AFL Trade News: Essendon leading multiple clubs in pursuit of Gold Coast free agent amidst stalled contract talks 

Gold Coast Suns Training Session
Gold Coast Suns Training Session

Major clubs are reportedly set to come after Gold Coast free agent Ben Ainsworth following his reluctance to commit to the four-year extension offered to him. AFL.com.au's draft and trade expert Cal Twomey believes Essendon would be in hottest pursuit of the 26-year-old forward.

Ainsworth was taken at No. 4 in the 2016 draft and has averaged 16 disposals and a goal in each game he has featured in this season, propelling the Gold Coast Suns towards the Finals. Following an injury-studded start to his career, Ainsworth has played 64 of Gold Coast's past 66 matches, becoming one of their most reliable players in the process.

With Will Hayward signing an extension at Sydney this week, clubs are still in the market in search of half-forwards and the prospect of Ainsworth’s availability would have the Bombers especially, frothing.

Other clubs including Adelaide, Port Adelaide and Carlton, who indicated interest in the now re-signed Hayward, have their eyes on Ainsworth, but Twomey is convinced Essendon would come hardest for him. On Gettable this week, he said:

"Right here right now, Ben Ainsworth is the small forward that Essendon should be targeting. The Bombers need to add to their half-forward stocks. Jade Gresham has been a good addition and Matt Guelfi's form is the best of his career, and he should get a new deal. But they need another small forward who can get up and back and hit the scoreboard."

He also explained that Ainsworth's delay in signing the four-year deal extended to him by Gold Coast has piqued the interest of rival clubs. He said:

"Ainsworth has a four-year offer in front of him from the Suns ... but he hasn't been in a rush to sign. I think there'll be a rush of clubs now with interest in him, with Will Hayward now off the market. The Bombers are among the clubs who have had an interest in him so I think that's one they should pursue pretty strongly."

Would Hardwick resign at Gold Coast?

AFL Rd 3 - Hawthorn v Geelong
AFL Rd 3 - Hawthorn v Geelong

This week, Will Hayward and Hugh McCluggage both re-committed to the Swans and Brisbane Lions, respectively. Andrew McGrath is also off the market since signing a new deal at Essendon last month, leaving only six restricted free agents still uncontracted for next season – Blake Hardwick, Cam Zurhaar, Tim English, Jarrod Berry, and Patrick Dangerfield.

Hayward told Fox Footy’s AFL 360 on Tuesday night after securing his new contract that he was confident in his decision to stay with the Swans despite offers from rival clubs. He said:

“It was good, we got the deal done (on Monday), so it was a good night’s sleep last night, and a great feeling walking into the club today. Deep down I knew my heart was here in Sydney — it’s a great club, and at the end of the day, I think the good people and the team's success is what kept me here.”

Hawthorn’s football boss Rob McCartney told SEN’s Crunch Time that they are confident of Hardwick re-signing at the club, judging by conversations with the 27-year-old’s management team. He said:

“We've got some really healthy talks with his management group. Blake wanted to make sure that he got the opportunity to experience a little bit of playing forward before he started the conversations around this next contract - it’ll be a significant one for him, of course. We're really comfortable that we'll keep working through that with his manager.”

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