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Another Giant exodus, but it won't stop GWS winning a flag

Nathan Wilson of the Giants remonstrates with the goal umpire after the shot on goal from Shai Bolton of the Tigers was touched during the round nine AFL match between the Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Richmond Tigers at Spotless Stadium on May 20, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Editor
28th September, 2017
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The GWS Giants were yesterday hit with three players – Nathan Wilson, Devon Smith and Matthew Kennedy – requesting trades away from the club. That’s not a position anyone wants to be in, but the Giants are still on the road to a premiership.

AFL list management series
18 – Brisbane Lions
17 – Gold Coast Suns
16 – Carlton Blues
15 – North Melbourne Kangaroos
14 – Fremantle Dockers
13 – Collingwood Magpies
12 – Hawthorn Hawks
11 – St Kilda Saints
10 – Western Bulldogs
9 – Melbourne Demons
8 – Essendon Bombers
7 – Port Adelaide Power
6 – West Coast Eagles
5 – Sydney Swans
3 – Geelong Cats

2017 in short

It was another case of close but no cigar for the Giants in 2017. They entered the season as premiership favourites but ultimately could not go any further than they did last year, bowing out at the preliminary final stage.

A run of terrible luck with injuries during the year severely hampered their home-and-away campaign and while they were able to get most of their best side back on the park for finals, they hadn’t really clicked in time to compete.

They were clearly a notch or two below eventual grand finalists Adelaide and Richmond, and still have some improvement to come before they will be genuine premiership contenders.

Coach

Leon Cameron has copped criticism at times during the year – many are beginning to question whether he is really a quality coach, or just lucky enough to be in charge of a supremely talented group of footballers.

This didn’t stop the Giants re-signing him until the end of 2020 during the season though, and that may well wind up being his deadline to take this group of players to a premiership.

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It’s pretty hard to coach a great effort out of your team when copping the kind of injury list that the Giants did at times this year. Fair to say the jury is still out on him, but most teams would be pretty happy with back-to-back prelims.

GWS Giants coach Leon Cameron

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Captain

Callan Ward and Phil Davis have been captaining the side in tandem since they first ran onto the field, and both have become respected leaders within the AFL.

They are still both in the prime of their careers so you’d expect that this arrangement will continue as is for the next couple of years at least.

Josh Kelly, if he commits to the club long term, would be an ideal candidate to be the club’s first organic captain. If he doesn’t, Stephen Coniglio seems a good choice as well.

List management

The oldest organic player on GWS’ list is Nick Haynes, 25, and everyone above him is either a mature-age recruit or transplanted in from another club.

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There are two key groups here – a veteran tier made of Steve Johnson (34), Heath Shaw, Shane Mumford, Ryan Griffen (all 31) and Brett Deledio (30), and a middle tier of Callan Ward, Phil Davis (both 27) and Tom Scully (26).

GWS’ crafty recruiting of the players who make up their veteran tier was remarkably impressive and is one of the key reason they have come so far in recent years, not that far off a flag really in 2016.

Shaw has been a two-time All Australian and a best-and-fairest winner at the Giants, Mumford too has won a best-and-fairest, Johnson was excellent in 2016.

Heath Shaw GWS Giants Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL 2016 tall

(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

However the past is the past. All of this group is now over 30 and they’re starting to look a bit over the hill.

Stevie J has already been put out to pasture – joining Sydney as an assistant coach, funnily enough – while Shaw’s output dropped off significantly this year and Griffen and Deledio were so restricted by injury as to hardly make an impact.

Some of them can still hang on to be flag players at the Giants, but they’re no longer the core of the team – instead that transition is beginning in earnest to the younger players, and that process is never entirely smooth.

The middle tier is a little thin by virtue of it being purely recruited from other clubs, but Ward, Davis and Scully is a good mix of talent and experienced heads who will continue to be valuable for several years yet to come.

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Where the Giants really impress though is in the bulk talent that is just now ready to come into its prime.

We’re talking about Nick Haynes (25), Nathan Wilson, Rory Lobb, Dylan Shiel, Jeremy Cameron, Jonathon Patton, Adam Tomlinson, Toby Greene (all 24), Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield, Zac Williams (all 23) and Josh Kelly (22).

Josh Kelly GWS Giants AFL 2016

(AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

Not all of those players will still be at GWS next year but the point is that despite endless poaching from other clubs they’ve still got an envious group of talents that over the next five or so years will play their best footy of their careers.

The Giants have lost plenty of talent along the way and they’ve often accepted unders at the trade table, but it has still led to a steady stream of draft picks that have ensured they have plenty of youth coming through to make their mark.

Harrison Himmelberg (21), Jacob Hopper (20), Tim Taranto, Will Setterfield, Isaac Cumming (all 19) and Harry Perryman (18) are all committed to the club for the next little while at least and will offer continued improvement.

I suspect GWS’ best shot at a flag will be around 2019 to 2022 when the group that is currently 24 will be 26-29, at that perfect age where the body is still at its peak and they have accrued plenty of wisdom and experience.

With the talent they have on their list there’s no reason they couldn’t win one next year, but that’s the window I’d be targetting. What threatens to derail them between now and then is the continued raids on their talent by other clubs.

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AFL players Matthew Kennedy and Jacob Hopper of the GWS Giants playing Essendon Bombers

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

GWS players by age
Steve Johnson – 34yr 2mth
Joel Patfull (R) – 32yr 9mth
Heath Shaw – 31yr 9mth
Tendai Mzungu (R) – 31yr 6mth
Shane Mumford – 31yr 2mth
Ryan Griffen – 31yr 1mth
Brett Deledio – 30yr 5mth
Tim Mohr – 28yr 11mth
Dawson Simpson – 28yr 7mth
Sam Reid (R) – 27yr 10mth
Matt De Boer – 27yr 6mth
Callan Ward – 27yr 5mth
Phil Davis – 27yr
Tom Scully – 26yr 4mth
Daniel Lloyd (R) – 25yr 7mth
Nick Haynes – 25yr 4mth
Adam Kennedy – 25yr 2mth
Nathan Wilson – 24yr 8mth
Rory Lobb – 24yr 7mth
Dylan Shiel – 24yr 6mth
Jeremy Cameron – 24yr 5mth
Tom Downie – 24yr 4mth
Jonathon Patton – 24yr 4mth
Devon Smith – 24yr 4mth
Adam Tomlinson – 24yr 1mth
Toby Greene – 24yr
Matthew Buntine – 23yr 11mth
Stephen Coniglio – 23yr 9mth
Jake Stein (R) – 23yr 8mth
Aidan Corr – 23yr 4mth
Lachie Whitfield – 23yr 2mth
Zac Williams – 23yr
Josh Kelly – 22yr 7mth
Jeremy Finlayson – 21yr 7mth
Harrison Himmelberg – 21yr 4mth
Jacob Hopper – 20yr 7mth
Lachlan Tiziani – 20yr 6mth
Matthew Kennedy – 20yr 5mth
Matthew Flynn – 20yr
Tim Taranto – 19yr 7mth
Will Setterfield – 19yr 7mth
Zac Sproule (R) – 19yr 4mth
Isaac Cumming – 19yr 1mth
Harry Perryman – 18yr 9mth

The only out-of-contract players at the Giants on the senior list are two who have requested trades and the retiring Johnson, so there’s little in the way of immediate decisions needing to be made here.

The good news is that there appears to be few real flight risks in their 2018 group, with Isaac Cumming probably the only player there’ll be any need to be proactive about. Toby Greene will no doubt get big offers but seems the loyal type.

Toby Greene GWS Giants AFL 2017 tall

(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The harder decision will be whether or not to give new deals to the likes of Ryan Griffen, Shane Mumford and Heath Shaw. Injuries and form will no doubt play a role in the future of all three.

The Giants deserve a thumbs up for their ability to sign up Josh Kelly until the end of 2019 this year despite big money offers from elsewhere and Jacob Hopper too is one they did very well to retain, also signed until the end of 2019.

There’s a lot of players potentially coming out of contract that year and though it’s at the very early range of my premiership window for them, they’ll want to be seriously in the mix for success then if they’re going to convince Kelly and company to again sign on – as they likely will be.

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GWS players by contract status
2021
Tom Scully
Callan Ward

2020
Jeremy Cameron
Aidan Corr
Adam Kennedy
Jonathon Patton
Harry Perryman
Will Setterfield
Tim Taranto
Lachie Whitfield
Zac Williams

2019
Matthew Buntine
Stephen Coniglio
Brett Deledio
Matthew Flynn
Nick Haynes
Harrison Himmelberg
Jacob Hopper
Josh Kelly
Daniel Lloyd (R)
Rory Lobb
Dylan Shiel
Adam Tomlinson
Nathan Wilson

2018
Isaac Cumming
Phil Davis
Matt De Boer
Jeremy Finlayson
Toby Greene
Ryan Griffen
Tim Mohr
Shane Mumford
Heath Shaw
Dawson Simpson
Lachlan Tiziani

Out of contract
Matthew Kennedy
Tendai Mzungu (R)
Joel Patfull (R)
Steve Johnson
Sam Reid (R)
Devon Smith
Zach Sproule (R)
Jake Stein (R)

Delistings and retirements

Steve Johnson has officially retired after a remarkable career, and Tom Downie stepped away from the game earlier in the year. Joel Patfull retired last year but was still technically listed for 2017.

The Giants only other out-of-contract players are those who have requested trades, so aside from some shuffling of the rookies there won’t be any other delistings taking place.

Free agency

The Giants, of course, don’t have any free agents just yet.

They don’t seem likely to go after any either – they haven’t been linked to any at least, and there isn’t really any likely target for them in a shrinking group.

Trade period

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It will be another active year for the Giants at the trade table as on Thursday three players – Nathan Wilson, Devon Smith and Matthew Kennedy – requested trades away from the club.

Devon Smith GWS Giants AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Wilson is contracted for 2018 but wants to go to Fremantle, who turned their attention to him after missing out on other WA boys Jason Johannisen and Mitch McGovern this year.

The Dockers would presumably be offering Wilson a financial deal that goes well beyond what the Giants can probably afford, and he is also starting a family which makes a return home understandably appealing.

Fremantle have already given away their second-round pick this year, and their first pick – No.5 overall – is much higher than they’d be willing to part with for Wilson, while their third-rounder, No.40, is much less than what he’s worth.

I’d expect that they will either trade the Giants their 2018 second-round pick for him, or do a shuffling of other picks that satifies GWS in someway, perhaps akin to the Cam McCarthy deal last year.

Because Wilson is a contracted player, the Giants do hold at least some of the cards.

Nathan Wilson GWS Giants AFL 2017

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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Things are a bit less clear when it comes to Devon Smith and Matthew Kennedy, as neither has nominated a destination just yet.

However, the talk is that Carlton is leading the race for the both of them, which if you’ve followed the trade period in the past two years should surprise you absolutely not at all.

There’s plenty of moving parts in this potential deal because what Carlton do will depend on Bryce Gibbs and Adelaide and what Adelaide do will depend on Jake Lever and Melbourne, so don’t expect this one to be done early.

I floated this as a possible four-team deal on Twitter yesterday and I wouldn’t be surprised to see something along these lines eventually come to pass.

The Giants will ultimately find themselves accepting unders for all three of their departing players, unfortunately for them that’s just how equalisation ultimately works.

In terms of potential acquisitions there doesn’t seem likely to be a big move made here, but they have surprised us plenty of times before and could do so again.

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The one player they have been linked to albeit briefly is Hawthorn’s Paul Puopolo. He’d be a good fit as he plays a role they don’t really have at the moment, and would come at a bargain basement price.

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Draft

First three rounds: 23, 25.

The Giants’ first-round pick this year has been nerfed because of the penalty the club copped for the Lachie Whitfield saga, so they’re coming in a little late this year.

However, I would fully expect them to land a top ten pick through trading away the likes of Wilson, Smith and Kennedy, or perhaps two picks in the teens.

Their list is complete enough that they can afford to take whoever they like best out of the talent available.

I reckon that, if on the board when they get a chance, a tall goal-kicking midfielder like Jaidyn Stephenson will really appeal.

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Outlook

I’ve written twice about the Giants this year and they’ve both been sceptical pieces, first questioning their flag favouritism, and later questioning the widespread belief that their success in inevitable.

The latter of the two was to some degree built on a worst-case scenario where Josh Kelly and Jacob Hopper also left the club. The fact that the Giants managed to re-sign both has me thinking much more rosily about their prospects.

They have a simple problem, and it’s a problem that literally every club in the league would love to have – they’ve got too much elite talent to retain it all. They’ve been shedding talent and accepting unders in return since year one, and yet they still have excess.

No matter what, that is simply going to keep happening until eventually they are on even footing with the rest of the league, and at that point they will have to rely on their coaching and development to put them ahead of other teams on the field. That’s not too dark a future, they’re pretty good at both.

The aim should be to snatch a flag between now and then though and given they have more than a few good players including their MVP Josh Kelly coming out of contract at the end of 2019, I’d wager that is the year they are aiming for.

Josh Kelly GWS Giants AFL 2017

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

However even if they were to get to that point without a premiership and lose Kelly there’s no need to dismay as they should still have more than enough prime-age talent to lift the team to a flag sometime in the next five years. If they keep making the right decisions and are patient I believe they will.

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There’s always an element of luck in winning a premiership, but with the talent they have on the list and the widespread competence they’ve shown in recruiting, development and coaching, the Giants will need an awfully bad run of it to not find themselves on the podium some time sooner or later.