Hardwick’s Tigerish plan to resurrect the Suns


So you won’t hear him criticising anyone, but he acknowledges a lack of experience in most of the key leadership positions when they started did not help.

“We’ve been pretty brutal on ourselves and identified where the gaps are,” East said.

The club’s struggle to retain players has been well-documented. East said, without hesitation, that the club had “poor border control” in previous eras – in fact, Hardwick turned three inaugural Gold Coast draftees, Dion Prestia, Tom Lynch and Josh Caddy, into premiership players with Richmond.

Gold Coast forward Ben Ainsworth is a free agent this seasonCredit: AFL Photos

But the influx of locals through the academy and an understanding that a footy-first approach is the best way to retain players has East optimistic they can get the mix right and keep the players they want to retain, with forwards Ben King and Ben Ainsworth the Suns’ two big names out of contract this season.

“I want the club to stand for [being] a really seriously competitive AFL club,” East said.

“We want the club to be known as a place you go if you are serious about playing serious football and developing your career and getting the absolute maximum [out of it].”

It’s part of why he has taken the bold step of putting premierships on the agenda of a club that has provided more embarrassing episodes than highlights in its time, including the bungled exit of Hardwick’s predecessor Stuart Dew.

Damien Hardwick, coach of the Tigers and Trent Cotchin of the Tigers hold the premiership trophy aloft after winning the 2019 AFL Grand Final

Damien Hardwick, coach of the Tigers and Trent Cotchin of the Tigers hold the premiership trophy aloft after winning the 2019 AFL Grand FinalCredit: Scott Barbour

“I’m sure there’s always a better way of doing these things and they are highly emotive issues. And I’ve great empathy for everyone involved, in particular with Stewie [Dew],” East said.

But with a premiership coach in the building, the Suns have bought experience, and it shows.

Hardwick took over Richmond when they were second last on the ladder and worked in lockstep with CEO Brendon Gale and president Peggy O’Neal to win flags in 2017, 2019 and 2020.

A new-look board has accompanied Hardwick’s arrival at Gold Coast, with East becoming chair of an eight-person board that has introduced five directors since 2022, including former Swan and Crows forward Kurt Tippett.

East has worked with Hardwick and CEO Mark Evans to alter the reporting structure with the club disbanding a formal football subcommittee, developing a model that East says is a “little bit more along lines of Geelong and Richmond”.

Suns football manager Wayne Campbell, list manager Craig Cameron, assistant coach Shaun Grigg and football analysis manager Hayden Hill all worked with Hardwick at the Tigers.


Now they are working towards achieving the same as those benchmark clubs as Hardwick looks to emulate Worrall, a three-time premiership coach with Carlton who took Essendon to two flags in a different era.

East knows it might be a case of now or never as the club prepares to meet Hardwick’s old mob in opening round.

“I feel like we are in the best place we’ve been for a long time,” East said.

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