GWS Giants

A shaky start to 2021 was soon turned around for the Giants who made it through to this year's semi-finals. Photo: GWS Giants

GWS reemerged this year while celebrating a big, big decade and despite challenges on and off the field, played in their fifth finals.

The Giants celebrated a decade in the AFL this year, and while they were knocked out in the semi-finals, it still counted for their fifth September appearance.

After four straight final appearances in a row, the Giants had much to prove following their 89-point 2019 grand final loss and backing it up by finishing 10th in 2020.

Questions surrounded the Giants, and whether they had what it took to consider themselves contenders again.

Starting 2021 with three straight losses left doubters feeling confident with their call, but a Round Four win over Collingwood, and Toby Greene filling in at the helm for an injured Stephen Coniglio, GWS had something to prove.

What worked?

A battered list of players was worrying for the Giants, yet somehow they made the very most of it and tweaked the look of their midfield and defence particularly.

For the midfield, Callan Ward and Josh Kelly were reintroduced to on-ball roles again, and when injury-free, Shane Mumford was used as the preferable ruckman.

Kelly will remain a Giant beyond 2021, after signing an eight-year deal, worth reportedly close to $8 million.

Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper continued to improve their game and finished the year ranked among the best Giants’ players. Overall, the midfield was ranked fourth for clearances (37.1 game average) and fifth for contested ball (139.3).

Down back, young guns Lachie Ash, Isaac Cumming, and Connor Idun played crucial supporting roles to Nick Haynes and Sam Taylor.

What didn’t?

The Giants had shocking luck with injuries. Only four players appeared in each match: Isaac Cumming, Harry Himmelberg, Tim Taranto, and Callan Ward. Further to this, only five missed out on four games or fewer.

In a season full of unexpected wins by clubs, an unsettled line-up can be part of what’s to blame for inconsistencies in the Giants’ performance. They pulled off wins against Melbourne, Geelong and to Sydney twice, yet lost against Gold Coast and drew with North Melbourne.

Jeremy Cameron was a much-missed target going forward, as the Giants relied on Harry Himmelberg and Toby Greene inside 50. GWS was ranked 17th for marks inside 50 (9.7 game average) and other than Himmelberg and Greene, Jesse Hogan and Jeremy Finlayson were considerably reliable but were names on the Giants’ injury list.

Hogan only managed nine games this season but did score 20 goals across those, while Finlayson played 13 games for 23 goals.  

Who impressed?

Toby Greene was by far the most influential player for the Giants on the field. In his 18 matches, he kicked 45 goals, making his average of 2.5 goals per match the sixth-most in the competition.

His impressive season was back with 14 games as the stand-in captain and being selected in this year’s AFL All-Australian side.

More midfield time improved the game of Tim Taranto. He averaged 26 disposals, the ninth-highest average of any GWS player in its 10 years. 15.5 of his touches this year were kicks, which also pushed him into equal 10th position for the highest average.

Taranto shares the equal 10th position of average kicks with Giants’ breakout player Isaac Cumming.

The injuries to the Giants’ backline meant the opportunity for less-experienced players to step up, and Cumming did just that. Cumming got better each game he played and was one of the standouts in the Giants’ win against Geelong in Round 21 with 34 disposals and 18 rebounds.

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Season Highlight

It was a must-win match in Round 21 against the near-impossible to beat Geelong at GMHBA.

The Giants were forced to make eight changes, with Jesse Hogan, Josh Kelly, Phil Davis, and Jacob Hopper among the names to have missed the game.

This just meant the Giants were ready to put up a big, big fight. From the 23rd minute of the first term, the Giants held their lead against the Cats to go on to secure a 19-point win in the match that began their fight for a top-eight position.

Toby Greene starred with four goals and 16 disposals, while Isaac Cumming, Tim Taranto and Lachie Whitfield tied for leading disposals with 34 apiece.

Stephen Coniglio and Toby Greene embrace after the Giants’ 19-point win at the Cattery in Round 21. Photo: GWS Giants Twitter.

Season Lowlight

The elimination final against Sydney was a tale of two very different stories.

For the Giants collective, it was a celebration of their one-point victory over cross-town rivals, the Sydney Swans.

But for Toby Greene, he awaited uncertainty for bumping into umpire, Matt Stevic, at three-quarter time after disputing an earlier decision.

The following Tuesday, while the Giants prepared to board their flight to Western Australian, Greene faced the tribunal to await his future. The story is known; the AFL pushed for a six-game suspension and Greene’s team wanted a large fine.

The decision? A three-match suspension, for now. Greene has served one of the games, missing out on the semi-final loss and will for sure miss the first two matches of 2022.

However, the AFL is challenging the decision; setting a benchmark that making any sort of contact with an umpire is not tolerated.

Such an integral player for the Giants, Greene’s season almost guaranteed him the captaincy role should his side look to change direction in 2022. With still the uncertainty of his suspension length, will this halt his plans? Time will tell.

Chopping block?

Even with injuries freeing up positions, Jake Riccardi wasn’t played as much as fans may have expected. With game time, Riccardi may have just developed into a role similar to that left by Jeremy Cameron but just hasn’t been able to do so.

Riccardi may consider his options elsewhere himself but wouldn’t be too surprising if his name is thrown up in list discussions.

Nick Shipley played four games this year, as did James Peatling in his debut year but both were the least impressive among a group of young players.

Tom Hutchesson is another in doubt to keep his spot as he battles with an indefinite hamstring injury. He has only one game in his two years on the Giants list.

For Stephen Coniglio, it’s both his captaincy role, but potentially his position on the list that’s in doubt if he can pitch why he should be given another crack in the orange and charcoal.

The Giants’ first three losses this year all had Coniglio leading the side. He then went down with an ankle injury in Round Three and struggled to make any impact when he was able to return in the final three matches of the year, averaging only eight effective disposals.

Number one off-season priority

The Giants need to get fit.

As of August 30, the Giants had 14 names on their injury list, then had to add Jesse Hogan, who was named a late change going into the semi-final with a calf injury.

Both Lachie Keeffe and Jack Buckley’s 2021 season ended due to knee injuries. Ruckmen duo Matt Flynn and Braydon Preuss sustained shoulder and back injuries respectively, while Brent Daniel’s return date from a hamstring injury and Xavier O’Halloran’s return from a calf injury remains uncertain.

Final say

The Giants exceeded the expectations of many this year despite constant injuries struggles and some difficult times both on and off the field.

With its difficulties, came some surprises for GWS, and the emergence of some young talent that will play an integral part in a higher ladder finish for the Giants in 2022.

All the Giants need to do is tie together some loose ends and consider if Toby Greene is the future leader of the club.

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