The first few Rounds of the 2011 season weren’t kind for the AFL’s new baby.
The Gold Coast Suns had a harsh beginning to their AFL career, losing their first three matches by an average of 93 points.
A flight to Adelaide to play against the struggling Power, who were 1-4, was the challenge in Round 5 and the young Suns were confident they could beat Matthew Primus’ side.
Each week, AFLPlayers.com.au will bring to light the perspective of someone at the heart of a memorable moment from a game played between two sides before their upcoming clash.
After kicking two of the first three goals, the game turned sour for Guy McKenna’s mob, conceding the next four goals to end the first term trailing by 21 points.
The second term was more even as the Power kicked four goals to Gold Coast’s three, with fourth-gamer Brandon Matera kicking two goals in the first half.
As the half-time siren sounded, Gold Coast trailed by 23 points.
The Suns had 15 players with less than 10 games of AFL experience playing that day. One of them, Luke Russell, was playing his second match and started as the substitute. Little did he know that he would play a vital role in the second half for the Suns.
Speaking to AFLPlayers.com.au, Russell said the naivety of the young Suns list was a positive in situations like the one they faced against Port Adelaide.
“We were pretty calm going into half-time and because we were such a young team, it was hard to gauge the situation, so we were pretty positive,” Russell said.
The Suns had a right to be positive because the circumstance was one they hadn’t faced before. Their 23-point half-time deficit against the Power was the closest they had been to any side at the main break in their short history.
Unfortunately, however, it didn’t matter for much when Port kicked the opening two goals of the third term through Daniel Motlop and Justin Westhoff.
The Suns retaliated with goals to Trent McKenzie and Michael Rischitelli to show there was still life in the inexperienced Suns, before the Power kicked three unanswered majors to extend the lead to 40 points with 28 minutes played in the third quarter.
What would happen in the remaining three minutes, however, was two moments that were pivotal to Gold Coast’s fightback.
Skipper Gary Ablett nailed a goal on the run from long range before a wild scramble in the Suns forward 50, as the three-quarter time siren was closing in, resulted in a last-second goal to the Suns’ substitute, who had been on the ground for the majority of the quarter.
“At the end of the third quarter, there was a bit of chaos going on in the forward line. Danny Stanley had his kick smothered and big Charlie Dixon handballed it out to me. I just whacked it on my boot and beat the siren by a split second,” Russell added.
“It was a great feeling, the momentum was turning and kicking it on the siren got the boys up and about leading into that three-quarter time break.”
The Suns trailed by 28 points at the final change and the Power were steadily creeping further away, but Gold Coast had their tails up.
Charlie Dixon kicked the first for the Suns, before Jackson Trengove replied with his own. Dixon nailed his second and the margin was now 22 points.
The next 12 minutes was all Gold Coast, kicking three unanswered goals — two to Brandon Matera — the last of which brought the margin to just one point.
“Brandon Matera received the Rising Star nomination after that game and he was on fire in front of the goals,” Russell said.
“After he kicked his last goal, we knew it was anyone’s game. Then Port kicked a behind and big Josh Fraser, who coaches me now at the Northern Blues, had a set shot from about 40 out and missed.”
Up by a point, the Power were kicking in from Josh Fraser’s behind when the unthinkable happened. After playing on, Jasper Pittard had his kick smothered by Harley Bennell.
“We had two at the front of the kick-in with Harley and Brandon, and I was a bit wider in the next layer. I thought Pittard kicked it away so I was turning around, but soon realised it was smothered and ran back.
“There were bodies going everywhere and a few people over ran the ball. I was in the right spot at the right time and the footy just spilled out to me. I think Brandon Matera missed it and it bounced in my direction so I picked it up and threw it on my boot.”
A quick snap from the pocket sailed through for Russell’s second goal and the Suns had all but completed the miraculous comeback. With two and a half minutes to play left, Gold Coast were fighting for dear life to hold onto the lead.
Four points down, the Power were peppering but running out of time when a quick-kick inside 50 was marked by Justin Westhoff with 10 seconds to play.
Surely enough, the clock ticked down and the siren sounded before the Port Adelaide tall began his run up. Fortunately for the Suns, Westhoff’s kick was far wide.
“I was devastated when he took the mark. They had a few entries in a row there so we were under the pump massively. I remember all the boys running over there to put him off,” Russell said.
“I thought he was a good chance to kick it. He’s a very good player, so it was a massive relief when he kicked the ball, it never really looked like coming back.”
A climactic finish to cap off a remarkable comeback for the club’s first win is a memory that will remain with Russell for a long time.
“It was my first AFL win with a brand new club and a new song, which no one knew the words to. It’s probably my favourite footy memory, and to kick the winning goal, you dream of things like that — it’s right up there in my career highlights.”