If the Geelong Cats are the team to beat for this year’s premiership, then the GWS Giants are the team to watch in 2019.
Despite their injury toll and the loss of several key players at the end of last season, Leon Cameron’s talent-laden side continue to fly under the radar, winning five of their first seven matches to be sitting third on the ladder with the AFL’s best attack.
Full forward Jeremy Cameron continued his impressive start to the year, kicking six goals in their 44-point win over St Kilda last week, in which the Giants recorded the highest-scoring first quarter of any side so far this season, 8.2 (50).
He is the first player since Brendan Fevola in 2010 to kick at least three goals in the first seven rounds of a season.
Currently on 30 goals for the year – and 13 ahead of the second best in Richmond’s Tom Lynch – there is talk that Cameron may not only win his first Coleman Medal, but also become the first man since Lance Franklin in 2008 to kick more than 100 majors in a single season.
His current haul is just under half of the personal best 63 goals he kicked in the 2015 season, 12 behind that year’s Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy, who booted 75.
His partner in crime Jeremy Finlayson has also flourished since being moved up forward, and this will leave the coach with a huge headache when Jonathan Patton returns from his knee injury in two months’ time.
Unwanted by Fremantle three years ago, Matt de Boer has also proved valuable for the Giants since moving east, shutting down the likes of Zach Merrett, Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield in victories over Essendon, Richmond and Geelong.
Cameron’s decision not to give De Boer the responsibility of tagging ex-team-mate and now-Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe backfired spectacularly, as the Dockers pulled off an upset 24-point win in Canberra in Round 5.
The Giants’ start to this season is made all the more impressive when you consider their win over the Saints last week was just the third time when neither co-captains Phil Davis or Callan Ward were able to lead the side on game day due to injury.
Ward will miss the rest of the season after suffering a serious knee injury in the first quarter of their win over Geelong at Kardinia Park in Round 4, while Davis, Lachie Whitfield, Josh Kelly and Toby Greene have also sat out several matches.
In the pair’s absence, Stephen Coniglio has led the side superbly, recording two wins from as many matches as skipper.
GWS face a serious test against Hawthorn at the MCG this Sunday for only the third time.
The first time the club faced the Hawks at the G, they suffered a record 162-point defeat against a side that was on their way to the first of four consecutive grand finals.
From the Giants side that defeated St Kilda last week, there are six survivors from that horrific afternoon at the MCG: Cameron, Coniglio, Greene, Nick Haynes, Adam Kennedy and Adam Tomlinson.
Both co-captains, Phil Davis and Callan Ward, also played in that match, but neither featured in the win over the Saints last week.
The second time around, the Giants managed to slash the losing margin down to just seven points, with Ward scoring the three Brownlow Medal votes.
That result came eight days after they’d suffered a 113-point humiliation at the hands of Richmond at home, which led many to question the direction the club was heading in at the time. It is the most recent time the Giants have suffered defeat by a triple-figure margin.
But the tide started to turn in 2015 when they pulled off a stunning ten-point win at Giants Stadium, having trailed by as much as 27 points during the second quarter.
Twelve months later, they went one better, scoring a stunning 75-point victory which made the AFL take notice that they were finally here for the long haul.
Their most recent meeting, in Round 15 last season, saw the Giants win by 11 points despite being without Jeremy Cameron, who was serving the first of a five-match suspension for striking Brisbane’s Harris Andrews the week before.
As for the Hawks, they need to get going if they are to have any chance of playing finals this year, having lost three of their last four matches to drop to 13th on the ladder.
Alastair Clarkson’s men had their chances against Melbourne, but a dropped Chad Wingard mark in the forward 50 with 30 seconds remaining proved fatal as they fell to the Dees by five points at the MCG last Saturday afternoon.
Another loss would see their finals chances continue to slip away, though to be fair, not many are expecting the Hawks to feature in September this season.
Accordingly, the Giants – who are better positioned to qualify for a fourth consecutive finals series – will start favourites this Sunday in spite of a dismal record at the MCG, only winning twice from 15 appearances at the ground.
Leon Cameron – who spent two seasons as an assistant coach under Alastair Clarkson at the Hawks between 2011 and 2012 – is also unbeaten against the modern-day master coach, although when he oversaw the Giants’ seven-point loss in Round 11, 2014, Brendon Bolton was acting Hawks coach in Clarkson’s absence.
While another win for his Giants side will go a long way towards securing another appearance in September, just how his team will handle playing at the home of football remains to be seen, even against a Hawthorn side on the decline.