The Gold Coast SUNS are eager to test themselves again against another top eight team when they take on the Western Bulldogs at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday.
Senior Coach, Stuart Dew says the two games in Darwin are an excellent opportunity to grab a potential eight points and taking on the in-form Bulldogs will be another chance to show they can mix it with the best.
“We’re confident our best is good enough, but the real challenge is to do it for longer,” Dew said.
“The game against Melbourne was a good example of being able to go the distance. We had opportunities to win that game and we got over the top of Geelong.
“The Bulldogs are a strong pressure team. They’re potent all over the ground, but we feel like we’ve had some good battles against the Bulldogs recently.
“We’re very keen to get up to Darwin and have a crack at this one.”
It’s a unique occasion for the SUNS eight players with connections to the Northern Territory to play in front of family and friends.
Darwin products Joel Jeffrey and Malcolm Rosas Jnr starred for the SUNS in last year’s Territory games, and Dew said their recent form is putting them in the mix to star again in 2023.
“It’s a great experience for them. Rewind about three years ago, and they probably felt like the AFL was very distant from where they were from,” Dew said.
“Our partnership with the Northern Territory has allowed them to play in front of family and friends. They’ve got a spring in their step.
“They’re familiar with the conditions in Darwin. It’s certainly different up there. It’s very hot and humid, as it is here, but Darwin certainly takes it to the next level.
“It’s very homely for them and brings out their best.”
Disappointingly, Sean Lemmens, one of the eight Territory-connected players, will miss the clash due to a hamstring injury, but will still make the trip north with the club.
Lemmens’ absence creates an opportunity for the Darwin-born Ben Long to play in the AFL in his hometown.
“Ben Long is the obvious choice to replace Lemmens. He will play, there’s no secret there,” Dew said.
“He played well last week (in the VFL) and he’s ready to go. Longy will be pretty keen to get stuck in again.
“We feel for Sean. He missed last year as well, but he’ll come up with us and be around the group, which I think is important.”
Darwin is a familiar space for the SUNS and has become a home away from home for the club following three matches in the Territory over the past three seasons.
“Having last year’s experience, we know what to expect. We’ve got a nice routine,” Dew said.
“We’re going up there to play footy, and there are eight points up for the grabs, but the time spent in the community is important.
“Our routine and rhythm up there is really good, and it’s great for our players to explore that part of the world and learn more about our players from up there.
“There’s the performance aspect, and then there’s the holistic experience which is fantastic. We’re all excited to get up there again.”