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Steven King’s temporary stint in charge of Gold Coast couldn’t have been more impressive, with the Suns upsetting a hapless St Kilda — just four days after the Suns parted with Stuart Dew — at Heritage Bank Stadium.

The Suns set the tone in the first term with three unanswered goals while keeping the Saints to one behind before responding to every St Kilda challenge for the remainder of the match.

Noah Anderson starred again and Jack Lukosius booted four goals, but Rory Atkins and Sam Flanders had their best games for the Suns respectively to help Gold Coast run out 26-point winners, 11.11 (77) to 8.3 (51).

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QUARTER-BY-QUARTER MATCH REPORT

There were no late changes, with Brayden Fiorini (Gold Coast) and Hunter Clark (St Kilda) named the starting subs.

Jack Lukosius gave the Suns the perfect start, taking a strong pack mark and converting his set-shot from close to goal before Rory Atkins added another as Gold Coast got on top at clearances.

And when Noah Anderson kicked a third early goal thanks to some poor defensive efforts from St Kilda.

“They’re just not tough enough at the moment, St Kilda. They’re getting embarrassed in traffic,” dual premiership Kangaroo David King told Fox Footy.

“Have they turned up, the Saints, or not? That’s awful defensive play from St Kilda … Alarm bells going off everywhere in the St Kilda coaches’ box.”

The Suns dominated the clearance (+5) and inside 50 (+11) counts in the first quarter, but could’ve led by a lot more than 19 points at quarter-time.

“Their work away from stoppage, the Suns, is aggressive and its proactive. But you really have to ask questions about the Saints’ midfield at the moment. Are they absolutely invested in the defensive side of the game? You’d have to say no. And at clearance and contest, they’ve been mauled,” King said.

Triple premiership Lion Alastair Lynch added: “Simple errors are costing them and then they’re not defending the other way.”

After some firm quarter-time words from coach Ross Lyon, the Saints kicked the first two goals of the second term through Cooper Sharman.

But the Suns continued to make life tough for the Saints, with Ben Ainsworth and Lukosius kicking lovely set-shot goals to extend the Suns’ lead to 24 points at the major break.

That lead got out to 28 at the start of the third term after top-10 draftee Bailey Humphrey and veteran Levi Casboult kicked their first goals, with a Mattaes Phillipou major sandwiched in-between.

Phillipou was then surprisingly subbed out, with Hunter Clark injected into the game.

A horror unforced error from St Kilda in its defensive 50 led to Atkins’ second goal as the Suns’ lead ballooned out to a game-high 34 points, only for Sharman to respond with his third goal.

Lukosius answered with his third goal before Mason Wood kicked his first major on the three quarter-time siren to reduce Gold Coast’s lead to 28 points at the final change.

Gold Coast activated its sub at three quarter-time, with Hewago Oea subbed off for Brayden Fiorini.

The Saints kicked the two of the first three goals of the final term through Zak Jones and Anthony Caminiti to cut the margin to under four goals.

But Darcy Macpherson nailed a running goal to give the Suns a 31-point lead and breathing space, eventually running out 26-point winners.

3. ‘EXACTLY WHAT THIS TEAM CAN BECOME’: ‘CLINICAL’ SUNS’ PERFECT RESPONSE

Many tipsters predicted Gold Coast would have a sugar hit of sorts. And it came to fruition against St Kilda on Saturday under interim coach Steven King.

Five days after brutally sacking Stuart Dew halfway through his sixth season in charge, Gold Coast produced the perfect response with a genuine four-quarter effort that led to a 26-point win.

“It’s been a bit of as hard week and was always going to be, but for us we wanted to stay present – and I feel like we’re doing that really well,” Suns co-captain Touk Miller told Fox Footy at half-time.

“We’re going to our values and sticking to that and that process.”

Miller added at full-time: “To come out like we did and stick together and play four quarters, which we haven’t been able to do for some time, is really impressive.”

The Suns set the tone in the first term with terrific intent without the footy as they applied elite pressure, personified by the fact they laid 39 tackles to St Kilda’s 28 in the first half. More importantly, they made the most of their opportunities off Saints turnovers on the scoreboard as they showed off slick ball movement, with eight of their 11 goals coming from turnover.

“This is impressive, their surge running from stoppage,” dual premiership Kangaroo David King told Fox Footy. “This is exactly what this team can become. It’s been hard to watch sometimes across the course of the season, but this is as good as they’ve looked from stoppage.

“This has been clinical, really. From a Suns point of view, you don’t play much better than this, given what the opposition are allowing.

“Tough week, but they’ve handled it really well. They’ve fronted up today and probably played their most impressive football they’ve played for the last five weeks. They’ve played full of dare, played on at all occasions, it’s created run and overlap, it’s drawn forwards to the ball … This has been brilliant with their ball movement today.”

While the usual suspects like Noah Anderson, Matt Rowell and Touk Miller were prominent, other players were arguably just as damaging and influential.

Brandon Ellis “wound back the clock”, according to Leigh Montagna, in the midfield with 23 disposals and six clearances, Sam Flanders continued his recent hot form with 33 disposals and Rory Atkins had his best game since joining the Suns, booting two goals from 32 touches.

The only Suns player that didn’t seem to cash in was Ben King, whose form struggles continued. After being subbed out in the third quarter against Port Adelaide seven days earlier, King didn’t take his first mark of the game until the start of the third term – prompting Bronx cheers from the Suns’ fanbase – and fluffed several shots at goal.

“I’ve seen enough now. I’ve seen enough of King at full-forward at the moment,” five-time premiership Hawk Dermott Brereton told Fox Footy. “I’m taking him into another position now. They’re all over him – and when he does get first dibs on it, he’s dropping them.

“I would try and find him in a position where he can get some easier access to the footy.”

Asked if the Suns should aim to please him or the team, Brereton said: “You’ve got to look after the team, but try and do both at the one time: ‘Is there another spot we can run him to?’ Because he’s getting gobbled up.”

2. ‘NO MORE CUDDLY ROSS’: SAINTS’ ‘AWFUL’ FLOP COULD BE COSTLY

After a tough week for the Suns, St Kilda surely would’ve been expecting its opponents to play with great freedom and intensity under a new coach.

Yet the Saints’ inability to compete at the coalface and their lack of defensive accountability – particularly in the first term – was alarming.

The Suns stunned St Kilda in the first term, booting the first three goals of the game while restricting the Saints to just one behind to quarter-time. The Suns dominated the clearance (+5) and inside 50 (+11) counts in the first quarter and, in reality, could’ve led by a lot more than 19 points at quarter-time.

“They’re just not tough enough at the moment, St Kilda. They’re getting embarrassed in traffic,” dual premiership Kangaroo David King told Fox Footy.

“Have they turned up, the Saints, or not? That’s awful defensive play from St Kilda … Alarm bells going off everywhere in the St Kilda coaches’ box.”

“At clearance and contest, they’ve been mauled.”

Coach Ross Lyon was clearly flat at quarter-time, making a beeline for several players in a bid to quickly wrestle the momentum of the game back.

St Kilda Press Conference | 06:54

“No more cuddly Ross,” Fox Footy’s Leigh Montagna cheekily said.

King added: “They’ve been a pretty consistent outfit. There’s been occasions where they haven’t been good enough, but it’s never been application – and I’d think he’d be really disappointed with how they’ve turned up.”

The Saints changed their approach in the second term as they focused on controlling the tempo, taking 33 marks to the Suns’ 24 for the quarter. Yet Gold Coast still won the quarter, kicking 2.4 to 2.1.

The Saints moved a few magnets for the second half, sending Marcus Windhager to Noah Anderson and subbing in Hunter Clark for Mattaes Phillipou.

The reality was the Saints fell down between the arcs. They couldn’t stop Gold Coast’s ball movement nor generate it themselves.

Ultimately, they were always within striking distance of the Suns, but were always playing catch-up.

With their top-eight position far from secure, the Saints can’t avoid too many losses over the next four weeks during a friendlier run against bottom-10 teams. But the loss to Gold Coast could come back to bite them.

They now face Kangaroos, hawks, Blues and Tigers in the next four weeks, with all four games at Marvel Stadium. With a genuine top-eight squeeze on, they can’t avoid a slip-up.

“They’re in a precarious position now, the Saints,” Brereton said.

“They’re battling a little bit now.”

1. OFF-CONTRACT SUN’S WELL-TIMED CAREER-BEST OUTING

There have been many in the Gold Coast Suns’ side that have failed to live up to expectation in 2023. Sam Flanders is not one of them.

The 21-year-old, former No.11 draft pick was in career-best form before Stuart Dew departed and has continued that form into the Steven King era.

Flanders is out of contract at the end of 2023 and has attracted significant rival interest, which likely has only grown in recent weeks given his form surge.

After returns of 27, 27 and 24 disposals in the last three weeks, Flanders again starred on Saturday, breaking through the 30-disposal ceiling for the first time in his 38-game AFL career.

“So often we’re used to the same names week-in, week-out at the Gold Coast Suns. But you need players like Sam Flanders to step up,” Alastair Lynch told Fox Footy while watching on.

Gold Coast Suns Press Conference | 06:49

“He’s performed at a very high level in the VFL at different stages over the last four years, but he’s a young kid still developing the right body for AFL footy … It’s well and truly his best game.”

Flanders spent plenty of time in the VFL last season, falling out of favour in the senior side, and made a commitment to improve his physical and mental game to avoid fading out of contests.

He racked up 37, 46 and 43 disposals in the Suns’ VFL finals outings and has taken that form into the new year.

His hard work is beginning to pay dividends in 2023, with Flanders now a staple of the senior side.

The futures of Ben King and other big name Suns will be spoken about over the next 12 months, but in the more immediate term it’s Flanders who could well become a priority given the trajectory he is now on.

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