there really helps and probably pushes me into that third tall role.

"Defending and intercepting is always a balance and I'm not always getting it right.

"Having the trust from the coaches and teammates around me to know when to go for my marks, and also know when the team just needs a spoil.

"I'm trying to do what's best for the team and it's just picking my moments and getting to the right spots."

Ballard has 42 intercept marks this season to lead the League, while Collins enters Sunday's match against Adelaide not far behind in sixth place with 37.

"(Ballard's) come a long way in terms of his ability to read the play but also be hard to play against one-on-one," Collins said.

"His technique playing on key forwards is different to mine. It's definitely not an easy position to play, particularly when you're not physically built the same.

"He's made mistakes, but I think he's learnt, he's developed and he's very reliable. I'd back 'Chucky' in to get his job done every week."