The GWS Giants took a step backwards in 2018, eliminated in the semi-finals after having made the prelims in the two years previous.
The club’s list still appears well provisioned for success in the near future, but they have an enormous amount of crucial players coming out of contract at the end of next year.
Over the next 12 months they face a vital battle to re-sign their most elite talents which will shape the longterm future of this club.
Overall GWS’ 2018 list was the sixth oldest, and the seventh most experienced, however their week-to-week selections trended a bit younger than this.
They gave 29 per cent of games to their 23-and-under players, and earned 63 AFLCA votes from this group – below average in both respects, but not by a particularly large gap.
Josh Kelly is the out-and-out superstar of the group but his impact in 2018 was limited by injury.
Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper, Harry Himmelberg, Jeremy Finlayson and Zac Langdon were the Giants’ regulars from this group in 2018, and all showed enought to suggest they can be longterm members of the team.
Fresh draftees Aiden Bonar, Brent Daniels, Sam Taylor and Nick Shipley all got a run, Isaac Cumming and Harry Perryman took steps forward, but Will Setterfield missed the year through an ACL injury.
61 per cent of all games went into their prime-age group, a significant chunk more than the league-wide average, which speaks to the strength gained from their draft concessions.
In particular, 25 per cent of all games were played by 25-year-old players this year, the age of GWS’ original draft class, featuring the likes of Stephen Coniglio, Toby Greene, Jeremy Cameron, Dylan Shiel, Adam Tomlinson, Jonathan Patton and Matthew Buntine.
This group of players represents an incredible sledgehammer of talent about to come into its prime (and free agency eligibility) – something that the Giants can use to strike a blow to their opponents, but with which market forces will deal similar damage to GWS’ salary cap.
The Giants acquired 252 AFLCA votes from their 24-29 players, a full 109 of those belonging to the 25-year-olds.
Zac Williams, Lachie Whitfield and Aidan Corr are the 24-year-olds in this group, while Rory Lobb is a 25-year-old but not part of the 2011 draft class.
Nick Haynes was part of the original draft class but is 26. The rest of the Giants ‘older’ prime-age players are of course made up of recruits from elsewhere, with foundation signings Tom Scully, Phil Davis and Callan Ward being complimented by recyclees Matt de Boer and Dawson Simpson.
The Giants ultimately only had nine per cent of their games played by 30-and-over veterans and got 33 AFLCA votes from them – below the average in both, especially so for a top eight side.
Heath Shaw, Ryan Griffen, Brett Deledio and Tim Mohr are the key names here. Griffen has already announced his retirement.
Overall the Giants don’t lack for talent in any particular area of the ground, expect perhaps for a really prolific crumbing small forward, but even that would be more of a luxury than a necessity.
Their big list need more than anything else is a balancing out agewise to perhaps have more veteran talent and less players who are about hit their prime and therefore demand higher salaries and become eligible for free agency.
Overall GWS fielded a younger and less experienced team than their overall list profile suggests.
They were slightly older than the average AFL age, but also were only the 11th oldest team in the league, as the league average was thrown out by a number of significantly young teams at the bottom of the ladder.
Their average side boasted only 2007 games of AFL experience, a notch below the AFL average, making them the ninth most experienced in the league.
Verdict: Overperformed. Both the age and experience of the best 22 would have had GWS outside finals, suggesting that – as most other measures will tell you clearly – the Giants have more talent pound-for-pound than most.
2018’s contract group for the Giants is mostly made up of depth types, and they can pick and choose who they’d like to retain. Dawson Simpson is probably the biggest priority.
2019 however is the one that shapes as massive year.
It will be GWS’ eighth year in the competition and that means that, for the first time ever, GWS players will become eligible to move clubs as free agents.
Dylan Shiel, Stephen Coniglio, Nick Haynes, Adam Tomlinson and Matt Buntine will all be eligible for free agency in 2019 if they don’t sign new contracts before the season begins.
Shiel has already been heavily linked to a move, clubs are targetting Stephen Coniglio, and both Carlton and St Kilda have made plays for Adam Tomlinson in the past.
However the problem doesn’t stop there for GWS as they’ve also got a number of players coming out of a contract who may look to request trades.
Young star Josh Kelly is first and foremost among them – although he rejected a big offer money from North Melbourne in 2017, there are some who believe he’ll inevitably join the Kangaroos.
Rory Lobb also is coming out of contract and has been heavily linked to a return home to WA, while Harry Himmelberg and Jacob Hopper are fine talents who other clubs are sure to target.
The Giants could also lose Brett Deledio and Heath Shaw to retirement at the end of next year – you’d have to think it’s likely.
To have so many key players – essentially half of their best 22 – coming out of contract all at once is a recipe for the disaster, and how the Giants navigate it will shape their future.
Matt De Boer
Out of contract
As things stand, no GWS players are eligible for free agency just yet.
Are they going to bring any free agents in? It seems unlikely – GWS haven’t really been linked to any big offseason recruits just yet.
The key reason for this presumably is that they reportedly are undergoing a bit of a salary cap crunch and need to move players out rather than bring them in.
Without knowing player salaries it’s hard to quantify exactly what the problem is, but with so many players coming out of contract next year and most of them likely to want pay raises, it’s pretty clear that if the Giants aren’t already in serious trouble on the salary cap front, they soon will be.
That being the case they probably can’t afford to go off in search of opposition players this year, if they did, it would have to be a smaller signing.
Paul Puopolo is one they’ve been linked to at times in the past and could fill that small forward role for a year or two.
It’s a shame that we don’t have access to player salary information, because without that it’s hard to say with any certainty exactly how bad the Giants’ situation is.
What seems to be widely agreed upon though is that they are going to move out some players via trade this year for the purposes of making more room in 2019.
The two players who have been talked about here the most are Dylan Shiel and Rory Lobb.
Shiel has reportedly already made his mind up to return home to Victoria in the next 12 months, originally planning to do so as a free agent next year.
However, it seems like he’s now probably more likely than not going to make the move this offseason. The Giants are presumably thinking that if they must move someone this year, better to move someone who was certain to go sooner or later anyway.
Hawthorn, Essendon, Carlton and St Kilda have all been linked to Shiel and it seems that if he does request a trade now, the Hawks are probably his preferred destination.
This would really be the worst result for GWS, as Hawthorn have the least to offer of any club potentially in the mix for him.
Carlton and St Kilda both have very early picks that the Giants could set their eyes on if Shiel was willing to go to them, while Essendon at least have a top ten selection.
However I would suspect the most likely result at this stage is that Shiel winds up wearing brown and gold by 2020, if not in 2019.
Rory Lobb meanwhile has been linked heavily over the past few days to a return home to Western Australia.
Lobb makes something of a logical fit for West Coast in that he could come in as a ruck replacement for Nic Naitnaui in the short term and eventually transition into being a key forward.
However it’s believed that Fremantle are leading the race for him, potentially willing to put on the table a deal worth as much as $700,000 per year.
Lobb would be a brilliant get for the Dockers, someone who they would hope can play that No.1 forward role for them with fellow former Giant Cam McCarthy in support.
The Dockers face a real challenge to try and get a deal done however as after their first selection, pick 5, they have nothing in the draft until the 70s.
They’d likely either look to trade away a future 2019 pick to the Giants, probably a second-rounder, or hope to get it done as part of the Lachie Neale deal.
Brisbane have offered Fremantle pick 4 for Neale, but if they were willing to offer both pick 4 and a second-rounder to get Lobb to the Dockers, it’d be hard to turn down.
If the Giants were to lose Shiel and Lobb then that would certainly clear out a decent chunk of salary cap room, probably something in the area of $1 million.
However there’s an arguement to be made that if they are going to lose some players now and some at the end of 2019 – which seems all but certain – they should try to shed now only those players least likely to have a serious impact next year.
To that degree I would be looking to retain Shiel and Lobb for another year at least, and instead look at moving on some of their lesser lights.
Will Setterfield is one who has also been linked to a move away and while he is an excellent talent, the fact he’s recovering from an ACL currently suggests he’ll probably have a delayed start to 2019.
Essendon, Carlton and St Kilda have all been linked to Setterfield and while he probably wouldn’t get the Giants a major draft return, it may be worth letting him go if that makes a dent in the Giants’ salary cap problems.
Thinking more outside the box, I’d suggest it’s also worth considering the futures of Adam Tomlinson and Jonathan Patton.
Tomlinson is a handy player for the Giants but by no means one of their best, and both Carlton and St Kilda are known to have been interested in the past.
Sure, his leaving would be a loss, but not as big of a loss I think as Shiel or Lobb would be.
Patton meanwhile hasn’t been linked to a trade but makes a lot of sense to try and move on, if you think about it.
He’ll likely miss the first half of the season as he’s recovering from his third ACL injury, and even when he was fit this year presented something of a headache for the Giants.
His presence tends to make their forwardline a bit too tall, and they’ve looked better this year with a Cameron-Himmelberg combination than they did when he was in the side.
Having missed out on Tom J Lynch, perhaps Collingwood would be willing to bring him in and cop his salary if they could do so without paying much at the trade table?
The Brisbane Lions would also be a potential destination for Patton – they undoubtedly have some salary cap room to spare and he’d make a good longterm partner for Eric Hipwood.
If the Giants opted to hold Shiel and Lobb to their contracts for 2019 and instead move on Setterfield, Tomlinson and Patton, I suspect they would clear a comparable amount of salary cap room, at a much less significant cost to their 2019 competitiveness.
GWS’ draft hand will likely change signiciantly as players leave the club, but as it stands they’ve got pick 12 and pick 23 (from Fremantle for Nathan Wilson) inside the first 30.
I’d suspect they’ll be looking either to add to their small forward stocks or bringing in young midfield talent to plan for future departures, and there’s options aplenty in both categories at their selections.
They’ve shown a bit of a fondness for big bodied midfielder types in the past and the likes of Jackon Hately and Riley Collier-Dawkins fit this mould if they’re available at their first pick.
Jye Caldwell is another midfield prospect who might slip through to them, while Curtis Taylor and Ian Hill would be the forward-line optios to consider. Hill could even make it to their second selection.
If they wanted instead to look at a half-back type to replace the loss of Nathan Wilson last year and likely retirement of Heath Shaw in 2019, then Jordan Clark and Jez McLennan would be two to consider.
“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.
“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, as 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.”
For a moment let’s ignore the contract and salary cap situations and just have a look at this list under the assumption that every player there will stay put longterm.
If so then I reckon the GWS Giants would be set to hit their peak around 2020-2022.
At this period of time the likes of Callan Ward, Phil Davis and Tom Scully have become the club’s over-30 veterans, all in that sweet spot where they – and the team – can benefit significantly from their years of experience while their bodies are still up to it.
Meanwhile the class of 2011 are all at the absolute peak of their powers, Josh Kelly is just about to enter his, and the youth – lead by Taranto, Hopper, Himmelberg, Finlayson and Bonar – are providing upward momentum.
Imagine that side on the park and it’s hard not to see why the Giants have been dubbed the ‘Orange Tsunami’ by some.
Unfortunately for GWS, that future isn’t quite going to happen.
The AFL’s decisions to provide the Giants with such an enormous amount of talent at the same age while also bringing in free agency have combined to mean that GWS were always bound to take a hit at this approaching juncture.
They simply have too much talent coming out of contract who have reached the stage of their careers where they’re looking for that big payday contract to have any hope of retaining them all.
It seems virtually inevitable that they’ll lose Dylan Shiel at some point in the next 12 months, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s a serious chance that at least half a dozen key players could leave the club by the end of 2019.
Personally I think the best move they could make is to try to retain as much talent for 2019 as possible and hope to win a flag then before inevitably losing some of them. It might not be quite where I project their peak to be, but it’ll be bloody close.
That is why, if I were GWS, I’d be looking to move on the likes of Setterfield, Tomlinson and Patton this offseason rather than Shiel or Lobb.
The alternative path to go down would be to shed some of that key talent now, if it can lead to locking in other players for the longterm.
If the Giants could for example get Josh Kelly and Stephen Coniglio to commit to the club longterm this offseason then, in combination with Jeremy Cameron and Toby Greene, they undoubtedly have a good enough core to build a premiership push around even if they lose others.
The worst case scenario for GWS instead is that they lose Shiel and Lobb this year and aren’t able to convince anyone to sign early.
If their competitiveness then was stagnant or even declined in 2019 it would become hard to convince players to commit for the longterm – many could feel like they have given GWS a fair go, and earned the right to return home.
You can make a case for the Giants to potentially lose as much as half of their best 22 at the end of next year – undoubtedly some will stay, but if a large number ultimately leave it could essentially rip the core out of the club’s list. The orange tsunami may run out of swell before it reaches shore.
If so it would be back to the drawing board for the GWS Giants, and perhaps perpetually so. I can see 2019 being anywhere between a first premiership and an absolute disaster.