A stunning run through September saw the Giants make their first grand final last year, before they were obliterated by the all-conquering Tigers.
This is about as good a match-up as you can ask for in the bottom half of the eight.
They’re evenly matched and it’s perhaps the most organic of modern rivalries.
The Dogs gave the Giants a hiding at this same venue just a few weeks ago, but you can pretty much throw that result out.
Neither Jeremy Cameron or Jeremy Finlayson played that day. Neither did Jacob Hopper, while Josh Kelly and Matt De Boer were each playing their first games after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The Giants have added about 550 games experience since that defeat, and Cameron and Finlayson alone have booted 37 per cent of their team’s goals in 2019.
The Bulldogs have garnered plenty of publicity in the past few weeks and understandably so. The last time they finished seventh they won the flag. But this team ain’t that team.
Just seven of those 2016 premiership players will line up for the Dogs today. The addition of the likes of Aaron Naughton, Tim English, Lewis Young, Ed Richards and Rhylee West means these Dogs are actually a younger side than the one that lived the dream three years ago.
The Giants will put out a team with an average age just over 26 and average games of 113.9. The Bulldogs a bit younger than 24 and with an average 76.6 games of experience. Of course, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. 33-year-old Shane Mumford and his 188 games are part of them, and he might just be the worst footballer playing regular AFL footy in 2019.
Mumford will be desperate to throw his weight around and bully young big man English. The Dogs’ ruckman will try to use his superior athleticism to impact the play around the ground, as well as setting up behind the play whenever the ball is locked in his team’s forward line in order to help out his defenders – and boy will they need it.
Zaine Cordy looks the most likely option to man Coleman medallist Cameron, with Young taking the underrated Harry Himmelberg and skipper Easton Wood picking up Finlayson. GWS would be very happy with each of those match-ups.
The Dogs have done plenty of things right this season, but defending hasn’t been one of them. Luke Beveridge’s side gave up an average of 82.7 points a game this season, sixth-worst in the league and the worst of the top-eight sides. They gave up a goal on 24.4 per cent of forward entries (15th in the league).
Cordy lost 38.2 per cent of his defensive one-on-ones this season, which was the worst – by a lot – of the top-40 players for contests defended. Wood defended only 38 one-on-ones (the 61st most) and lost 42.1 per cent of those contests.
The good news for those outclassed defenders is that their midfield has the ability to make life easier for them. The Bulldogs had the second-best inside-50 differential in the league this season at +7 a game. GWS were 12th in that category.
Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Josh Dunkley are as good as any midfield trio in the league right now, and will fancy themselves to get on top in the middle of the ground with help from Lachie Hunter, Patrick Lipinski and Bailey Smith. You might want to add Toby McLean to that group, but he hasn’t won a clearance since July.
Greater Western Sydney, of course, are no scrubs around the footy. Even without Callan Ward and Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Lachie Whitfield are of the highest quality, as is Toby Greene, who is capable of dominating whether Leon Cameron chooses to deploy him in attack or on the ball. Tim Taranto and Hopper are two of the league’s best young onballers.
And then there’s De Boer. The GWS tagger was badly beaten by Bontempelli last time around. Whether the Giants chalk that up to rust or choose to send the stopper elsewhere, he’ll have a decent say in the outcome of this game.
Finally, there’s the Dogs’ front third. Naughton is as good a young player as there is in the league. He’s booted 30 goals and taken more contested marks than anyone this season. But Phil Davis is more than up to the task. Naughton will fly for marks and if he grabs them, you just tip your cap. But in any body-on-body work, Davis will be more than comfortable.
Bailey Dale is in red-hot form with 20 goals in his past six games and Sam Lloyd has had a fine season since crossing from the Tigers. Heath Shaw and Sam Reid are probably the men for those jobs.
Aidan Corr or Nick Haynes will get Josh Schache – Corr probably makes more sense, allowing Haynes to float and pick off any high balls.
Zac Williams will give the Giants plenty of drive whether he starts on a wing or in defence. Don’t be surprised if McLean is tasked with keeping him accountable.
This should be a beauty, and there’s no result that would surprise. The Dogs should have the edge in the middle, but the Giants’ forwards loom largest.
GWS by ten points. That’s my elimination final forecast. What’s yours?