Welcome back to my series of reviews on each AFL side.
Today’s subject, the Greater Western Sydney Giants. At the start of the year, they were coming out of losing their talismanic key forward, and by the end of the season they had surprised even the harshest of critics with their ability to push into finals.
It is a testament to the never say die culture of the Giants that they were able to push into finals and held on by the skin of their teeth against a rampaging Sydney outfit.
For a side that began the season 0-3 this is exemplary.
Read on for my dissection of the Giants, what they did well, what they did poorly, questions that remain and how they can improve. Now let us begin.
The Jesse Hogan trade
Hogan was brought in for peanuts from Fremantle after an ignominious tenure at the Dockers at the 2020 trade period. With 20 goals nine behinds Hogan had his best return since his last year with the Demons in 2018 in terms of scoring.
He was never able to string things together at the Dockers, and he has shown enough to continue persisting with at the Giants. When you consider he only cost the Giants pick 54 it becomes clear that this was a good bit of business for the Giants for a down on his luck Hogan.
He became an amenable replacement for the loss of Jeremy Cameron providing solid contested marking and a focal point in attack for the Giants. In a relatively misfiring forward line the movement of Hogan enabled the Giants to straighten up and get the most out of their forward forays.
Toby Greene as captain
Yes, this is the hill I will die on. I believe Greene is a font of untapped leadership potential for the Giants. I agree that Green can be a bit of a grub, however his positioning as a pseudo-tall forward for the Giants makes his side walk a little taller.
Averaging just over 18 disposals a match to go with his 45 goals Greene was able to drag his side over the line in a couple different matches this year.
I agree that Greene needs a firm talking to however, the potential he showed this year was great, and I think if he can pull his head in a little bit then he can be a great captain for the Giants.
Sam Taylor’s return to footy
Now this is a bit more of a personal one, but I believe it’s wonderful when a player returns from a severe injury like the one Taylor had.
He had septic arthritis and I believe the young man ought to be commended for coming back to footy after such a severe injury as septic arthritis. It was a particular highlight when he faced Geelong and towelled up Tom Hawkins playing off the back shoulder and showing how to perfectly play the Cats bigman into the perfect position.
Additionally, the Giants are quietly building some of the best key defensive stocks in the league with Conor Idun, Jack Buckley, and Jake Stein all able to put ion extremely dour defensive performances. They exemplify a new blue-collar oeuvre that has not existed in the Giants across their short history.
If the Giants can continue to develop at the rate they have been they may very well challenge for a premiership sooner than everyone would have thought.
What didn’t work
Pretty much every side that didn’t win the premiership had something that didn’t work. The Giants are no exception, they had dramatic injuries derail their season yet again, a controversial stand in captain, and multiple long-term deals clogging up the salary cap.
Here we will talk about what failed for the Giants in season 2021.
It seems to be a common thread every year for the Giants to have their season derailed by too many injuries and 2021 was no exception.
With Jack Buckley going down to an ACL, Stephen Coniglio’s syndesmosis injuries, and their depleted rucks forcing them to rely on an ageing Shane Mumford, the Giants did well to compensate for the injuries including getting Conor Idun to play above his height in defence and using Tim Taranto in the midfielder striker role in the absence of Toby Greene against Richmond.
However, Conor Idun is not a key defender, and the Giants were forced into using their depth players far too quickly rather than being able to give them appropriate time to develop.
Massive long-term deals
The Giants have found themselves in the unenviable position whereby they have to put their best players on expensive long-term deals for a lot of money. Players such as Lachie Whitfield and Toby Greene have paid off for the Giants, however Josh Kelly recently signed an eight-year extension and Stephen Coniglio is currently on the third season of a seven-season deal.
This fits in with the wider trend across the league of clubs regretting long highly expensive contract extensions for their brilliant players. I believe Coniglio’s best is enough to justify the expense however, his recent form suggests to me that he is not adapting well to the pressures of the captaincy and his form is suffering as a result of this.
Now it’s a bit strange to bring this up but it is a very big flaw for the Giants. They became the first side to win a final with a percentage under 100 in 17 attempts when they eeked out a win against the Swans. But the poor percentage indicates that the Giants have a problem scoring against solid sides and have relied upon their exemplary defence led by Sam Taylor.
I think the output from their small forwards needs to improve dramatically with both Bobby Hill and Brent Daniels have exceptionally poor years combining for only 16 goals. They were able to get positive signs out of Xavier O’Halloran, Tanner Bruhn, and Connor Stone, however they were unable to show it with any degree of consistency. You can see the problems with offence in the fact 10th in the competition behind both Carlton and Richmond for aggregate scores despite both of those sides finishing outside the eight.
Questions that remain
Will Coniglio retain the captaincy or be traded west?
Coniglio has been a wonderful servant of the Giants, but something just appeared off this year. His 2021 stats do not make for good reading and are decidedly average with only 7 games, 14.7 disposals, 3.6 clearances, and clearly an afterthought in Leon Cameron’s midfield frequently finding himself on the half forward flanks.
He has been raised as a potential trade target for Fremantle or West Coast both of whom have ageing midfield’s; however, the Giants already have a very strong draft hand, and Coniglio has an extremely large contract making him kryptonite for any developing list without assurances that he can return to his best.
Who will fill the void left by Jeremy Cameron?
Jeremy Cameron is a jet of that there is little doubt, the 2019 Coleman Medal and the three first round picks the Giants received in trade for Cameron are both a testament to that. However, the low scoring nature of the Giants reveals that they’ve been unable to replace his output.
Jesse Hogan has been good, and Toby Greene has been a magnificent player in between episodes of ill-discipline. However, Jeremy Finlayson, Jake Riccardi and Elliot Himmelberg have largely been unable to take the best key defender week in week out forcing the Giants to rely on their defence.
Play Jake Riccardi as a key forward and leave him there
Riccardi roared onto the scene in 2020 benefitting from the extra years of development at VFL level for Weribee. In 2020 he averaged 10.4 disposals and kicked nine goals in the shortened game across five games. Despite that, he was unable to mimic those heroics in season 2021 being pushed into playing on the wing and defence.
He needs to be given a consistent run at things to ensure that he can appropriately develop his forward craft.
Rotate more of their midfielders through the forward line
So, I think Brent Daniels does a very good job at filling the Willie Rioli role at the Giants, his disposal and speed at hitting the ball more than make up for his lack of stature. The Giants are blessed with an extremely diverse array of midfielders from Josh Kelly providing outside run and carry to Lachie Whitfield using the ball very effectively and Tim Taranto being the inside bull.
The second Richmond game revealed that Taranto can make an effective forward, and the Hawthorn sides of their three peat have been able to create mismatches by running a lot of players through their forward line.
What I want the Giants to do is the same run a lot of players through their forward line to create difficult match ups for opposing defences.
Best win: Elimination final vs Sydney Swans
Aside from the incident with Matt Stevic and Toby Greene this was an excellent performance from the Giants. They did a wonderful job surviving the Swans onslaught in the second half to win by the barest of margins against the dramatically more favoured Swans.
It showed both the best and the worst of the Giants with Toby Greene kicking three goals and a minimum three-week suspension.
Best and Fairest: Josh Kelly
Really pulling in the fairest category Kelly was great for the Giants this year to justify his immense pay packet for the next eight years. However, had Toby Greene played every game he almost certainly would have won the Kevin Sheedy medal.
That’s not to take anything away from Kelly who averaged 26.1 disposals, along with 5.6 tackles to go with 16 goals across his season. He was immense for the Giants and earned his second Sheedy Medal with his second best year since 2017.
Letter grade: A-
The Giants did better this year than they had any right to do. They started the season 0-3 leaving them with a ten per cent chance of making finals and becoming the first team since the Swans in 2017 to make the finals from such a position. However, questions remain about whether they can reliably contend as their forward line cannot continue to misfire.
Way too early prediction: 8th to 12th
The Giants have too many flaws to say they’re going to reliably contend at the upper region of the eight. I am a big believer in the Pythagorean Wins idea where you can use a percentage and their number of wins to determine whether they over or under performed.
In 2019 it was my Bombers that over performed, this year I believe it was the Giants and they run the risk of being overtaken by their nearest competitors.
Well, there you have it folks, I am going to try and churn out the rest of these reviews by the close of the trade period. As always leave your thoughts and comments below.