At thirteenth on the ladder, with a record of 3-4, a percentage under 100 and a date with the reigning premiers next up, it’s safe to say Greater Western Sydney aren’t where they need to be in 2020.
It’s not as if they’ve endured a horror draw and come up just short against the cream of the crop either. Their four losses this season have all given their fans reason to be concerned.
The 20-point loss to North Melbourne in Round 2 (how bad does that look now?) saw them monstered at the clearances and outworked around the ground. They then gave up five goals in a row across the third and fourth quarters and another three in succession after pegging two quick ones back.
Against the Western Bulldogs the following week, they almost forgot to play football. Their attempts to unsettle Marcus Bontempelli and co. with niggle went way beyond what was necessary and the Dogs landed all the punches where they count – on the scoreboard.
It was another clearance domination and flubbed fourth-quarter that saw them fall to Port Adelaide a week ago, while they were immensely flattered by the 20-point margin in their most recent loss to Brisbane. The Lions dominated the Giants in just about every facet of the game and, if not for some awful turnovers, could have held the Giants to five goals.
Former Giant Brett Deledio told ABC Grandstand on Sunday that the men in orange were “a bunch of 22 individuals” and took aim at coach Leon Cameron, as well as some of the senior players, for not instilling enough discipline in the team – and even just a glance at the highlights package from Saturday proves his assessment correct.
Just about every Brisbane forward entry saw the right players staying up, the right players staying down and when the ball hit the deck, there were shepherds, decoy runs, communication and – ultimately – a well-worked goal.
GWS’ forays forward, on the other hand, consisted of everyone calling for the ball, the carrier ignoring a hand-off (or two) and trying a snap across the body from the boundary. The immense talent the Giants possess made this work more often than it should have, but it was frustrating football to watch and ultimately (and unsurprisingly) wasn’t enough to secure them the four points.
With just ten games to go until finals, they need a huge improvement over the next few months if they want to be in a position to contend for the flag.
Where does the improvement need to come from? That one’s easy – the midfield.
Yes, Callan Ward is back on the sidelines alongside Zac Williams, but this club had far worse injury problems in the engine room last year. In any case, a midfield brigade of Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly, Jacob Hopper, Tim Taranto and Matt de Boer should not be putting up numbers as horrendous as they are.
They may be in the top eight with 30.7 clearances per game, but that’s a very misleading stat. What you really need to look at is a club’s clearance differential per game – and the Giants languish in the bottom four at -3.1. Only Fremantle, Hawthorn and Adelaide are worse – hardly illustrious company.
That’s not the end of the world though, they’re a good intercept possession side, so they can win the ball back pretty regularly – the problem is they aren’t anywhere near as damaging with it as they used to be. Again, GWS sit in the bottom four for metres gained per game – ahead of only the Saints, Dockers and Crows and a full half a kilometre behind Port Adelaide and Richmond.
What’s weirder – and more worrying – is they actually average the fewest turnovers of any club – so it’s not as if they’re playing with reckless dare and not getting the bounces, they just don’t seem to know how to navigate the ball through 2020’s defensive structures.
All of this manifests in perhaps the biggest red flag in Cameron’s coaching box – their inside 50 numbers. At a miserable 33.7 entries per game, the Giants are second last – ahead of only the hapless Crows and a full three entries per game behind third-worst Freo.
In differential numbers, they manage twelve fewer entries per game than their opponents – again, second-worst in the AFL, only better than Adelaide and four entries per game behind 14th.
The forwards certainly do their bit, with the Giants having the second-most points of any team outside the top eight, but they can’t expect to win games if they’re giving their star-studded forward line so few opportunities.
So, on the plus side, you could say the Giants have the pieces in place, only have one area of the ground misfiring and will be right up there again if/once they get it right.
On the other hand, midfield malaise is notoriously hard to fix over the course of the season and – if Deledio’s comments about Cameron’s hands-off approach are accurate – getting the side to buy in to a new and better system after years of getting by on exceptional talent may prove impossible.
Then, there’s just the teensy matter of their premiership window potentially slamming shut at the end of this season.
With Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield and Toby Greene locked away for a long time, they won’t be bottoming out any time soon. But they’ve been a grand final quality side for the previous four seasons and it’s very difficult to stay at the peak for longer than that.
Heath Shaw almost certainly retires at season’s end, Shane Mumford and his supposed replacement Sam Jacobs are also in the twilight of their careers, while Callan Ward and Phil Davis are approaching that stage too.
On the contract front, they’ve only got to somehow re-sign restricted free agents Jeremy Cameron and Zac Williams, while also negotiating new deals for (or making tough calls on) Harry Perryman, Jeremy Finlayson and Matt de Boer.
You can’t imagine a bad 2020 would help the Giants in any of these endeavours – making the second half of 2020 critically important in more ways than one.