Greater Western Sydney co-captain Callan Ward admits there’s a special feeling tied to the stand-alone start of the AFL season, comparing the buildup to that of finals football in Melbourne.
The AFL ensured the focus would be on the harbour city this week, which on Thursday hosted the season’s launch and all 18 clubs’ captains.
With every other team apart from GWS and the Swans given an extra week off, Saturday’s match is the only one being talked about by most pundits.
For Ward, who played in preliminary finals with the Western Bulldogs in 2009 and 2010, the feeling isn’t completely foreign.
“It’s been a huge buildup for this round-one game. Almost as big as a prelim, which is great,” the 20-year-old said.
“I was in Melbourne last weekend and all the talk was about our game this weekend.
“Then I came here and didn’t really know what the talk would be like.
“But seeing the billboards – and I’ve had heaps of calls from people that live here saying they can’t stop hearing about the game this weekend.
“There’s just a huge buzz around the football club.”
Many are expecting Giants co-captains Ward, Phil Davis and Luke Power to have a difficult task this year keeping morale high as the losses stack up.
Gold Coast skipper Gary Ablett, whose side enjoyed three wins in their maiden season, suggested all of GWS’s AFL-experienced players would be key in 2012.
“They’ve obviously got some experienced players down there and I’m sure they’ve been through some ups and downs in their careers,” Ablett said.
“I think the role of them is to help the boys through and lead them through their first season. Because it is tough.
“At times you need to be serious, but at the same time it’s going to be a long season and it’s a tough industry at times. So you need a bit of fun around the club.”
Ablett suggested the upcoming season could perhaps be hardest for the likes of Ward, who for two consecutive seasons was just one win away from a grand final.
“Everyone finds it tough,” he said.
“I think it’s probably harder for the senior guys, especially those who have come from established clubs and come to a club where you’re not expecting things to happen straight away.”
GWS No.2 draft pick Stephen Coniglio was nominated as the leading Rising Star contender in the AFL’s annual captains’ poll.
Despite turning 18 just three months ago, Coniglio’s had extensive tutelage in the WAFL and looks ready for for AFL – a very similar story to Brisbane’s 2009 winner Daniel Rich.
“He’s so mature for his age,” Ward said, likening Coniglio’s workrate to that of former teammate Daniel Cross.
“He knows what to expect already. He just amazes all of the older guys who have been in the system for over 12 years.”