With two rounds to go and the finals race starting to heat up, the match between the GWS Giants and Sydney Swans is set to be the most significant Sydney derby ever played.
If you ruled out the Giants in Round 10 after losing four in a row, you could hardly be blamed. They had an inconceivable amount of casualties and were not playing anywhere near their best. But as their key players came back, so did the results. They have now won nine of their last ten matches, are shaping up to be Richmond’s biggest challenger in September. Or, at least, they were.
Since the Giants have made their way into the top four, the injuries have started to pile on yet again. Josh Kelly, who was one of the catalysts of their resurgence, was concussed last weekend against the Crows, and is in doubt to return. On top of that, Heath Shaw and Dawson Simpson are gone for the season, while Brett Deledio, Sam Reid, Toby Greene and Sam Taylor are unlikely to return until the finals.
Last week, they ended with one man on the bench, while the week before, Leon Cameron decided to play with 16 players on the field at one point after losing four to injury. But they still came out with victories in both.
After coughing up four of their first five games after the bye, Sydney are slowly but surely building themselves back up. In the last two weeks, they have managed to overcome a brave Collingwood side and then the Demons at the MCG. And while they are still yet to hit their straps this season, last week’s performance was as close to their best as we’ve seen.
But John Longmire’s have injury concerns of their own. In a tragic turn of events, Alex Johnson will have to undergo a sixth knee reconstruction, while their best shutdown defender, Nick Smith, has picked up a hamstring tendon injury and will miss the rest of the season (unless Sydney make it to the grand final).
This match is crucial for the Swans. They currently sit at 13 wins which would often be enough to guarantee a finals spot. But this year, it is almost inevitable that one side is going to become the second team in history to miss out with that record. If Sydney win this game, their place in September is assured. But if they lose, they’ll be in a precarious position going into the final round.
The Giants, unlike their bigger brothers, are already safe in the eight. But the double chance is what they are really after. A win against the Swans would almost guarantee them that treasured top-four spot, giving them another chance to improve upon their two preliminary final exits.
Lance Franklin vs Phil Davis
This matchup is always a cracker. Buddy usually lifts himself in games against the Giants, and there is no better time than now, when his team needs it the most.
Davis is arguably GWS’ most valuable player, but his importance will be even more prominent against Sydney. Not only will he be squaring off against the best forward of the modern era, but he has to be the one to organise the GWS backline in Heath Shaw’s absence. The co-captain, like Buddy, has a lot of weight on his shoulders, and needs to be the one to guide the Giants to victory.
Zak Jones vs Lachie Whitfield
Not necessarily a direct matchup, but these two play similar roles in their teams, providing leg speed capable of producing deadly counterattacks. Jones is back in the side having served a two-game suspension picked up against Essendon. Even though his absence did not cost the Swans any victories, he was sorely missed.
Lachie Whitfield was tagged successfully by George Hewett last time these two teams played, kept to just 15 disposals. The former number 1 draft pick would love to put that match behind him with a strong performance.
Midfield vs midfield
Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney squaring off against Callan Ward, Stephen Coniglio and Dylan Shiel. If this isn’t a mouth-watering prospect, I don’t know what is. Kennedy and Ward are arguably the two most hard-nosed and courageous midfielders in the league, Parker and Coniglio rarely have a bad game, and Heeney and Shiel were the main reasons why their respective teams won last week.
These players often stand up when it matters most, and there has never been a better time to just that.
Both sides will be calling on their younger players to stand up in the absence of injured stars. The result will come down to the performances of Ben Ronke, Tom McCartin and Jordan Dawson for the Swans and Zac Langdon, Aiden Bonar and Brent Daniels for the Giants.
Head-to-head: Sydney 10, GWS 4
Past five: GWS 3, Sydney 2
Last meeting: Sydney 16.7.103 def GWS 12.15.87 (Round 3, 2018)
Lance Franklin provided the heroics last match. When the Swans were only up by four points late in the game, he kicked two crucial goals, including a 65-metre bomb, to seal it. Callum Mills, currently out injured, won the Brett Kirk medal for best-on-ground.
It’s hard to split the two sides, but given the high stakes for the Swans and the long injury list for the Giants, John Longmire’s crew will win in the closest Sydney derby yet.
Sydney by 7 points