Injuries behind them, who exactly is in GWS’ best 22?

Cameron Rose Columnist

By , Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    GWS are clicking into gear at just the right time, and the club with the most enviable depth in the league has fierce competition for spots in their finals team.

    From Round 12 to Round 18, the Giants were struggling. In that seven-week period they could only win one match, complemented by two draws and three losses. For a team that does its best work on top of the ground, the depths of winter appeared to get them down.

    GWS have since won four in a row. The first of them wasn’t particularly inspiring, by 12 points over Fremantle. Based on what Sydney and Richmond have done to the Dockers in the last two weeks, we can safely say the Giants weren’t at their sharpest.

    A 35-point win over almost certain finalist Melbourne in Round 20 was a bit more like it. A nine goal to one second half demolition of the Bulldogs, leading to a 48-point win announced that they were truly back.

    On Saturday, they weren’t at their best but dug deep in the final quarter to put West Coast away.

    Three victories in a row against teams all around that 11-12 win mark, and thus tough nuts to crack, is the perfect lead into September. A tough Round 23 match against fellow top four finalist Geelong to finish the home-and-away rounds, with a home final at stake, is even better.

    GWS don’t hold premiership favouritism, but there’s every reason to think they should. The big question is, with an injury list dwindling to almost nothing, what does the Giants’ best 22 actually look like? Who is going to miss out on getting a game in September?

    Starting with the backline, and GWS has a seven-man rotation down there that are all locked in.

    Heath Shaw, Zac Williams and Nathan Wilson are the run, rebound and carry. Shaw is the smarts, Williams and Wilson are the pace. All are lethal by foot.

    Phil Davis and Aidan Corr are entrusted with the key defensive posts, while Adam Tomlinson and Nick Haynes are the intercept mobile talls that also provide drive and link. It’s a formidable defensive group that provides all-important offence. They aren’t going anywhere.

    Up forward, there is a wealth of depth also, especially given that Brett Deledio has returned and is getting fitter and more influential by the week.

    Brett Deledio GWS Giants AFL 2017 tall

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Jeremy Cameron, Jonathon Patton and Rory Lobb provide the three pronged tall attack. Cameron uses his athleticism to push up the ground and drive back, while Patton and Lobb rotate through deep forward, with Lobb the back-up ruckman to boot.

    Toby Greene could easily be All-Australian again if his suspensions don’t count against him, as good on the ground as he is in the air. He’s probably the most important forward at GWS.

    Steve Johnson, seen as vulnerable in many eyes, has all but been confirmed in the best 22 by Leon Cameron, who will be relying on Johnson’s September experience to deliver in the big moments.

    With Deledio in the same forward line as Johnson, and the aforementioned three talls, forward pressure isn’t going to be a strength of the Giants, and is an area they could be exposed. Devon Smith will be relied upon to do the heavy lifting in this regard, but is also capable of getting hot with three or four goals in a final.

    That’s 14 in the best 22, and we haven’t even got to the much-vaunted midfield yet.

    Shane Mumford is the ruckman, and having a sterling season at that.

    Patrick Dangerfield Shane Mumford Geelong Cats GWS Giants AFL 2017

    (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

    Josh Kelly is top of the pops, and has put together a stunning fourth season. Dylan Shiel is a beautifully balanced inside-out player. Callan Ward provides the hardness that sets the standard for his teammates. Stephen Coniglio is good at everything and hasn’t missed a beat since returning from injury. Tom Scully and Lachie Whitfield are the hardest outside runners in the side, and play the most game-time at GWS too.

    So far, we’ve looked at each line – backline, forward-line, and midfield, naming seven players in each area of the ground that are locks to take the field in September if fit. That leaves one spot remaining, and a host of contenders.

    There look to be six main chances of securing that remaining spot.

    The unlikely Matt de Boer has played 11 of the past 12 matches, only missing one due to injury, and has kept his spot as the best players have returned. He fortifies that forward pressure weak spot, and looks to have the inside running over someone like Sam Reid who started the year in good form in that position, but hasn’t been seen since Round 16.

    Matthew Kennedy, a 20-year-old in his second year on the Giants list, was potentially at the head of the queue before getting dropped for the West Coast game, given he had played 11 matches in a row up to that point.

    Tim Taranto was a staple in the side after making a Round 1 debut, before tailing off a little and injuries struck him down. He is classy and tough, and is still in the reckoning.

    If possession is 9/10th’s of the law, then Jacob Hopper might be peaking at the right time given he’s played in the last three wins against good sides. He’s only been running at 60 per cent game time though, which might be a hint that he isn’t necessarily in Leon Cameron’s finals plans.

    Harrison Himmelberg played against West Coast on Saturday, and is the next tall forward in line behind the big three, and has provided cover for Cameron, Patton and Lobb at various stages. Three talls in the forward half is clearly a structure that the coach likes.

    The biggest name waiting in the wings is Ryan Griffen, but time has clearly proven his enemy. He hasn’t played at AFL level since Round 3, and isn’t even back to building match fitness in the NEAFL yet either.

    GWS are the prettiest team to watch when playing their best football, and the rundown of talent at their disposal shows us why. A win over Geelong at Simonds Stadium on Saturday will deliver them a chance to reach the grand final without leaving Sydney.

    They’ve got 21 players that are rolled gold locks to be in their best team once finals roll around, and there are going to be some unlucky players to miss out on a spot.

    The Giants are currently third favourite for the flag with the TAB, behind Adelaide and, bizarrely, Sydney, but it’s an easy case to make that they’re the team to beat.

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.