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Thursday, August 16 2018 @ 12:22 am ACST

Suns Shine In Cairns Deluge

Australia
Visiting teams have learned this over the years – Cazalys Stadium in Cairns is wind affected. The howling southerly gales that travel up the valley from Innisfail heavily assist the northern end of the ground and make scoring at the other end difficult. Not so last night, with scoring heavily assisted by the tide rather than the wind.

(Picture: Jack Bowes leads the way for the Suns)

With Tropical Cyclone Nora nearing landfall at Kowanyama on western Cape York, and threatening coastal communities around the Gulf of Carpentaria, the cyclonic rain settled happily over Cairns. With freestyle and backstroke races an equally viable option on the Cazalys Stadium surface, the football went ahead as planned making a whole new spectacle that even the AFL hadn’t bargained on.

The opening centre bounce was wisely replaced by the opening ball-up, otherwise they’d have never found the ball again. However, from then on the Gold Coast Suns and North Melbourne Kangaroos sloshed it out in front of a very enthusiastic, albeit mostly bedraggled crowd. Those who braved the conditions should be commended, and they witnessed a hard slogging affair from two committed teams. During the first quarter, neither gave an inch and adapted relatively quickly to the conditions.

Only a solitary goal was kicked for the quarter…a moisture-defying shank out of the pack to North Melbourne’s underwater specialist Shaun Higgins after 18 minutes of soccer, volleyball, skiing and football.

Local players, Jack Bowes and Jarrod Harbrow, had been heavily involved in the first quarter, but were front and centre in the second as the Suns slammed on five goals as the rain eased to take a very handy four goal lead to the main break.

Not to be outdone, the Roos fought back hard in the third with four goals to nil and got the margin back to a solitary point by the final change, setting up a huge last quarter. The game might not have been pretty by Etihad or MCG standards, but it was engrossing all the way and had the crowd gasping, cheering and yelling as they willed the combatants on to the finish line.

The last quarter continued in much the same arm-wrestling manner when the game was there to be won, and it was here that local knowledge came to the fore. With Harbrow repeatedly hacking the ball back the Suns’ way, and a largely submerged Bowes appearing, as he had done all night, from the inky depths like a rampaging shark, the Suns scraped together two goals for the quarter. Bowes himself capped off his breakout game in front of his former home crowd by kicking the sealer late in the final quarter and being named as the team’s best player…a feat that may even see a Brownlow vote or two later in the year.

In one final remarkable note, not a solitary goal was kicked to the southern end of Cazalys Stadium for the entire match – something that should have statisticians clamouring for the record books. All twelve goals were kicked, almost ironically, to the northern end but with little to no breeze assistance this time.

The Suns, and particularly new coach Stuart Dew, will be delighted with both the winning start to the season and also their second win in Cairns since they first played at Cazalys Stadium in 2011. That alone should be something to keep the Suns’ appetite for Cairns matches well and truly catered for.

There will be questions regarding Cairns matches in the “wash” up – but they should be confined to when the games be played here in the Far North Queensland city, not if. The crowds saw a tough game in tougher conditions, but are delighted the city hosted a round one match. Take the roof covering of Etihad Stadium out of the equation and all other venues have seen their share of wet-weather clashes over the years, recent years included.

Weather is a fact of life, and especially in tropical Australia during the wet-season. Nevertheless, a return to winter months would seem a good idea in retrospect. But Cairns worked hard to make this a memorable opening round and should be commended again for their efforts. In fact, the organisers in Cairns have really pulled off a huge coup by defying nature to play the game at all.

The weather, on the other hand, could have been a little more cooperative. But the local crowd, and the multitudes sitting warmly in front of their televisions, saw Cairns deliver another professional and enthralling football match.

However, beyond football, all of our thoughts go out to the people of Kowanyama and western Cape York and gulf communities impacted by the serious reality of Cyclone Nora.

Picture Credit: http://www.news.com.au
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