Gold Coast is leaving no stone unturned ahead of 2023, hosting world-renowned reconditioning specialist Bill Knowles for the past two weeks to educate its players and high performance department.
Knowles, from the United States, has helped global sporting superstars Tiger Woods, Andy Murray, Jonny Wilkinson, Peyton Manning and Alex Rodriguez to recover from injury.
He also has a long association with the AFL, starting with Geelong's Max Rooke in 2010 and subsequently working with Nic Naitanui, Christian Petracca and others.
Knowles has worked with players from 13 clubs in all.
He is a lower limb expert and has had great success helping athletes return from ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments. This is what piqued Gold Coast's interest.
The SUNS have Ben King, Lachie Weller and Connor Budarick in various stages of recovery from that injury.
Athletes usually travel to Knowles' facility in Philadelphia for guidance but following a persistent sales pitch to get him back to Australia for the first time in over a decade, the reconditioning guru flew halfway around the world to spend a fortnight at the Suns' Carrara headquarters.
He returns to America on Monday.
Knowles' tie to the club came via High Performance manager Alex Rigby, who first came across him in 2017 when Michael Rischitelli sought help to recover from knee surgery.
Rigby told AFL.com.au getting Knowles was a "long shot", but after calls, texts and emails, the SUNS got their man.
"We just thought we could get great value, not only with the injured guys, but staff and our wider group," Rigby said.
"I see high performance as getting leaders in all areas and adding to your programs.
"If we're not constantly being curious and reaching for the stars like we did with Bill, we're not high performance.
"When you stop doing that you stop growing and learning."
Knowles has done individualised training with King, Weller and Budarick twice a day during his time at the club.
He said it was his job to find if players had "skipped steps" in their recovery, even if it was inadvertent.
"There's a big difference between introducing change of direction, deceleration, cutting pivoting at higher intensities, landing from catching a ball … and preparing for those sills," Knowles said.
"I kind of build backwards and dissect the thing and say 'have they been fully prepared to do these skills?'".
"Sometimes the lack of confidence to do the skills is because they actually weren't prepared. It's not just that they're lacking confidence, just steps were potentially skipped and that's enough to make them uncertain and doubt.
"So, we try and wipe away the doubt."
Knowles says the "lowest hanging fruit" in recovery from knee injuries is building up running volume. That's easy, he says. But the toughest stuff, what he focuses on, is decelerating, changing direction and landing.
His program is thorough and complex.
"I've had the phrase for years 'if you can't slow shit down, don't speed it up'. You've got to be able to stop whatever you accelerate," he said.
"If you can't put the brakes on aggressively, you're not allowed to run fast. It's simple.
"You may have to become more biased to the deceleration and braking to this athlete because they've had a knee injury. You don't have to train all your athletes this way, but for a joint compromised athlete, you have to change your strategy."
King, who suffered his injury in February, is progressing well, but it's Weller who is turning heads after injuring himself in June.
Knowles says there's no such thing as a neat timeline for ACL recovery, it's individual.
Both players will rejoin the main training group prior to Christmas, with Budarick to join in the New Year.
They have worked exclusively with Knowles during his time at the club, often completing sessions long after their teammates have finished.
"The boys have loved it," Rigby said.
"They've got so much out of it. Bill's been great in collaborating with the high performance department around what we think we need to add into their program and what's already going really well.
"He's not coming in saying 'you've done everything wrong', he's just coming in and adding value where he thinks it's needed.
"Bill's run a few sessions with us to try and embed some of his philosophies into our program going forward.
"He's a wonderful coach."
Knowles also hosted a one-day workshop that attracted 50 professionals from not only the AFL community, but the wider sports science community.