AFL 2021 Season Preview: GWS Giants

Can the GWS Giants do a 180 on their 2020 season and return to the finals this year?

Callan Ward. Picture: GWS Giants.

After falling miserably short to Richmond in the 2019 Grand Final, the Giants were hoping for redemption in 2020.

Little did the team expect to finish 10th and miss out on finals for the first time since 2015.

Last Year:

10th. 8 wins, 9 losses. 95.6%

GWS was a team that was near impossible to beat around the ball. But from their nine losses, they lost the contested ball count six times. When you were once one of the best at this, then can go being among the worst, this was their first major issue.

Another thing noticeable was poor ball movement. The side used to be exciting to watch, full of energy from some of the youngest, talented players in the competition.

2020 turned them into vanilla ice cream. You can’t go wrong with vanilla, but there is always that scoop of chocolate that you’d choose over vanilla any day.

Track watch:

Jesse Hogan is in serious doubt for round one after sustaining a quad injury at training in late February. After a strong pre-season on the track, the new Giant will want to be ready for round two to take on his old side in Fremantle.

Hogan isn’t the only injury concern for the Giants. Lachie Whitfield is recovering from a bruised liver, and Phil Davis juggling with a knee complaint.

Braydon Preuss who was set to replace Shane Mumford as number one ruck is also recovering from a shoulder injury and is expected to miss up to five months of football.

Braydon Preuss during preseason training. Picture: GWS Giants.

Add Adam Kennedy and Brent Daniels onto the injury list, the side has lost too many players than desired.

The Giants played Sydney in a trial match with Josh Kelly looking as dangerous as ever. Newly drafted Tanner Bruhn got his first taste of playing in the orange and charcoal, providing a speedy punch among the midfield.

What to look forward to:

While the departure of Jeremy Cameron isn’t something that GWS fans would be happy about, the opportunities that present for tall forwards Harry Himmelberg, Jeremy Finlayson, and youngster Jake Riccardi to perform will be greater in 2021.

Himmelberg and Finlayson have a combined 111 games between the two of them, They both will ready to step up as leaders in the forward line. Riccardi starred in his five appearances and with a big vacancy in the front half, it’s arguably his for the taking.

It’s a big year for:

Although a club veteran, former captain Callan Ward has had a shocking two years with injury.

Ward spent 10 minutes on the field in 2019 before being sidelined with his season-ending knee injury. He accumulated slightly more game time in 2020, but still only managed seven games due to finger and knee injuries.

In contrast, Ward still holds the club record for most games played and has been an integral part of the Giants’ growth in the competition.

But as the competition changes, so might what GWS are looking for in their midfielders, despite your service to the club.

In what is already a midfield hard to secure a spot, Ward will need to be ready to go for round one. He’ll need to hope luck is on his side that he can go injury-free in 2021.

With a midfield consisting of Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio, Tim Taranto, and Lachie Whitfield, and young guns and 2020 drafted players Tom Green and Tanner Bruhn all battling for their spots, Ward will have some work to do.

The Giants delisted Heath Shaw last season as they work on list management, Ward could potentially be next if his body cannot hold up.

Biggest unanswered question:

Will this lot of experienced players departing finally take its toll?

GWS is no stranger to losing big names; Adam Treloar, Dylan Shiel, Tom Scully, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Taylor Adams… the list goes on.

2020 was no different. The mass departure of experience and talent from Jeremy Cameron, Jye Caldwell Zac Williams, Aidan Corr, and Zac Langdon might just be the straw that breaks the camels back for the Giants.

Add in all the unavailable players mentioned because of injury, the round one line up is shaping up to be quite recognisable.

There are still the familiar names in Toby Greene, Nick Haynes and Stephen Coniglio who have been through the highs and lows of the club since the beginning.

They will be relied on more than ever to teach the upcoming players a thing or two about the era of Giants who made finals five years in a row.

Coach pressure index:

Medium.

Leon Cameron celebrated taking the youngest side in the competition to the grand final in 2019, to only back it up by falling to 10th on the ladder the following year.

Despite extending his contract in 2020 for a further two years, Cameron will be closely watched in 2021.

Many questioned if he in fact deserved to coach in 2021 after the tough year.

A second chance to turn things around is more than deserved by Cameron after what he achieved at the club in previous years in such a short time.

Cameron conceded that the Giants 2020 campaign was too inconsistent, and they deserved to not make the finals after their performances.

Not expecting the side to remain in the same slump in 2021, Cameron says his side needs to return playing the same contested method of football they’re known for.

Ins:

Ryan Angwin (Gippsland Power/Vic Country), Tanner Bruhn (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country), Cameron Fleeton (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country), Jesse Hogan (Fremantle), Braydon Preuss (Melbourne), Sam Reid (relisted rookie), Will Shaw (Bendigo Pioneers/Deniliquin Rams), Zach Sproule (relisted rookie), Conor Stone (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Country), Jacob Wehr (Woodville-West Torrens/South Australia).

Outs: 

Jye Caldwell (Essendon), Jeremy Cameron (Geelong Cats), Aiden Corr (North Melbourne), Jackson Hately (delisted), Sam Jacobs (retired), Zac Langdon (West Coast Eagles), Sam Reid (delisted), Heath Shaw (delisted), Tom Sheridan (retired), Zac Sproule (delisted), Zac Williams (Carlton).

Predicted R1 team:

FB: Sam Taylor, Phil Davis, Adam Kennedy.

HB: Nick Haynes, Lachie Whitfield, Lachie Keeffe.

C: Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio, Jacob Hopper.

HF: Toby Greene, Tim Taranto, Brent Daniels.

FF: Harry Himmelberg, Jeremy Finlayson, Jake Riccardi.

FOLL: Braydon Preuss, Matt de Boer, Callan Ward.

I/C: Harry Perryman, Jesse Hogan, Tom Green, Bobby Hill

Ladder Range:

8-12th.

It’s going to be a year of make or break for GWS. They still possess enough good players to have respect from the competition. The onus is on them to prove that 2020 was an off-year and not the standard to expect.

The Giants need to go back to the basics, playing good consistent football. Focus on the areas they know they can win footy with – the contested method.

Early on, the key positions, particularly ruckman and that key forward role will need to be determined to cement structure in the side.

If GWS can secure wins from the get-go, the chance to return to finals in 2021 will be likely enough.

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