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The Giants aren't done, Peter Bell is a golden god and other observations from this year's trade period

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17th October, 2018
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No one has won or lost this year’s trade period, because you can’t be a winner or a loser this far out from the 2019 season. This column doesn’t crown winners and losers, but it does have views on the most important outcomes from this year’s trade period.

The golden rule of trade and free agency in any sports league is to bite your damn tongue and resist the temptation to form an instant reaction. Remember how Essendon went from smacked in a qualifying final to contending for a premiership between October last year and March this year?

Or how Port Adelaide had loaded up for a flag tilt on the back of a trio of acquisitions? Or, indeed, how West Coast’s list management strategy was apparently positioning it for a hard landing and some time around the bottom of the ladder?

Richmond should’ve sold up, handed the Punt Road keys to someone and started from scratch according to many – dare I say most – ahead of the 2016 trade period. I could go on, but you get the picture. Resist the temptation to make sweeping judgements.

That being said, sweeping judgements are fun! And there isn’t enough fun stuff in the AFL now there are no games until March. So, for our penultimate column of the season, here are some thoughts on the trade period and what it all might mean as we look ahead to the 2019 season.

The Giants are far from a spent force
At face value, losing Dylan Shiel, Rory Lobb and Tom Scully is a mortal blow to the short term prospects of the GWS Giants. When fit – never a challenge for Shiel, but a niggling challenge for Lobb and an emerging one for Scully – each is a best 22 lock and contributor to GWS’ uniquely potent counter-punching game plan.

But if there is one thing this column tries to do it is to look beyond face value.

Shiel was a pre-agent, and one who had been expected to move to Victoria at the conclusion of next season. As we now know the not-so-secret free agency compensation formula, we know the Giants would’ve received a solitary first round draft pick linked to their finishing position in the case he left – which he was sure to apparently. So, like all good clubs with pre-agents they know are likely to bolt in free agency, the Giants got ahead of his 2019 move and dealt him while they had control.

Dylan Shiel

Dylan Shiel. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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And didn’t they drive a bargain? Pick nine and a future first round pick from Essendon, sending Shiel and their 2019 second round pick in return. On this year’s finishing positions, the swap next season will be pick nine for pick 31 or so. When viewed through a pre-agency lens, the Giants might have received a 2019 pick in the low teens and that’s it. Tick.

They secured a very good return for Rory Lobb: upgrading their own first round pick (from 14 to 11) and swapping two third round picks for another look at the top 20 (ish… pick 19, which could move out a bit depending on what happens with academy and father-son matching).

Lobb was never able to get a good look at the second forward spot that suits his skill set on a regular basis at the Giants, and he probably never would have either. A reported $750,000 salary cap hold, Lobb’s move was as much about clearing cash for the Giants 2019 expiring contracts. Fremantle was willing to deal in part because of how their own trade period unfolded – more on that in a moment.

We won’t know whether the Tom Scully trade – another one which at face value looks insane – turns out for either side for some time. Too much of the analysis of this deal has assumed one of GWS or Hawthorn is acting irrationally. Instead, we should assume their respective recruitment and list management teams are doing what they’ve shown great capacity to do in recent years: make a good deal.

Tom Scully of the Giants celebrates a goal in his 150th game during the 2017 AFL First Semi Final match between the GWS Giants and the West Coast Eagles at Spotless Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.

Tom Scully is now a Hawk. (Photo: Adam Trafford/Getty Images)

The relatively meagre return the Giants received for Scully is likely a reflection of two things: his age, on-field strengths and injury history, including the rehabilitation risk associated with his season-ending ankle injury from 2018, and that salary cap space is an asset (as we discussed last year). Moving Scully for a pick the Giants may not end up using reflects the above; Hawthorn being willing to take him and carry 100 per cent of his salary reflects their risk tolerance and confidence that they can rehabilitate him.

Losing Will Setterfield might hurt the Giants if he’s good, and let’s be clear: it’s not clear he’s good or not good. He might be good, but with two AFL games and a bunch of significant injuries on his wrap sheet after two years in the system, the Giants appear happy to invest more in their existing young talent than Setterfield. We won’t get a good read on this for a few years.

With those four players leaving GWS this off season, the players lost tally now stands at 24 since 2015. Yes you are reading that correctly: the Giants have lost 24 players to other clubs in the past four off seasons, or six per annum.

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Remarkably, almost all of them are still in the league. Rhys Palmer and Curtly Hampton have retired, while Tom Bugg was delisted by the Dees a couple of weeks ago and Liam Sumner was delisted in 2017. That is a testament to the talent identification of the Giants, but also hints at why they’ve had to move so many players in recent years.

We operate in a salary capped league. One club can only accumulate so many prime age blue chip players before said players start to get offers from other clubs that net them more cash or on field opportunities.

The Giants reached the point of talent saturation some time in the past few years, and they’ve been adjusting their list accordingly. And they had to do it at a time where the league pulled the rug out from under them, by removing the Cost of Living Allowance without a long enough adjustment period.

Given the constraints, the Giants have done an admirable – or excellent – job in retaining the core of their playing list and building around it. You know, like every other club in the competition has done.

GWS Giants players run out of the tunnel.

GWS Giants players run out of the tunnel. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Despite the loss of Shiel, Lobb, Scully and Setterfield, the Giants will go to market with a midfield of Josh Kelly, Callan Ward, Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield and Tim Taranto. They will have a forward line of Jeremy Cameron, Jonathon Patton and Toby Greene. They boast a defensive set anchored by Phil Davis and Nick Haynes, with Zac Williams on the deck.

GWS may no longer have a line up that promises a swift death to their opponent on every line. But line that top 11 players up against any top 11 in the league and this one will trump it.

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And there are plenty of above average role players lurking across the Giants list. They are the kind of players required by 17 clubs in the league on a regular basis but haven’t been as important to GWS because they’ve been so deep at the top. Delisted free agency, plus the top end of the draft, will be their friend again as it has been in the previous three off seasons.

All in all, the take is if you are writing GWS off, you do so at your own peril.

Fremantle is good at trading and my whole life is a lie
Their lord and saviour Peter Bell worked a literal trade period miracle these past two weeks. In net terms, Fremantle gave up pre-agent Lachie Neale, their first round pick (pick six) and two late 2019 picks (their third and fourth round picks) for the following: Travis Colyer, Reece Conca, Jesse Hogan, Rory Lobb, pick 14, pick 31, pick 43 and pick 65.

There’s turning water into wine and then there’s whatever shit Bell and his team just pulled on the rest of the league.

Fremantle has their key forward, the position that has been the sorest of sore spots for the club for almost all of their history. They also have their second forward in Lobb, which will allow Cam McCarthy the freedom and opportunity to reprise his sophomore year 35 goal half forward flanker heroics.

Rory Lobb GWS Giants Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL 2016

Rory Lobb is on the move. (AAP Image/David Moir)

We are not so far removed from Jesse Hogan’s stellar debut season that we can put a ceiling on his potential if afforded the opportunity to play as a hulking centre half forward.

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In Conca, the Dockers are replacing a conservative 60 per cent of Neale’s on field output. Then comes a hope that they can get Brad and Stephen Hill’s four legs functioning at the same time, Travis Colyer can get on the park, and an expectation that their younger midfield brigade can all rachet up a gear without Neale hoovering up one out of every 12 Fremantle possessions. It’s a gamble but one that could pay off for them.

And via their dealings the Dockers have dealt their way back into the top end of this draft, after entering the trade period with their first round pick plus a bunch of late round flotsam. Fremantle maximised every transaction it took part in, able to use the wants and needs of other clubs – such as Port Adelaide in the win-win pick swap that took place late last week – to engineer their ultimate outcome.

Bell (a law graduate) and company’s tactics were criticised heavily, though mostly by media members who wouldn’t be able to point out where Fremantle is on a map of Australia. We should expect better. It didn’t matter in the end, and the Dockers bent and twisted the trade period to fit their needs.

Just quietly, this is now three years in a row that Fremantle has delivered quality trade moves while also continuing to hit the top end of the draft. They might be a little thin through the middle as the post-Neale adjustment takes place, but on paper Fremantle is looking solid. Let’s see what they can do with that.

Jesse Hogan

Jesse Hogan is a new Docker (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Pre-agency winners
We won’t know for sure for a few years, but I am confident enough in the returns afforded to Port Adelaide (Chad Wingard), GWS (Shiel) and Fremantle (Neale) for their pre-agents to predict we will see more pre-agency decisions made in the years ahead.

Where each club would’ve been in line to receive a single draft pick linked to their finishing position next season, every one has engineered an outcome that nets them more quality assets for the price of giving up on their man a year early. The other benefit afforded by an early free agent move are salary cap space, which can either be banked and spent in the next off season or used to help tidy up the contracts of existing players.

Chad Wingard

Chad Wingard is on the move. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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I suspect this will prove particularly important to the Giants, who now have five really important signatures to garner before we reach September 2019: Matt Buntine, Stephen Coniglio, Nick Haynes and Adam Tomlinson (who are free agents) and Josh Kelly (who signed a two year contract extension in 2017).

Poor old Gold Coast missed the pre-agency party. They flipped captain Steven May to Melbourne for pick six (a worse return than they perhaps would’ve received if he left as a top band free agent in 2019) and happily tossed in former number five pick Kade Kolodjashnij. But there are likely to be more qualitative reasons for the Suns to take this position on May.

By hitting reset, the Suns have given the AFL an out to keep them in place for longer
Make no mistake, the Gold Coast Suns have used this trade period like a paperclip on the reset button of a frozen digital device. It’s not quite ground zero, but it is about as close as any professional sporting club would care to be falling to.

The Suns lost experienced heads Tom Lynch and May plus Aaron Hall, and former top-ten picks who never quite made it in Kolodjashnij and Jack Scrimshaw. They’ve moved almost all of their active draft picks inside the top 30, and currently hold picks two, three and six – which may change as the pick trading window opens ahead of the draft in November.

The five oldest players on the Suns list are Jarrod Harbrow, Pearce Hanley, Rory Thompson, Anthony Miles and Tom Nicholls (the final inaugural 2009 underage selection on the club’s list). Gold Coast will be far and away the youngest and least experienced list in the competition next season, returning to where they were around the middle of 2015 in the aggregate. I don’t want to say that the past 3.5 years have been lost, but they kind of have been.

No matter, we are here to deal with the present and future, and it is abundantly clear by their actions that the Suns are interested in that too. The move on May was the giveaway, but the delisting of Michael Barlow and trade of Aaron Hall for a fairly meagre return also hint that’s the plan.

Gold Coast Suns

Gold Coast Suns players show their emotions (Photo by Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media/Getty Images)

There’s a non-zero chance Gold Coast ends up in a better place on the field as a result of the moves it has made this off season. That sounds crazy, but consider that Lynch barely played for them in 2018, and neither did Scrimshaw or Kolodjashnij.

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Via their listing concessions, the Suns have added three ready-made State-league players in Chris Burgess and Josh Corbett, and former AFL-listed player Sam Collins. Their trade ins (Miles, Corey Ellis, George Horlin-Smith and Jack Hombsch) are all AFL standard with potential upside. It’s interesting, that’s for sure.

Regardless of that, attacking the top end of this draft with three super high picks is a sound strategy. Trading down with one of two, three or six for multiple first round picks would be a smart play, particularly given the Suns are so intent on resetting. Now that clubs can trade picks right up to – and during – the draft I’d expect those sorts of pick swaps will come into play.

Hawthorn threw the Mercedes keys and gold watch on the table
The Hawks are going to be the first club to formally and officially breach the AFL’s rules regarding the trading of future picks next season (given Geelong was let off the hook seemingly because it made most of their moves before the AFL had figured out how to implement their future pick trading rules).

Hawthorn is currently sitting on the minimum two first round picks in four years in the fourth year of the future pick trading era, having taken two first round picks in 2015 (Ryan Burton and Kieran Lovell). They traded their first round pick for this year, meaning as it stands Hawthorn will need to find an additional first round pick in the 2019 season to keep to their two-in-four limit. The AFL will undoubtedly kick this particular can down the road and deal with it next year, because that’s just what they do.

Right now that doesn’t matter, because Hawthorn is all in on their current playing group. That’s the only choice it has available: the club’s list is in prime age, and is fairly solid across the board save depth through the middle. By adding Chad Wingard to their forward line, the Hawks are hoping his mid-forward flex replaces the output of Cyril Rioli and they can keep tweaking their new game plan rather than starting afresh.

The Hawks gave up a lot for Wingard, particularly given they could’ve secured him for nothing after the 2019 season. But that’s the price you have to pay for pre-agents: they’re locked in to you a year early, cannot be poached by anyone else in the free agent market, and you get a year’s worth of extra output.

However, Port Adelaide would have been jumping for joy with the deal they made, in what looks like a very good trade period for them. The Power have taken a scalpel to this year’s trade period where they dropped a nuclear bomb in 2018, and have delivered themselves two best 22 players (albeit free agent Scott Lycett may be an awkward fit) plus three picks inside the top 20. I have a feeling Port Adelaide might not be done yet either.

Quick hits
If those are the big takeaways, here’s some of the smaller ones.

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North Melbourne might’ve missed out on Andrew Gaff, but as we discussed a fortnight ago they need to keep swinging for the fences. Folks might scoff at their player acquisitions, but they fill a clear need and came to fill salary cap space that has to be filled lest it be lost. The ‘Roos will be fine, and they’ll swing again next year.

I’m a little confused by Melbourne’s strategy. None of their acquisitions fit a particular need – including May – and they’ve got a bucketload of list spots open without a heap of draft capital. It suggests they’ll be a player in delisted free agency once that kicks into gear. The Dees have done a lot right in recent times so for now we’ll let it go, but it’s one to watch.

Geelong essentially upgraded the oft-injured Lincoln McCarthy to Luke Dahlhaus (if Dahlhaus is going to play forward, as suggested by most of the content coming out of the Cattery since he signed), Jackson Thurlow to Gary Rohan, and added another potential low price-high value guy in Nathan Kreuger for a bucket of chips. However like the Dees the Cats have plenty of list spots to fill and not a lot of draft capital to fill it with.

Geelong will contend next year, but there’s no doubt the Cats are in a precarious spot.

Sydney salary dumped three players and proceeded to bring in low price fringe types. I have no doubt they’re planning something big for 2019.

Just because trade period is on doesn’t mean you have to do something. The Western Bulldogs made a couple of fringe-type deals that probably won’t add much to their best 22 in 2019. Tom Liberatore remains unsigned but the Dogs must surely now be turning their attention to Marcus Bontempelli and locking him in for a decade.

West Coast missed out on Tim Kelly, but that just means they will get him for a lower price next season. However, at that point he won’t be as valuable as he is in the 2019 season, given he’s playing for about a third of his market value. Alas. Gaff is a nice consolation prize (heh).

Andrew Gaff

Andrew Gaff. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

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The Saints will be banking on a change in their assistant coaching panel and the reinvigoration that has seemingly bought to some clubs in recent years rather than the benefits of any bolt ons through the trade period. They don’t seem to have much by way of list management strategy going on, but I expect that’s a reflection of the off field changes which are underway.

Richmond got their man but it has cost them a ton of depth, and will do so going forward. They’ve had a charmed run with injury these past two years. Let’s see if it holds.

On Brisbane, my thoughts from a couple of months ago remain as such. They have the talent and base line to build towards a finals berth as early as next year. Losing Dayne Beams hurts their short term prospects, but the price the Pies have paid is surely more than the Lions would have anticipated heading into this trade period.

Equally, the Pies have given up plenty for a player that I’m not sure addresses a particular need for them. Collingwood will surely be better having Beams in the line up, but it’s additive in the same way adding a turbo to your car engine is additive: it might have a bit of extra power, but it’s not changing how you get from A to B.

Finally, the Adelaide sides will surely continue to build as much draft capital as they can leading up to the draft in early November. If the South Australian talent on offer is as good as all the draftnicks say it is, they’ll do well to nab it while they have the chance.

Right, that’s enough for now. With the trade period done and dusted, all that’s left to do is sit back and wait for the AFL to drop next year’s fixture. That is how this column traditionally ends its football season, and so it will be this year.