For AFL newcomers Greater Western Sydney, the pre-season is of particular importance, as they settle their line-up and prepare for their debut regular season appearance.
With that debut little more than a month away, the pre-season competition got under way this weekend. For all teams involved, it’s an important hit-out, a chance to work on game plans. And for youngsters, fringe players and recent draftees, a chance to showcase their skills and make a claim for senior selection.
The first round of the pre-season competition is played through a set of triple-headers, with each side playing 20-minute halves against two other teams.
Drawn to play against Western Bulldogs and Collingwood at the GWS home training venue at Blacktown, Greater Western Sydney’s NAB Cup campaign also presents an opportunity for supporters to have a look at the AFL’s newest club.
Overcast and threatening afternoon skies may have scared some fans away, but the potential downpour didn’t come. And a crowd of 7,086 turned up to take in the action: not a great number, but the vast majority were in the charcoal and orange of the Giants.
Many experts had predicted the Giants would be easybeats, with bookmakers offering the relatively short odds of $11 that they would not score a goal in either game.
Early in the first match against the Bulldogs there were danger signs. Perhaps over-awed by the occasion, the Giants struggled to man up and defend as the Bulldogs started with two quick goals.
The Giants got on the board though, and those who had taken the bet on the Giants failing to goal would have to rip up their tickets as Curtly Hampton converted a free kick from 40 metres out.
It would be their only goal in the first half. But the Giants lifted after half time, and with the first goal of the second half got back to be only a goal down, while the crowd began to find their voice.
Then disaster struck for the home side, with a free kick sending the Bulldogs into attack for Daniel Cross to goal. And worse was to come, with an inexplicable free kick in the teeth of goal gifting Matthew Panos a goal and opening a match-winning lead.
The free to Panos evoked the wrath of the crowd; and anyone who thought there would no passion in the supporters of the new club would soon have that idea swept away as a tirade of angry abuse was sent over the fence to the men in green.
The Giants refused to concede, and co-captain Callan Ward, playing against his old club, landed a nine-pointer; with a late goal to Rhys Palmer getting them back to within a kick. But they were unable to conjure up a late winner, going down by just five points; only the controversial free to Panos denying them the upset win.
The Giants took a breather while the Bulldogs were joined in the middle by Collingwood. A scrappy and low-scoring contest saw only seven goals scored, and a seven-point win for the Magpies.
And then it was time for the final feature of the night, with the newcomers taking on grand finalists Collingwood.
Adam Tomlinson got an early goal for the Giants, and a spectacular individual effort by Rhys Cooyou sent the crowd into raptures as the Giants took a shock six-point lead to half time.
When ruckman Jonathan Giles goaled in the first minute of the final quarter, the chance of an upset was in the air.
It wasn’t to be, as the Magpies fought back, and an early nomination for goal of the year by Jackson Paine, threading the ball through from a near impossible angle from the boundary, saw them take the lead late.
The Giants had a chance to steal victory in the final seconds, with Tomlinson having a chance to mark within scoring range, but the Magpie defence held firm and the siren sounded to give the Magpies a narrow three-point win.
The Giants didn’t win either game. But they may have won something more than points. They may have won some respect from the football world.
Far from easybeats, they fought out both games. Far from being thrashed, they could have won.
Ruckman Jonathan Giles showed his value to the new franchise, among the Giants’ best in both games. Former Melbourne captain James McDonald had class against the Bulldogs, while Phil Davis was solid in defence in both matches.
Cooyou showed plenty of attacking flair and Stephen Conoglio plenty of potential. Most fit players got good of game time, which will be vital preparation for the season ahead.
And so the crowd filed out of the stadium. For the Collingwood fans, the satisfaction of two wins. Bulldog fans could celebrate one.
The vast majority, in the colours of the Giants, left with the knowledge that the newcomers were competitive, good enough to match it with their opponents.
They also left with a greater sense of optimism that their team will be good enough to take their place in the AFL.