Topic: Suns remind me of early Raiders  

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Suns remind me of early Raiders
« on: April 23, 2011, 05:49:07 PM »
Suns remind me of early Raiders

THE Gold Coast Suns' marquee player Gary Ablett attracted a fair bit of criticism in the AFL media this week about his commitment to his new club.

It reminded me of some of the issues surrounding the start-up of NRL club Canberra Raiders back in 1982.

Ablett copped some flak for spending time in Melbourne after the Suns played the Demons last weekend. I'm not going to say if the criticism was fair or not.

But I will say that Ablett is the star player, the captain and he's got to be accepted by the community up on the Gold Coast.

He is central to building the attitude and culture around his club to help endear it to the locals. Victorians obviously love their AFL and a lot of Victorians live on the Gold Coast so they'll have support straight away.

But while the Suns are not looking competitive on the field at the moment, they have to start laying the bricks, the building blocks, the foundations for their club. They have to know what they want their club to be in five years.

I was at Canberra when the Raiders started in the NSWRL. I was on the original playing squad. And it's really hard work putting together a new club.

We didn't have any star players in the beginning because there was no draft like in the AFL and because no one really wanted to leave Sydney to go to Canberra. It takes time for your players to jell and play as a team. And that's the thing I think a few people have forgotten about up at the Suns.

They did get a lot of help with the draft but they were mostly kids - 12 of the best 17-year-olds in the country. But they are not used to playing at AFL level. Their bodies haven't developed fully. They are lighter and not as fit or strong as players they are taking on each week.

So everyone should be a little more patient with the club. It won't happen overnight.

In saying that, I still want to stress how important Ablett, Nathan Bock and Campbell Brown - their three senior players - are in building the club. The coaching staff and chief executive play their roles too. They all have to know the type of team, the type of culture and attitude, the type of behaviours they want the club to have.

But Ablett in particular, along with Bock and Brown, have to lead the way.

At Canberra in 1982, Don Furner was our coach and we had a conditioning trainer called Brian Bourke.

He was a hard task master. He drove us relentlessly but what that did was establish a real work ethic in the club. That also developed mentally tough players.

We didn't get a lot of star players in at first but they did come eventually, like Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher, Steve Walters. Then there were guys like Ricky Stuart, Bradley Clyde, Glenn Lazarus and Laurie Daley as the local juniors coming through. They all ended up playing for Australia.

We won a premiership seven years after we started with only three players from the original squad including myself, Chris O'Sullivan and Ashley Gilbert.

But in the first year we only won four games out of 26 rounds.

We had some pretty horrible hidings. I remember my first grade debut was against Parramatta. It was Easter Sunday and we were beaten 54-3. Parramatta was in the middle of its premiership run, 1981-83.

Defeats can be very deflating. You do get embarrassed and disappointed. But what the Gold Coast Suns have to do is look past those kinds of results.

Yes, they should be trying to win as many games as they can but what they have got to do is instil the culture, attitude and behaviour patterns that will sustain them for the rest of their history.

It's a big responsibility for guys such as Ablett, Brown and Bock. But those senior players have got to leave a legacy there for the young guys coming through. They have to set the example now.

Those senior players have to show that by not only how they play, but how they prepare, what training habits they perform.

And while we're talking new beginnings for the AFL and NRL, the criticism of Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau is premature.

I don't know Karmichael well, but from watching him in league over the years I know he's very competitive and will work his backside off to do what he has to do to stay that way.

Let's remember he's only played three AFL games but he's got effort and attitude.

With Izzy, he has a little more time to adjust to the new code but he will always be in the spotlight every game he plays. It was like that in rugby league whether it was for his club, state or country.

I think that's a bit unfair. But he handled it well in the NRL.

Criticism, constant criticism, will wear anyone down at some stage. It doesn't matter who you are. But he's strong and he won't lose focus on what he can control.

Source: The Australian