Seven wins from 12 games is numerically the SUNS’ equal best, and, as their 7-5 start did in 2014, it sees the club eighth on the AFL ladder.

But as supporters new and old celebrated an unforgettable 11-point win over Essendon on Sunday afternoon in front the club’s fifth-biggest crowd all-time at People First Stadium there was a groundswell of opinion among club stalwarts that this was the very best win.

Certainly, there is a statistical argument to say exactly that as coach Damien Hardwick and his players prepare to take on St.Kilda at Marvel Stadium next Saturday night.

In 2014, after an opening round win over Richmond, the SUNS beat Brisbane, Melbourne, GWS, North, St Kilda and Western Bulldogs, who at the time sat 15th-16th-14th-5th-14th-12th on the ladder.

Richmond finished 8th on the home-and-away ladder and North, the big early ‘kill’ that year, finished 6th. And the other five sides they’d beaten early finished 14th-15th-16th-17th-18th.

This year, after an opening round win over Richmond and a Round 1 win over Adelaide in their first game of the season before the ladder had taken any sort of shape, the SUNS have beaten Hawthorn, West Coast, North, Geelong and Essendon, who at the time sat 16th-14th-18th-2nd-2nd.

Yes, for the first time in club history the SUNS have beaten a top two side twice in three weeks.

Disregarding wins in the first three games of the year, when ladder positions are largely meaningless, and remembering that the club has never beaten the side on the top of the ladder, it’s a monumental achievement.

Only once have the SUNS previously beaten the 2nd-placed side. That was in Round 9 2022, when a 3-5 start had them sitting 13th and they beat Fremantle by 36 points at PFS. Touk Miller and Noah Anderson had 60 possessions between them and Mabior Chol was an unlikely three-voter after he kicked four goals.

There will be people who disregard the SUNS’ Round 10 win over 2nd-placed Geelong in Darwin because the Cats had lost two in a row after a 7-0 start and were undermanned.

But there can be no questioning the credentials of an Essendon side that travelled to the Gold Coast unbeaten since Round 4. They’d knocked off the Bulldogs at Marvel and Adelaide in Adelaide before an epic Anzac Day draw with Collingwood, and then accounted for West Coast in Perth, GWS and North at Marvel and Richmond at the MCG.

Sunday’s match, which saw Ben Long celebrate his 100th AFL game with a career-best four goals – twice his previous best - was billed as possibly the biggest match in SUNS history.

For the home side to defy the hottest of spotlights and the late withdrawal of co-captain Jarrod Witts, and to take the points after Essendon had mounted an almighty late challenge is justification for the fast-spreading ‘best win ever’ sentiment.

The ‘best win’ question is one of personal judgement, but irrefutable are some of the statistics that have underpinned the encouraging early success under first-year coach Hardwick, and the massive public response.

Ben King has 36 goals from 12 games to share the lead in the Coleman Medal with Carlton’s 2022-23 winner Charlie Curnow, ahead of GWS’ Jesse Hogan (31) and West Coast’s Jake Waterson (30).

Having kicked 36-12 after 4-0 against Essendon, he ranks as the most accurate key forward in the competition, and, having kicked 2-3-4-2-3-3-3-4-3-4 since being held goalless in Adelaide in Round 1, he has moved past Alex Sexton into second spot on the club’s all-time list.

King has 165 goals from 85 games to trail only Tom Lynch’s 254 from 131 games. And on an average basis King, with an average of 1.94 goals per game, has crept past Lynch’s 1.93gpg.

Next on his target list will be Lynch’s single-season record of 66 goals in 2016, when he finished equal third in the Coleman Medal behind West Coast’s Josh Kennedy (80) and Sydney’s Lance Franklin (74), and level with Adelaide’s Eddie Betts (66).

Never before have the SUNS had a midfield trio like Noah Anderson, Touk Miller and Matt Rowell, who together average 80.0 possessions, 37.5 contested possessions, 18.3 tackles, 19.2 clearances and a useful 1.5 goals.

All are prominent across the numbers that identify a hard-at-it midfield. Rowell leads the League this year in tackles, is equal leader in contested possessions and third in clearances. Anderson is sixth for overall possessions and eighth for clearances, and Miller ninth for contested possessions and 16th for tackles. And more.

A re-born Alex Sexton posted his second 30-possession game in three weeks after going 170 games without one, Sam Flanders defied an early injury scare to pick up an equal game-high 33 possessions – his sixth 30-plus game this year and his 10th in his last 25 games.

Sam Collins played 100% game time (again) and shut down Bombers spearhead Kyle Langford, who despite going goalless on Sunday is equal 5th on the Coleman Medal leaderboard.

And never before has the club had an average attendance through the first five games of a season like the 16,130 of this season, which betters the 12,423 of 2023, 10,084 of 2022 and 10,001 in 2021. And that despite the fact that among the visiting teams have been West Coast, Adelaide and Hawthorn.

The crowd of 21,759 on Sunday was the fifth biggest all-time behind three games against Collingwood in 2014 (24,032), 2011 (23,302) and 2023 (22,483) and this year’s season-opener against Richmond (22,086).

And it was the biggest ever against the Bombers, topping the 17,069 of 2012.

Through all this the SUNS have unknowingly identified a special motivation to turn the encouraging start to the 2024 season into their first finals appearance.

It comes via ex-skipper David Swallow, who on Sunday played his 231st game to set an all-time AFL record for most games without a final.

Swallow bettered the previous mark set by ex-St Kilda captain Trevor Barker, who played 230 games without a final from 1975-89, after having earlier this season gone past the 224-game mark of another ex-Saint, Geoff Cunningham.

The SUNS will be desperate to ensure Swallow does not reach the AFL record of most games before a final, which sits at 269 to Melbourne champion Robert Flower (1973-87).