The Gold Coast SUNS NEAFL team featured 79 players in 2016.

A number nearly double the amount of players used by the senior team (40), who finished behind only Richmond in terms of personnel to take the field this season.

But even more incredibly, it’s a number that’s down from an average of 86 players used per season over the past five years and 27.3 single game top-ups.

First-year NEAFL coach Stephen Daniel admitted it was a rollercoaster season, from the high of playing finals for the first time since 2012 to the lows of featuring just a handful of listed-players given the club’s injury woes.

“I’ve never really come across a season like this before. I think we’ve played up to 70-odd players so at times it was pretty tough,” Daniel told SUNS TV.

“We did have the tough times but to play finals with the group and the way we ended up doing it in the end was fantastic. A massive achievement.”

To highlight the conflicting fortunes of the season, the SUNS reserves smashed the Brisbane Lions in round three by 108 points with 15-listed players on the team sheet.

Six weeks later the two sides met again with an unbelievable 220-point turnaround, with Brisbane running out 112-point winners.

On that day, Gold Coast featured just three-listed players in rookies Cameron Loersch, Jesse Joyce and Tom Keough with the SUNS list decimated by injury.

“I remember one particular game we only had three-listed players playing. I know the coaches at one point were a little bit upset about that so I tried to be fair and I put one particular player on each line,” Daniel said.

“So Maxy Rooke had one down back and ‘Skinny’ had one in the midfield and of course we had one down the forward line.

“I know we have a bit of a laugh about it, but it is really tough. We had players come in for the first time and play for us and we actually met them on the day.

“I think we had four or five come down from Cairns, and of course we get a few from the local competitions and it really is tough. It’s a hard job but we’ve just got to bring them together the best we can and develop the group we do have there on the Saturday and get them all playing together.”

To compare the SUNS reserves to Collingwood’s VFL development pathway provides a stark contrast with Gold Coast using 30 more players this year and featuring 16 more single-game players than their Victorian-based counterparts.

TeamPlayers UsedSingle Gamers
Gold Coast (NEAFL)
Collingwood (VFL)

The average age of Gold Coast top-ups compared to VFL team top-ups is also approximately 4.5 years younger. Training together is also an issue, with VFL teams taking to the track each week, whereas NEAFL top-ups often arrive for the first time on game day.

When asked the question on how to improve continuity and development, Daniel supported the introduction of a supplementary list with more Category B players available to represent the reserves side.

“I don’t know how we fix it. There’s been talk around, I believe for a little while, that they’re going to maybe try bring a supplementary list in, which personally I reckon would be ideal,” he said.

“It’ll certainly help and won’t put as much pressure on us. Especially when we get injuries we had this year because obviously when the senior team really gets hit the way they did it just reflects on our NEAFL team.

“Unfortunately at times we’ve got to put some players out there that probably shouldn’t go out there so that’s a little bit of a concern for mine as well.”

Far too often at NEAFL level, chains of play between listed players are broken when they reach a top-up player that isn’t familiar with the overall game plan, structures or isn’t of the ability required to execute them.

It’s a massive issue in terms of player development for the northern clubs, magnified significantly when the number of listed players forms the team’s minority rather than the majority.

“If one of the managers was here on that particular day when we only had three or four listed and they saw the calibre of players we were putting out there that are meant to be helping these players develop, they’d probably be a little bit disappointed,” Daniel said.

“So that’s something I suppose as a club we’re going to have to have a look at down the track.”