The GWS Giants are flying after Round 1 – the Bombers, not so much.
After finishing fourth on the ladder in both 2016 and 2017, and losing their preliminary final to the eventual premier each time, GWS fell back to a seventh place finish in the home and away rounds last year.
It must be noted they only won one less game in 2018 compared to the season before, and their percentage was almost identical, but they had certainly fallen from the loftier heights of 2016 when they had 16 wins, a percentage north of 140, and were averaging 108 points per game.
The Giants cleared the decks a little in the off-season too, off-loading Dylan Shiel, Tom Scully and Rory Lobb due to a speculated salary cap squeeze.
The word “talent” is never too far away when discussing GWS, and despite the amount of players they have lost in recent times (to the aforementioned names add Devon Smith, Adam Treloar, Nathan Wilson, Taylor Adams, Jack Steele, Will Hoskin-Elliott) there is still plenty of it on the list.
This is because when their good players leave, the Giants generally get high draft picks, plus there is a steady stream of academy players through the door as well (eight on the list at the moment).
B: Heath Shaw, Aidan Corr, Adam Kennedy
HB: Zac Williams, Phil Davis, Nick Haynes
C: Lachie Whitfield, Callan Ward, AdamTomlinson
HF: Toby Greene, Jeremy Cameron, Tim Taranto
F: Matt de Boer, Jonathan Patton, Harry Himmelberg
Foll: Shane Mumford, Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio
Int: Brett Deledio, Zac Langdon, Jacob Hopper, Sam Reid
Em: Jeremy Finlayson, Daniel Lloyd, Harry Perryman
Jonathon Patton has been named in the best side above, but his return from an ACL has been slated for mid-May. Given that a month in the NEAFL would be a sound idea for such a big man returning from his third knee reconstruction, the target for his resumption in the senior side might be after the Giants Rd 14 bye.
Jeremy Cameron and Harry Himmelberg worked well in tandem last year, an athletic, mobile and potent duo. Cameron is one of the most consistent key forwards in the AFL, having only been held goalless six times since the start of 2013, playing 114 games in that time. He finds more ball on the lead than he used to earlier in his career.
Himmelberg may never be the main man, but he’s an excellent number two. He just does everything well – good hands, good kick, good agility. He had a slow start last year, but his second half was strong.
Matt de Boer and Zac Langdon are the pressure forwards, which was something GWS lacked until recently. Every club needs these players in the modern game.
Toby Greene is looking to get his career back on track after only nine matches in 2018. His worth was shown in the elimination final against Sydney when in his first game for a month he had 27 touches and kicked three goals. He’s one of the best players in the competition, and a vital part of any success his team hope to have.
The midfield is where the Giants still have many riches.
Josh Kelly is the lead superstar, the silkiest mover in the game. He missed a block of matches early last season and finished the year injured as well, unable to complete the Sydney final and missing from the semi-final loss to Collingwood. He will be itching to stamp his authority on 2019.
Kelly was rated at No.6 in The Roar top 50, but GWS also had Stephen Coniglio at 13, Callan Ward at 21 and Lachie Whitfield at 32 from their midfield. It really is an outstanding engine room, with each offering something different.
Ward is the resident contested and clearance hard-nut; Coniglio has these attributes too but can hit the scoreboard in a major way and has the best all-round game; Whitfield is the smooth outside runner and deliverer.
Tim Taranto has just turned 21 and enters his third season. Make no mistake, this kid is a star too and is tracking ahead of where someone like Coniglio was at the same age sharing a similar skill-set. He will thrive with more responsibility after Shiel’s departure.
Jacob Hopper hasn’t yet become the player he was hyped to be, with Taranto flying past him.
The ruck position at GWS wasn’t really settled last year, with Rory Lobb doing the majority and Dawson Simpson also playing games. Lobb is gone, and Shane Mumford has been brought back into the fold.
How they structure up their division will be a question mark with no Patton in support for the first half of the season – tall wingman Adam Tomlinson did a little bit last year, and may be required again.
The modern game has no place for both Mumford and Simpson in the one side.
Down back, Phil Davis is the general, one of the best key defenders around. The big name forwards know they’re in for a tough day at the office when he’s the match-up. He seemed to play with more confidence in 2018, backing himself more and providing more drive than usual.
Aidan Corr is the lock-down defender of the taller backmen, with Nick Haynes the perfect third tall. He reads the play well, goes for his marks and is an athletic runner when providing drive.
Zac Williams is the team’s best rebounder and showed his worth in the finals after a year out of the game – he knows how to harness his pace and still deliver perfectly while on the run.
Heath Shaw enters year 15 in the AFL, still offering value deep in defence as an interceptor and good user. Adam Kennedy has had an interrupted career but seems to have found his niche now.
GWS have enough tools to contend, but it’s rare all of their players stay injury free, and on top of that players like Cameron, Greene and Mumford tend to get suspended as well.
Could a fit Brett Deledio be the x-factor they’ve been missing? He’s played 18 games in his two years at the Giants, impacting few of them.
Their first four weeks provides no soft opening into the season either – they’ll be heading over to Perth for West Coast, and down to Geelong, as well as hosting Essendon and Richmond, who are expected to be major players this season. Breaking even from those matches will give them a good platform as their draw opens up after that.
GWS made their name off the back of slick ball movement that would slice open opposition midfields and defences. They were beautiful to watch as they cut angles across the field with their high skill level and pinpoint passing, but there has been a sluggishness to their style at times in the last year or two.
In 2018, the Giants were less than the sum of their parts, and some of those parts are now gone. Perhaps the whole will be greater again.