Gold Coast CEO Mark Evans says the club is in a strong position to advance its long-term list build after the AFL today confirmed a raft of assistance measures provided to the SUNS for the next three years.
The announcement comes after Evans and Chairman Tony Cochrane presented to the AFL Commission in August, enquiring about the possibility of an assistance package.
Part of the package included Draft concessions, with the SUNS to receive pick 1 and pick 20 in the upcoming draft, as well as a mid-first-round selection next year followed by an early second-round pick in 2021, although this will be reviewed annually by the AFL.
The SUNS were also given expanded Academy access including the addition of Darwin as an Academy zone, the ability to pre-sign eligible SUNS Academy players (including those from Darwin) without going through the usual bidding process and an increased rookie list of up to 10 players.
Evans said he had pitched a number of ideas to the Commission and was pleased with the options the level of assistance would provide.
“We asked for a lot of things, first of all we presented as to why we thought the current system wasn’t helping us in our current predicament,” Evans said.
“Then we said in the absence of changing the system, we think some assistance would be good.
“On the whole I would say this certainly does give us a chance to get some good young players in the draft and try and build a program around a group of young players and get them to stay at the Gold Coast SUNS because of the success that lies ahead.
“It also gives us a chance with some of those extra draft picks to consider trade options to get more mature players.
“I’d imagine over the next three years both of those strategies will be played out.”
With the club starting the process of a concerted strategic reset at the end of last season, this new assistance is set to accelerate the plans in place.
Evans outlined what the club’s strategy would look like with a new arsenal of draft picks at its disposal moving forward.
“Our strategy has three parts to it; one is to get great young kids through the draft and get as many as we can in a short period of time and convince them to stay together,” he said.
“The second is to add more mature players, particularly if they’re mid-career players and they’ve got some years left in their bodies – and that’s good from a leadership point of view and an on-field performance point of view.
“That usually comes second after maximising the draft, but in our case we now have a range of picks here to open discussions with clubs around more mature players and we’ll do that.
“The third strategy is to grow that pipeline of young, local talent and see if we can’t get them up to AFL standard quickly.”
The pipeline includes local Gold Coast products, but also extends to the club’s Academy zones in Northern Rivers, North Queensland and now Darwin.
While the number of drafted players out of Darwin has dwindled in recent years, Evans believed the SUNS could help boost the talent in the region and effectively “double or treble” that number over the next three years.
A lot of external scepticism has been around the club’s ability to retain the talent it drafts, but Evans was quick to point to the SUNS’ heavy investment in off-field Personal Excellence as a crucial retention tool.
“Last year we presented to the AFL Commission and built up programs around player welfare and development, getting them settled off-field and supporting their parents and families through all of that,” he said.
“We’re one-year into that program and we’re confident that’s still the right program to run.
“We re-presented that strategy to the Commission and they have endorsed that it’s the right way for us to continue.”
Heading into the upcoming NAB AFL Draft, as it stands Gold Coast will hold picks 1, 2, 15 and 20 to go with its later picks (56, 75 and 87).
Admitting that the club will likely trade some of those selections for mature talent, Evans declared the SUNS “open for business” with the desire to build a solid foundation for the future.
“We are very confident it what we are doing and we know that things don’t just happen overnight,” he said.
“It takes a long-term strategy and commitment to a strategy.
“You try to build a strong culture within your club as to where you are going and how you’re going to get there.
“We believe that over the last couple of years of drafts that we’ve had, we’ve got the foundations for that.
“This now gives us a platform to speed that up and hopefully prove the critics wrong.”