Hardwick defends Suns’ preferential draft picks as necessary for the game’s greater good

Gold Coast Suns coach Damien Hardwick has defended the AFL draft rules and the application to the northern academies, citing them as pivotal to the game’s growth, despite complaints from southern state teams.

Ethan Read, Will Graham, Jed Walter, and Jake Rogers were all acquired by the Suns in the first round of the draft, without any opportunity for other clubs to recruit them. This is due to the current regulation, which allows clubs outside of Queensland and NSW to be bypassed by rivals when bidding for their Next Generation Academy (NGA) players within first 40 draft picks. Northern clubs, however, face no such restrictions and can match any bid for their Academy players on draft night.

These regulations have drawn criticism from outside NSW and Queensland, but Hardwick stressed the significance of the system in its current state for the overall growth of the sport.

“I know there are always going to be people who will try and bring it down but for the greater good of the game it is an incredibly important part of the game moving forward,” Hardwick said in support of the current rules.

Beyond the complaints from clubs outside the northern states about the Suns’ perceived unfair advantage, Hardwick emphasized the importance of furthering the game in the northern markets.

“To grow the game if we want this sport, which it is in my opinion, to be the greatest sport within Australia, we have got to continue to grow it in the northern markets.”

Hardwick credited the investment and dedication of the Suns Academy coach and his team, underscoring the importance of the four kids primarily growing up in the region in contributing to the success of the AFL.

As for the new recruits, Hardwick expressed hope that all four would vie for a place in the squad to play Richmond in the opening round next year. Although it’s still too early to predict, he did not rule out their potential, stating that “If they put their hand up and are in the best 22 they are in the best 22.”