This series of previews is a third of the way through; we have skipped Essendon for now due to the uncertainty around their list and have them locked into 18th and the wooden spoon while Brisbane, Carlton, Melbourne, Gold Coast and St.Kilda have been previewed in turn. Now we turn attention to the other expansion franchise who look to make their mark on the league in their fifth season.
Greater Western Sydney – 12th
The Giants have talent but so they should have, given there are numerous top 10 draft picks on the list and most of those have a decent amount of football under their belt now. They have been underwhelming and questions marks exist over their coach and the direction of the team, but no-one can look at this side and have any queries over the pedigree and pure talent on display:
B: Matthew Buntine, Phil Davis, Nick Haynes
HB: Heath Shaw, Joel Patfull, Adam Kennedy
C: Lachie Whitfield, Callan Ward, Toby Greene
HF: Steve Johnson, Cam McCarthy, Devon Smith
F: Ryan Griffen, Jeremy Cameron, Jonathan Patton
R: Shame Mumford, Dylan Shiel, Stephen Coniglio
I/C: Tom Scully, Rhys Palmer, Josh Kelly, Will Hoskin-Elliott
Cameron and Patton have fought injury but remain among the most talented young forwards in the game, comparing favourably to any pair in the league based purely on what they might become. McCarthy has shown signs of being a disruption, attempting to hold the club to ransom and seemingly intent on getting to Fremantle at the end of the year after a failed attempt this off-season. Having overachieved in 2015, all eyes will be on whether he retains his spot in this forward line.
Johnson has been one of this era’s true greats, a big game player with flash and flair but who has dominated on the biggest stage and how he handles the move north will make for intriguing viewing. Likely to be nursed through the season, his ability to make an impact as a small forward is still almost without peer while the Giants hope Smith will move past the inconsistent player who last season shows flashes of brilliance among many a poor game.
Forward line – 4/10
Experience is aplenty as Shaw, Patfull and Davis will anchor and be surrounded by low profile players and Kennedy and Buntine will be given every chance to develop and lock down spots in the backline. Both will look to improve on poor rebound 50 performances last season; Shaw led the league in this statistic but the Giants did not have another player ranked in the top 60.
The defence ranked mid-table for points conceded, a vast improvement on the team that regularly leaked record scores in their formative years. If the injury prone Davis and Patfull can remain on the park, it takes pressure off the younger defenders and will give the likes of Tim Mohr the chance to develop and move towards becoming the first choice as key position defenders.
Backline rating – 5/10
Despite losing budding star Adam Treloar the amount of young talent is plentiful and Shiel, Coniglio, Greene and Whitfield seem poised to become top line players. As high draft picks and at 22 years of age, the time has come for this foursome to take control of the midfield and make the likes of Ward and Griffen the support cast rather than the main act.
This midfield has depth and versatility, with Scully and Palmer providing a defensive focus while the younger brigade are offensively minded which has its challenges. Ranking last in the AFL in contested possessions but 6th in uncontested possessions, this group was largely effective as it ranked in disposal efficiency but did not turn that into effectiveness as they ranked in the bottom third of the competition for inside 50s. The talent is there as is the mix of youth and experience, and now it must translate to a more successful unit.
Midfield rating – 6/10
Hawthorn, West Coast, Collingwood and Carlton visit the Giants lair in 2016, an indication that they are becoming more commercially viable and moving away from being a purely Foxtel team. They double up against North Melbourne and Fremantle and have just five 6 day breaks, leaving very little room for complaint.
A first month in which they play Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney and Port Adelaide gives them as good a chance as any team in the league to fly out of the gates and gain some momentum.
Fixture rating – 6/10
Leon Cameron has passed his honeymoon period and must now deliver as this squad has the right mix of youth and experience. His supporters will argue that his record until now is largely irrelevant, but with this list he must push for a finals appearance or be at risk of coming under scrutiny.
Whether he has developed players sufficiently remains to be seen, as the likes of Treloar and McCarthy have looked to leave amid controversy and his game plan lacks flexibility and imagination.
His ability to juggle a number of talented young midfielders and develop a game style that utilises the naturally attacking young players in the forward line and midfield figure to define him as an AFL senior coach.
Coaching rating – 4/10
The time has come that we stop referring to the Giants as kids; they must deliver something that matches the amount of pure talent on the list. A jump from the bottom six to top six is unlikely, but a full season for the likes of Shiel, Whitfield, Cameron and Patton should ensure they improve on last season.
The veterans mix well with the youth on the list, but whether they have the balance right remains to be seen. In a competition that is brutally unforgiving and with a coach who is anything but convincing, that elusive finals appearance looks to be at least another year away.
Predicted finish – 12th