The Damien Hardwick era on the Gold Coast has started with a bang, but not before a big fright from his former club Richmond at People First Stadium on Saturday.

Cruising with a 67-point advantage just before half-time, the suns watched the margin dwindle all the way to 23 early in the last quarter.

The 22,086 local fans were nervous.

However, once Malcolm Rosas jnr kicked a goal after Nathan Broad was adjudged to have deliberately rushed a behind, the SUNS steadied to win 14.15 (99) to 9.6 (60).

It was a rollercoaster afternoon with Gold Coast kicking 11 consecutive goals in a blistering first half and the Tigers responding with a run of seven that bridged half-time.

Although it created some heart palpitations for Hardwick he could have done without, there was plenty to like about his first game in charge.

Matt Rowell put on a midfield clinic, winning a staggering 20 clearances from his 33 disposals to give his team first use of the ball most of the afternoon.

In the first half alone, he had six (of his 10) centre bounce clearances. Richmond had four as a team.

It typified the gulf between the outfits early on as Gold Coast put on a blistering display.

Sam Flanders (26), Noah Anderson (25) and Touk Miller (28) all put their snouts in the disposal trough alongside Rowell, hunting as a midfield pack to link up with the ball, and swarm defensively without it.

Ben King kicked five goals in a promising display, while Jack Lukosius and Rosas jnr added three apiece.

The Tigers were missing some of their biggest artillery in Dustin Martin (calf), Tom Lynch (foot) and Toby Nankervis (foot), but they were well off the pace in the first half.

To their credit though, whatever first-time coach Adem Yze said at half-time worked, as Shai Bolton (three goals), Jacob Hopper (23 and two goals) and Daniel Rioli fuelled a furious comeback.

Their workrate lifted, and they began to move the ball in a way that challenged Gold Coast's defence.

Nick Vlastuin was marvellous in defence, but the Tigers had left themselves too much work to do.

Rowell the wrecking ball

Look no further than Matt Rowell as the game's best player. He was more rumbling rhino than an AFL midfielder, winning clearance after clearance after clearance. He finished with 20 for the day, which is the second most in history behind Paul Salmon's 22 in 1998 – including 10 from the centre. The Tigers had no answer for Rowell's physicality and skill around the contest in a performance that is sure to earn him three Brownlow Medal votes.

Dylan Grimes' brain fade

With his team surging early in the last quarter, Dylan Grimes had a brain fade he'd wish to forget. Richmond had reduced a 67-point deficit to 25 with almost an entire quarter remaining. Hemmed deep in a back pocket, Grimes steered a kick out on the full, but then made things twice as bad by shoving Tom Berry to the ground right in front of the umpire to give away a 50m penalty. Brayden Fiorini calmly slotted the 20m shot to calm Gold Coast's nerves.

         5.4     11.8     11.11     14.15 (99)
RICHMOND              1.0       2.1       8.3         9.6 (60)  

Gold Coast: King 5, Rosas jnr 3, Lukosius 3, Fiorini 2, Holman
Bolton 3, Hopper 2, Campbell 2, Pickett, Balta

Gold Coast: Rowell, Powell, Flanders, Anderson, King, Budarick
Vlastuin, Hopper, Bolton, Rioli, Short

Gold Coast: Nil

Gold Coast: Darcy Macpherson (replaced Brandon Ellis in the fourth quarter) 
Jack Ross (replaced Samson Ryan in the third quarter) 

Crowd: 22,086 at People First Stadium