Gold Coast’s young brigade flunked their first major examination without Gary Ablett last year, now it’s time for the resit.
The winless Suns head to Geelong this weekend without their influential skipper, who has been sidelined for an indefinite period to allow his reconstructed left shoulder time to heal after it failed to handle the heat of the opening two matches of the AFL campaign.
In 12 matches with Ablett, including seven after he busted his shoulder against Collingwood last July, the Suns have only won once and that was at home against last year’s wooden spooners St Kilda.
Not only do the Suns need a victory against the Cats on Sunday to avoid going 0-3, a win would go a long way to showing those starting to question whether the team’s legion of highly-touted talent are contenders or merely talked-up pretenders.
Those most under the pump, in the eye of coach Rodney Eade, are the players who can now no longer use youth or inexperience as an excuse for poor performance.
Already this year 77-game defender Trent McKenzie has been axed by Eade for poor performance while Brandon Matera, a 55-gamer, hasn’t featured in either of the Suns games this year.
Eade says regardless of Ablett’s condition and the fact another experienced veteran in Jarrod Harbrow will be unavailable to take the Cats, the time is now for players such as Dion Prestia, David Swallow and Matt Shaw to show they can turn potential into reality.
“They’re going to have to grow up quickly. It’s a good challenge. It’s a good learning curve,” he said.
The Suns have been heavily criticised for a lack of effort in their opening two games of the season, leading many to believe players aren’t prepared to work for results or have begun to believe the hype that success will just happen.
Eade scoffed at the suggestion his club was in crisis and said the players have two options when it comes to dealing with Ablett’s absence.
He says Ablett’s recovery is a week-by-week proposition though he emphasised he doesn’t expect the two-time Brownlow Medallist to be out for more than five weeks.
The 30-year-old’s range of motion in his shoulder and his ability to lay tackles will play a deciding factor in his return.
Contract negotiations are ongoing between the club and the superstar, whose five-year deal expires at the end of the season.
Eade doesn’t think this latest setback will alter Ablett’s intentions to sign a three-year extension which has been tabled by the club.
“I haven’t spoken to Gary about his contract because I think a coach talking to a player adds another layer of maybe perceived pressure but all indications are, and Gary has offered it verbally through his manager, he wants to stay, he wants to be here,” he said.
“Hopefully it’s in the next few weeks.”