The SUNS three-game winning streak came to an end at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday night, but there was plenty of positives to take from the match.
In a double milestone game for Geelong (Gary Ablett 350, Joel Selwood 300), the SUNS looked poised to spoil the party but were simply outclassed in the end, going down 13.11 (89) to 8.4 (52).
The major talking point was the injury to No.1 draft pick Matt Rowell, who hurt his shoulder falling awkwardly out of a tackle early in the first quarter. After assessment in the rooms, he played no further part in the game and sat on the bench with his right arm in a sling.
His absence was costly for Gold Coast but not a killer blow, with the SUNS overcoming a slow start to jump to a nine-point lead in the early stages of the third term after back-to-back goals at the start of the second half.
But that only stung the Cats into action. They booted five of the next six goals for the quarter and then kicked three goals in the last term and kept the SUNS scoreless to run out comfortable winners.
It wasn't the type of outing that Ablett and Selwood would have been hoping for in their milestone matches without a crowd and their families unable to attend. But the Cats' comeback in the second half to steer them across the line was important in honouring the champions' respective milestones. Skipper Selwood was typically tough and instrumental in the midfield, gathering 22 disposals and eight tackles, while Ablett was a little quieter with 14 disposals and his long goal. They walked off the field in front of a guard of honour and clapping ringing around an empty GMHBA Stadium.
Is the Rising Star race back on?
Rowell's injury will have big repercussions for Gold Coast. The midfielder's immediate impact in the start of his AFL career has been immense, and he has become one of the club's first-picked players already. But pleasingly for the Suns, they responded well to his absence after quarter-time, settling in the midfield and working through other on-ball options. His close mate and last year's No.2 pick Noah Anderson was strong on the wing with 17 disposals, and if Rowell faces a lengthy stint on the sidelines the race for the NAB AFL Rising Star is back wide open.
The battle of the big men
At one end Tom Hawkins enjoyed the best game of his season. And at the other Ben King proved once again that he is one of the best young forwards – and players – in the competition. Hawkins feasted on the SUNS defence in the first term, booting two goals and then adding a third in the second term, to record his best goal tally of the season by half-time. He also finished with five score assists. King was also impressive, though. The athletic big man, matched up against Mark Blicavs, kicked three goals in a scintillating second quarter.
GEELONG 4.3 5.6 10.7 13.11 (89)
GOLD COAST 1.1 5.2 8.4 8.4 (52)
Geelong: Hawkins 3, Parfitt 2, Ablett, Dahlhaus, Dangerfield, Menegola, Miers, Ratugolea, Rohan, Steven
Gold Coast: King 3, Day 2, Weller 2, Sexton
Geelong: Duncan, Hawkins, Menegola, Selwood, Dangerfield, Tuohy
Gold Coast: Swallow, Greenwood, King, Anderson, Bowes, Miller
Gold Coast: Rowell (right shoulder)