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Next six weeks will tell how brightly Suns can shine

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Rohan Connolly
Tom Lynch and Brandon Matera have had a much better run with injuries this year. © Getty Images Tom Lynch and Brandon Matera have had a much better run with injuries this year.

Nearly halfway through the season, take a quick look at the AFL ladder. Now pinch yourself very hard and look again. And now shake your head.

That would have to have been the reaction of much of the football world scanning the wrap-up of the weekend on Monday morning, let alone anyone who'd just lobbed back in the country after a few months and caught up on all the footy they'd missed.

Occupying first spot is Port Adelaide. Second is Geelong. And third is Gold Coast. You could have written your own ticket on that top-order trifecta after one game, let alone 10 rounds, but there it is.

When the curtain closed on the 2012 home-and-away season just one year and nine months ago, Gold Coast had finished 17th  with three wins, above only the debutant Greater Western Sydney. The Power was 14th, six-and-a-half wins outside the top eight.

Port's rags-to-riches tale has dominated the headlines because of its unexpected nature. The Suns were supposed to get there eventually, but even after 16 rounds last year still had only five wins on the board for the season.

Three victories from their final seven games made it a more respectable eight for 2013. But that total is already about to be equalled, Gold Coast needing perhaps only five more in its remaining 13 matches to reach the finals for the first time in only its fourth season.

That said, now comes the tricky part for the Suns. While Port has surely now removed any lingering doubts about its September credentials, Gold Coast for many still carries a sizeable asterisk against its name. And not without reason.

Of its seven wins in 2014, six have come against every one of the teams occupying the bottom half a dozen rungs on the ladder, eighth-placed North Melbourne the exception. The Suns' two losses were to last year's grand finalists Hawthorn and Fremantle, and by considerable margins, too, 48 points against the Dockers and 99 against the Hawks.

No one can dispute we'll have a far better idea of just how viable a 2014 finalist Guy McKenna's team could be in another six weeks, by which time it will have played Adelaide (away), Sydney, West Coast (in Perth), Geelong, Hawthorn (in Tasmania) and Collingwood.

But right now at least, the numbers suggest that after three years of only incremental improvement, and in some cases, quite conceivably regression, this has been the season in which it has all clicked.

Neither has it all been about the masterful Gary Ablett, as exquisite as his form has been. Two key areas have been in terms of structure and consistency.

While the Suns are still prone to the occasional lapse, they've also spent 75 per cent of games  this season in front, the best record of any team in the competition. They're also ranked No.1 for stability, 15 Gold Coast players having played every game.

And the obvious beneficiary of a better run with injury has been the attack, the trio of Tom Lynch, Sam Day and Brandon Matera having already kicked 52 goals between them, Ablett also chipping in with a more-than-healthy two goals a game.

Last year, Lynch and Matera managed just 18 games between them because of knee and ankle injuries respectively. They're just one shy of that tally already in 2014. Gold Coast as a consequence is managing nearly two more goals a game, with its offensive ranking soaring from 15th to third.

The Suns are also consistently creating more chances than their opposition. Last year, they averaged nearly five fewer inside 50s than their opponents per game, so far this season the figure is more than plus two, the equivalent ranking having climbed from 15th to ninth.

Defensively, Gold Coast is conceding about two goals a game less than last year, is tackling better, and has lifted its contested possession share on the differentials from 11th to sixth.

If you think the Suns have at times this year looked a slicker unit indeed, your eyes haven't deceived you, Gold Coast's disposal efficiency on the differentials having moved from the red into the black, again its ranking moving from 16th to 10th.

They're not necessarily rankings that shout potential premier yet, but given how for three years the Suns hovered around the same mark in most categories, significant nonetheless.

And while Gold Coast may be in for a bumpy few weeks given the draw ahead, it suggests that success for a still fledgling club is now far more a question of ''when'' than ''if''.

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