One of the biggest out-of-contract names got pulled off the board very early yesterday, with Greater Western Sydney star Lachie Whitfield inking a seven-year deal to remain at the club.
After another active trade period in which they lost more players than they gained, the Giants shape as one of the most interesting clubs in the upcoming draft.
Hampered by a bursting salary cap, they had to lose around $1.5 million in player salaries, which forced out Rory Lobb, Tom Scully, Will Setterfield, and Dylan Shiel.
Draft picks 9, 11, 19, 25
Over the past few years, the Giants have found themselves in a cycle of jettisoning experienced talent to stock up on high draft picks, and bringing in young players. This has been driven largely by the removal of the AFL’s Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) a few years earlier than expected.
Player contracts were structured based on the COLA being available, and its removal has meant that the club has found itself in a parlous salary cap position, compounded by the amount of talent on its list.
Every year, AFL pundits opine that surely that must be the year the Giants lose their edge, as they won’t be able to cover the experience they’ve lost. So far, though, that hasn’t proven correct.
The fact that the club has been able to identify young players to step in and fill the shoes of their more experienced, departed teammates, has been a testament to the club’s recruiting staff. 2017 draftees Brent Daniels, Sam Taylor, and Zac Langdon slotted into the club’s best team this year, while first-round selection Aiden Bonar looks like he could be anything.
The club did well to extract two first-round selections for Shiel, although I think they missed a trick in letting Scully go for a pick in the 50s – they were evidently worried enough about his ankle injury, or needed so badly to get his salary off their books, but it won’t surprise anyone if he becomes a premiership player at Hawthorn, such is that team’s dominance in everything off-field.
However, my gut feel is that this year’s losses might be harder to cover. They’ve got several A-grade midfielders, so losing Shiel won’t be so much of an issue; however, losing Setterfield on top of Matt Kennedy last year (both now at Carlton) significantly weakens the club’s depth.
They’re light on for ruckmen after losing Lobb, and while there’s talk Shane Mumford might make a comeback from retirement, there’d have to be doubts on whether he can play for a full season. Lobb’s ability to pinch-hit as a forward may also change the team’s structure this season.
For mine, the loss of Scully is most worrying – his aerobic capacity is almost unrivalled, and they don’t really have anyone else on the list who can do what he does.
It’s not a year for ruckmen at under-18 level, so they’ll have to make do with what they’ve got, or try and pick someone up from the state leagues. However, there are plenty of good midfielders around, as well as half-forwards and running half-backs, which is where I think they should be channelling their energy.
Pick 9 – I’ve said this in my other draft analyses this off-season (so apologies if you’ve heard this before) but I’m a big believer in taking the best available player when you have a top-10 pick. Statistically, players in that range go on to have long careers, and the pointy end of the draft is where you really need to be locking in future stars.
With that in mind, there are a number of players they could consider here. If any of Bailey Smith, Connor Rozee, or Jye Caldwell are available, they would be ideal selections. All are classy, skilful midfielders who would complement the Giants’ current midfield mix.
Smith and Caldwell are inside midfielders, while Rozee is versatile, agile, and quick, and can also play half-forward and half-back. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Giants placed a bid on Sydney academy player Nick Blakey – expect the Swans to match it, but the Giants might want to make sure their cross-town rivals give up an adequate amount for a talented player.
Expect them also to consider half-back Jordan Clark here – he looks likely to go in the 5-12 range, so they might have to take him here if they’re worried someone else might snap him up at 10.
Pick 11 – This might be a case of waiting to see who falls to them, although there seems to be a bit of a gulf between this year’s top 10 and the rest of the first round. If available, Clark would be an excellent selection, as he’d allow Lachie Whitfield to shift back into the midfield. Otherwise, tall midfielder Riley Collier-Dawkins might be a good fit, as would Chayce Jones – a fleet-footed midfielder – who has bolted up draft boards to be considered a top 10 selection.
Picks 11-20 is often when clubs start pulling surprises, so the Giants might plump for a smoky here, given their clutch of early picks.
Pick 19 – Again, I think they’ll have to wait and see who gets through, but they might also consider a needs-based pick here. South Australian half-forward Sam Sturt is a raw, but exciting prospect, who could benefit from having time to develop in the Giants’ system. Midfielder Xavier Duursma would be a good fit, as might accumulator Ely Smith.
Pick 25 – They’ll likely find that someone they rate high on their draft board slips through to this pick. If any of the widely-touted top 15 get through to here, then expect the Giants to snap them up.
Otherwise, they might decide to go for some mature-aged talent – players like midfielders Mitch Grigg or Jye Bolton, or ruckman Darcy Fort – would be handy. Otherwise, they might decide to take academy ruckman Kieran Briggs (although there are queries around whether his size would let him play as a ruck at the top level).