The last time an AFL player had 20 clearances in a game Matt Rowell was minus three years and three days old.

It was 28 June 1998 when Hawthorn ruckman Paul Salmon, playing his 259th game at 33, recorded 22 clearances in a two-point win over North Melbourne at Waverley.

It was the only time in recorded AFL history it had happened – until Saturday afternoon when the 22-year SUN in his 63rd game wrote himself into the record books.

Rowell had 20 clearances in the SUNS’ sensational 39-point win over Richmond at People First Stadium to begin the Damien Hardwick era.

It was the icing on a statistical ‘cake’ of “Masterchef” proportions for the midfield powerhouse, who had an astonishing 33 possessions (26 contested), 20 clearances, a team-high five tackles and an equal team-high nine score involvements.

That despite being 11 years younger and 196 games less experienced than Salmon, who had 32 possessions, 22 clearances, one goal, three tackles and 35 hit-outs.

Rowell also bettered the SUNS’ clearance record of 18, set by Gary Ablett against North at Docklands in 2017.

Since the introduction of AFL clearance statistics in 1998, only 13 players – including David Swallow’s older brother Andrew - have recorded even 16 clearances in a game.

Rowell was already a member of this elite group, having had 16 clearances in his 50th game against the Western Bulldogs in Darwin in Round 11 last year, when the SUNS won by seven points.

The others have been Melbourne’s Brent Moloney (19 in 2011), Carlton’s Patrick Cripps (19 in 2019, 17 in 2018), Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell (18 in 2015), Port Adelaide’s Shaun Burgoyne (18 in 2008), West Coast’s Matt Priddis (17 in 2012. 16 in 2013), North Melbourne’s Andrew Swallow (17 in 2011), Adelaide’s Mark Riccuito (16 in 2000), Carlton’s Brett Ratten (16 in 1999 twice), Brisbane’s Tom Rockliff (16 in 2017) and Sydney’s Josh Kennedy (16 in 2011).

Rowell was younger and less experienced than all but Mitchell, the current Hawthorn coach who was 28 days younger and had played four fewer games at the time.

Interestingly, among the players to record 15 clearances is SUNS football boss Wayne Campbell, whose career-best clearance count in a 297-game career at Richmond came in his 197th game in 2000.

But Rowell’s assault on the record books didn’t end in the clearance column. He also had a personal best 26 contested possessions - a mark bettered by only 11 AFL players since the introduction of contested possession statistics in 1999.

This left only Ablett’s pair of 27’s in 2012 and 2017 ahead of him on the SUNS list.

The all-time AFL record for contested possessions is 32, set by North’s Ben Cunnington in 2018.

Patrick Dangerfield, playing for Adelaide in 2015, and Kennedy in 2014, had 29. Next best at 28 are Chris Judd in his West Coast days (2006) and Sydney’s Jude Bolton (2010), and Essendon’s Darcy Parish (2021).

At 27 with Ablett are Andrew Swallow (2011), Dangerfield (2014), Kennedy (2015), Hawthorn’s Tom Mitchell (2018), Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver and Cunnington (2021) and Cripps (2022).

But if SUNS fans think Rowell’s 20 possessions will guarantee him three Brownlow Medal votes in the end-of-season count they should re-think …. because Salmon’s 22 did not.

In that game Hawthorn’s Shane Crawford received three votes for 23 possessions and three clearances, teammate Nick Holland got two votes for 21 possessions and four goals, and North’s Wayne Carey one vote for 19 possessions and four goals.

Rowell’s 33 possessions was also a career-best – equalling his 33 in the last game of last season against North and his 33 in Round 1 2022 against West Coast.

In other statistical highlights as Rowell made it four wins from four games against Richmond and the SUNS squared with record against the Tigers at 7-7 after their fourth consecutive win in head-to-head meetings:-

  • The 61-point lead at halftime, when it was 11-8 to 2-1, was the biggest in SUNS history. Previous best was 57 points against St.Kilda at Docklands in 2014, when it was 13-7 to 4-4.
  • The Richmond halftime score of 2.1 (13) is the third-lowest ever recorded against the Gold Coast, behind Adelaide’s 1.2 (8) at Carrara in 2020 and North’s 1.6 (12) in Cairns in 2018.
  • The SUNS’ 11-goal streak after Richmond kicked the first goal of the game 1min47sec in until the clock showed 27min36sec in the second quarter, was a club record.
  • Ben King’s fourth bag of five goals equalled his career best.
  • Wil Powell’s 28 possessions equalled his career best, posted twice last year and once in 2022.