The Greater Western Sydney Giants have been the envy of list managers since their entry into the AFL in the 2011 draft, also making enemies with their trading strategies that poached top talent, as the newest franchise set about becoming a top-performing team ahead of schedule in their formative years.
Such was the sheer talent of their draftees and academy zone graduates that all other opposing clubs set their sights on recruiting Giants players, yet it was often said that GWS never traded away a player that they wanted to keep.
Zac Williams and Aiden Corr walked immediately in free agency, while Jye Caldwell and Zac Langdon were clamouring for the door as soon as they could manage, but when Jeremy Cameron, the 2019 Coleman medallist and spearhead of the grand final campaign, signalled his intent to join the exodus, there were alarm bells around the league.
However, with free agency compensation in and trades going off left and right, the Giants seemed to be picking up momentum as the trade matured, after looking like early losers for all money.
GWS was the major player of day two in the trade period, accepting a niggardly pick 54 from West Coast for proven goalsneak, Zac Langdon, then swiftly offering the same pick to Freo for Jesse Hogan in what will either be a major trade coup or a measured gamble to get the Demons version of the teenage prodigy rather than the self-destructing Dockers version.
In the second trade period, GWS collected Braydon Preuss from the Demons for a mid-second-round pick, which wound up being used at pick 37, after the ruckman fell behind Max Gawn and Luke Jackson this year.
The Giants continued to attack the trade period aggressively, yet it was the mega-trade that the recruiters had forced with Geelong that held up the entire trade until deadline day that had dominated the trade news. Once the Giants got a couple of second-rounders for Caldwell, negotiations came to a close right as the final paperwork was lodged.
This was a comeback of biblical proportions, yet the Giants were playing David as they slung their stone that knocked out Geelong’s Goliath. Such was the ballsy call by GWS to match the Cats offer on their free agent, which had never been done before. No one had dared.
At the juncture between the end of the trade period and the draft, the Giants had gone from being the worst-hit club by free agency and trade, with five top players leaving in addition to losing experience and depth overall in retirements and delistings, to converting such a weak position into an excellent draft hand.
What’s more, they adroitly brought in ready to play replacements in at need positions, with Suns Academy graduate Braydon Preuss making it to his third club to solve their ongoing ruck shortage, while Jesse Hogan is a quality alternative to their departed spearhead for a cheap price.
The only blight on GWS trade was that Jackson Hately walked to the Crows without getting a deal.
In the lead up to the draft, the club moved up a few spots in the order in the 20s, sitting firm with five picks between 10 and 30.
When they went on the clock at pick 12, they selected Tanner Bruhn from the Geelong Falcons using the compensation pick gained from losing Williams in free agency, then at pick 15 they spent the first of the three first-round picks they extracted from the Cats on Conor Stone from the Oakleigh Chargers.
A further three picks along, the Giants took Ryan Angwin from the Gippsland Power, then surprised many by taking Collingwood’s offer of a future first in exchange for picks 24 and 30, having failed to successfully bid for Reef McInnes.
Jeremy Cameron is off to the Cats (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )
However, despite flicking their late first and early second to the Pies to get into the 2021 first round, which will be an even exchange if the Pies finish middle of the road, GWS have found a way to secure both a pair of early picks next year as well as picked the eyes out of the end of this draft.
The Giants came back to into the draft late to take the final pair of picks in the national draft, selecting Cameron Fleeton from the Geelong Falcons and mature age Jacob Wehr from Woodville-West Torrens, while using their final Category B rookie spot on top-aged Academy prospect out of the Giants’ zone in Northern Victoria, Will Shaw.
Hogan is at the crossroads of a career that promised much, delivered early and petered out lately, but third chances only come along for players who are worth the risk, which he definitely is due to his contract being torn up and performance-based indicators written in.
Preuss is a big man with a shot at establishing himself as the GWS number one ruckman for years to come, having served an apprenticeship behind Todd Goldstein and Max Gawn, looking for all intents and purposes to becoming one of the next tier rucks in the top grade.
Bruhn is a classy inside midfielder who was being talked about as a top prospect, yet as he slid out of the top ten the Giants selected him as their best player available.
Stone is a high half-forward who can get up and down the ground, while Angwin is a developing wing who looks to be a year or two away from a debut.
Fleeton comes into a depleted defence with opportunities to advance up the order as they rebuild the unit, while Wehr and Shaw are mature recruits that GWS have historically converted into solid depth players.
The AFL’s youngest franchise punched back in this year’s free agency, no question. They made Geelong pay top dollar for their spearhead and got excellent value from the trade.
Clubs will come back to try to poach Giants players in free agency and the trade again in the future, but required players will be perilously expensive or face having their bids matched. Watch for this daring strategy to be repeated across the league.
Free agency has changed forever.