Aaron Hall was player #47 on the SUNS’ all-time list. Read his AFL CV lately? It would most likely highlight 111 games and 76 goals for the SUNS from 2012-18, including a career-best five goals at the MCG in 2013, two 40-possession games and three consecutive three-vote hauls to open the 2016 medal count. Plus 58 games for North Melbourne from 2018-23.

But if so there would be one special honour missing. And it’s probably one that will never be beaten. Hall is the all-time AFL leading possession-winner in China.

It all came about after the Gold Coast SUNS were part of AFL history when they joined Port Adelaide in playing the first game for premiership points in China on Sunday 14 May 2017.

The game was played at Jiangwan Stadium in Shanghai, a city that in 2023 was the third-largest in the world, with a population of 29.2million.

AFL football had been played in China since 1989 and grew in popularity through the 2010s.

An AFL exhibition match between Brisbane and Melbourne was played there in October 2010, and after an AFL Academy fixture there in 2011 a local TV network began broadcasting matches from Australia in 2016. In 2019 the AFL grand final was watched by 5.67 million viewers.

Senior clubs and Auskick programs were spread across the country, while the Chinese national team, comprised solely of Chinese nationals, won the Asian Australian Football Championships All-Asia Cup at the in 2017 and 2018 and was 13th at the 2017 International Cup.

Gold Coast and Port played there in 2017 and 2018 before Port and St.Kilda did likewise in 2019 in what was intended to be the first of three games in China until Covid saw the 2020 match abandoned. It has not been revisited since.

The SUNS side that played the first game in China (in notional positions) was:-

B: Jarrod Harbrow, Steven May, Kade Kolodjashnij
HB: Jesse Joyce, Jack Leslie, Adam Saad
C: Touk Miller, Michael Barlow, Aaron Hall
HF: Jack Martin, Tom Lynch, Alex Sexton
F: Brayden Fiorini, Peter Wright, Brandon Matera
R: Jarrod Witts, Jarryd Lyons, Gary Ablett
INT: Keegan Brooksby, Brad Scheer, Jack Bowes, Sean Lemmens

Michael Barlow, in his eighth game for the SUNS, kicked the first AFL goal in China after 7min 51sec before ex-SUN Charlie Dixon kicked the first Port goal five minutes later.

Port, under ex-SUNS assistant-coach Ken Hinkley for the 100th time, won 16-114 (110) to 4-14 (38), and backed up 12 months later 11-16 (82) to 6-6 (42).

Twelve other SUNS players enjoyed the China experience in 2012 - Callum AhChee, Ben Ainsworth, Charlie Ballard, Brayden Crossley, Jacob Heron, Nick Holman, Matt Rosa, David Swallow, Rory Thompson, Lachie Weller and Aaron Young.

Gary Ablett is the oldest player to have played in China, doing so on his 33rd birthday in 2017, while second-gamer Brad Scheer was the youngest player in 2017 at 18 years 256 days, before Heron debuted in 2018 at 18 years 160 days.

In the two games in China Hall had 66 possessions, including a Chinese record 37 in 2018, to lead Harbrow (62) and the Port pair of Travis Boak (59) and Ollie Wines (55) overall.

The SUNS had 10 different single goal-kickers in two visits to China, leaving Dixon, Boak, Sam Gray and Brendon AhChee the leading goal-kickers with three apiece, while Jarrod Witts polled the SUNS’ only Brownlow Medal vote in China in 2018. Boak polled in both games for five votes in total.

In other SUNS Round 8 highlights:-


It is a pretty special day out for any player who has 30 possessions and kicks three goals in a game, and in 289 games only three SUNS players have achieved this double – Gary Ablett (11 times), Harley Bennell and David Swallow.

Ablett recorded the club’s first 30/3 ‘double’ in Round 8 2011, when they copped a 57-point loss to Adelaide at Football Park in Tom Nicholls’ debut. He had 41 possessions and four goals – the first of two 40/4 doubles in club history.

Interestingly, in each of the 11 30/3 doubles the standout player has featured in the Brownlow Medal votes despite the fact that seven such performances came in losses.


It is question that has burned for ages … where might Alex Sexton have gone in an open draft? And what if he was born 29 days later?

And while there are questions that are impossible to answer there is one certainty …. He would have been much, much higher than the nominal pick #88 that was allocated to him in the 2011 National Draft when he was snapped up by the SUNS as a zone selection. And who knows where if he was in the 2012 talent pool.

Born in Melbourne on 3 December 1993, Sexton had moved to Logan in his teens, attended Chisholm Catholic College and played his junior football at the Springwood Pumas. He won the Alan McLean Medal as the best player in division two and the Queensland MVP at the 2010 Australian Under 16 championships, and was a standout again at U18 level.

Although the SUNS had committed to Sexton well before the draft, he officially became an AFL player when “drafted” from QAFL club Redland at 17 – nine days before his 18th birthday.

When he debuted aged 18 years 168 days in Round 8 2012 as player #51 on the SUNS all-time list Sexton was the club’s second-youngest player behind David Swallow (18 years 134 days). And 12 years and 98 players on he is third-youngest behind Swallow and Jacob Heron, who was eight days younger at his first AFL outing in the second China game in 2018.

Only Swallow and Sam Day of the players ahead of him on the all-time playing list are still at the club as Sexton now sits 2nd on the all-time goals list at 162 behind Tom Lynch, and 4th on the games list at 169 behind Swallow (227), Jarrod Harbrow (192) and Touk Miller (180).

And who was the future AFL coach who wore red and yellow for the first time as Sexton made his AFL debut? None other than Andrew McQualter, who played 89 games St.Kilda player from 2005-11 and five games with Gold Coast in 2012 before coaching Richmond for the last 13 games of 2023 after Damien Hardwick’s resignation.


The SUNS played their first game in Darwin in Round 8 2012, going down by 38 points, and broke through for their first win over the Dogs 12 months later in Round 8 2013. Gary Ablett was best afield (again), while a 19-year-old Jaeger O’Meara picked up his first two Brownlow Medal votes in his eighth game for 26 possessions and a goal, and Campbell Brown collected his only medal vote with the SUNS for his 10 possessions and three goals.

2016 – MALCESKI 200

Only David Swallow has played 200 games for the SUNS, but seven other players have celebrated their 200th AFL game in SUNS colors. It was Gary Ablett in 2011, Campbell Brown in 2013, Michael Rischitelli in Round 1 2016 and Nick Malceski in Round 8 2016, before Jarrod Harbrow and Matt Rosa in 2017, Brandon Ellis in 2021 and Swallow in 2023.

The Malceski double-century came in his 24th game for the SUNS against GWS at the Sydney Showgrounds, but sadly it wasn’t a day to remember. It was the halfway point of a 10-game losing streak as the Giants prevailed by 91 points.

Still, it was a special moment for a player who had blown out his knee twice before reaching 50 games – the first time even before his debut - and was the first AFL player to undergo a Ligament Augmentation and Reconstruction System.

This was an experimental procedure whereby artificial ligaments are used to repair the ruptured ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) instead of the traditional method of ligament reconstruction.

His first LARS surgery in the 2008 pre-season saw him return to the AFL in Round 8 of that year and played two finals, and after his second LARS after a similar mis-hap in the 2011 pre-season he returned in Round 9.

It was all worthwhile when in 2012, in his 126th game, Malceski was a member of the Swans side that came from 19 points down at quarter-time in the grand final against Hawthorn to win by 10 points. He kicked the last goal to seal it, and was among his side’s best with 17 possessions, two goals and seven tackles.

He later played in the Swans’ 2014 grand final loss to Hawthorn, when he had 26 possessions, before ending his 176-game career in red and white for a key leadership role in red and yellow at the SUNS under ex-Swans coach Rodney Eade.

"I am sad to have to leave Sydney,” he said at the time, having signed a three-year contract with his new club. "But this was too good an opportunity to miss both for my family and me personally. At Sydney I was surrounded by a depth of great leaders and at the SUNS it is all new and young. I am looking forward to helping them build a sustainable and successful team."

Sadly, injury cut short his playing career on the coast, and he retired with a year to run on his contract at the end of 2016.

But such was the regard with which he was held by the club he joined the coaching staff, and worked first with the SUNS Academy and later the NEAFL side under Eade and then former Swans assistant-coach Stuart Dew.

He coached Labrador in the QAFL in 2021-22, winning coach of the year honors in his first season at the club,  and after spending 2023 as senior assistant-coach at Broadbeach returned to the SUNS this year to work in development under Damien Hardwick.


Sean Lemmens was the 63rd player to wear SUNS colours in the AFL and the 15th to play 100 games, hitting triple figures in Round 8 2021 against St.Kilda at People First Stadium as Brandon Ellis played his 200th game. The SUNS led 7-9 (51) to 4-12 (36) at three-quarter time but were over-run in the final term and went down by nine points.

Still, it was part of a journey that sees the now 29-year-old, drafted from the Port Adelaide SANFL club with pick #27 in the 2013 AFL National Draft, with the only perfect ‘attendance record’ for SUNS 100th games. He has played in 10 of them and been at the club for the 10.

Lemmens played in 2016 when Jarrod Harbrow was the first SUN to triple figures, missed the 100th games of Michael Rischitelli, Tom Lynch and Matt Shaw and played four in a row in 2017 when Gary Ablett, Brandon Matera, Steven May and Trent McKenzie posted 100.

He missed Sam Day’s 100th and the David Swallow/Aaron Hall double celebration in early 2018, played in Rory Thompson’s 100th, missed Alex Sexton and played in Touk Miller’s 100th before taking centre stage for his own milestone.

Since then, he was in the side when Jarrod Witts played his 100th, had to watch Ben Ainsworth and Charlie Ballard, played in Nick Holman’s 100th, and watched Jack Lukosius annd Brayden Fiorini join the 100-Club.

Lemmens was tipped to be drafted as a rookie “at best” but went to the SUNS with pick #27 in the 2013 Draft – immediately after Essendon took captain Zach Merrett. He was preferred to three current AFL captains –Toby Nankervis (now at Richmond) went #35 to Sydney, Alex Pearce went #37 to Fremantle, and James Sicily went at #56 to Hawthorn.

Interestingly, Lemmens is one of 40 players from the 2013 draft to play 100 games – and one of only 15 one-club players in that group. The others have been pick #2 Josh Kelly (GWS), #4 Marcus Bontempelli (WB), #8 Luke McDonald (North), #9 Christian Salem (Melbourne), #11 Dom Sheed (WC), #13 Patrick Cripps (Carlton), #22 Darcy Gardiner (Brisbane), #23 Matt Crouch (Adelaide), Merrett, Pearce, #41 Jake Kolodjashnij (Geelong), #43 Tom Barrass (WC), #52 Darcy Byrne-Jones (Port) and Sicily.


At Round 7 2022 the SUNS were struggling at 2-5 as they travelled to the SCG to face a 6-2 Sydney Swans outfit in Round 8. The bookies gave them no chance, but they produced one of the great wins in club history.

Up 14 points at quarter-time and 17 points at halftime, they got 23 points clear with the first goal of the third term, but when Sydney kicked the next four goals to lock it up at three-quarter time it looked for all money like they would run over the top of them. Not so.

The SUNS went six points up when Levi Casboult goaled 54sec after the re-start, and then seven points, eight points and nine points as they failed to capitalise on plenty of opportunities. The Swans pegged one point back before Casboult, in his eighth game for the club, kicked what proved to be the clincher inside the last three minutes.

In something of a rarity, Casboult snapped truly from 25m on his left foot after receiving a short handpass from Darcy Macpherson to clear a giant pack of players.

Brayden Fiorini led the game’s possession count with to earn three Brownlow Medal votes, while David Swallow’s 24 possessions, one goal, seven tackles and six clearances was good for two votes, and Jarrod Witts polled one vote for his 19 possessions, 37 hit-outs and seven clearances.

While the bookies may have thought it was a surprise, inside the SUNS camp there was a genuine confidence pre-match. After all, they’d won their previous two visits to the SCG and three of their previous four.

2023 – WITTS 150

Jarrod Witts grew up in Normanhurst in Sydney’s northern suburbs, originally known as Hornsby, and attended Swans games at the SCG in his youth. As legend has it – and we’ll find out now if it is true - he ran on the ground the day Tony Lockett went past Gordon Coventry to become the League’s all-time leading goal-kicker.

But he found himself playing rugby and cricket and for a time shaped as a cricket-first man. He’d been a member of the NSW Blues’ Emerging Players Squad alongside none other than future Australian Test captain Pat Cummins.

Not until he was 15, when invited him to play with the St.Ives Under 16s, did he return to AFL.

It was one of those glorious sliding doors times. In his third game he was spotted by Swans legend Rod Carter, who was scouting for Collingwood. A week later Witts was tied to the Magpies under the old NSW scholarship scheme.

He played with Sydney University Under 18s in 2009 and had a few runs with the GWS side in the 2010 TAC Cup before finding himself on the Collingwood list in 2011, officially listed at #67 in the 2011 National Draft – nine spots behind dual Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale and 21 spots ahead of Alex Sexton.

He made his AFL debut for the Pies at 20 in 2012 but found his path to a regular senior game a tough one. Ahead of him were Sydney and Collingwood premiership ruckman Darren Jolly, and emerging Brodie Grundy, and ex-Gold Coast journeyman Ben Hudson.

In four mixed years he played 7-20-11-2 games, but by the end of 2016, when he played two AFL games and was an emergency behind Grundy eight times, he’d had enough. He was 19 months older than Grundy and didn’t fancy playing in his shadow forever.

So, in one of the very best trades in Gold Coast history, they secured the 209cm ruckman for pick #44 and pick #62 in the 2016 National Draft. And have been thoroughly delighted ever since.

In 2019, in his third season at the SUNS, Witts had 1008 hit-outs in 22 games at 45.82 hit-outs per game – a mark that on averages remains the No.1 season in AFL history, ahead of Gawn’s 44.76 average in 2018.

And in Round 8 2023 Witts played his 150th AFL game against Melbourne at People First Stadium. And while the SUNS lost a thriller by five points after scores were level at three-quarter time Witts more than held his own against the Melbourne ruck combination of Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy.

He had 13 possessions, 35 hit-outs, and four clearances, while the Demon duo combined for 21 possessions, 33 hit-outs and three clearances.