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Giants star Stephen Coniglio celebrates a goal. (Photo: www.sportingnews.com)

AFL 2022: GWS Giants season preview

Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a a look at the perplexing Greater Western Sydney Giants.

GWS home geurnsey

A quick aside: the Giants colour scheme is wonderful, but those jumpers are not good. Let’s hope they turn to either of these bad boys more often this season.

After a few years of genuine contention, including a losing grand final in 2019, the Giants have fallen away somewhat. They missed the finals entirely in 2020 before a late burst saw them reverse into the top eight last season. With a plethora of talent either entering or in their prime years, 2022 will give us a good indication of who these Giants really are.

For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.

Season 2021

7th position: 11 wins, 1 draw, 10 losses, 99.7%.

After a 0-3 start there were calls for the head of coach Leon Cameron as the team battled ill timed injuries and suspensions in addition to their tepid form. In addition, the COVID restrictions in New South Wales saw the Giants forced to play five ‘home’ games interstate, ultimately playing their final 10 games away from home. When you consider all of those hurdles, it’s a credit to the Giants that they were able to find enough late season form to sneak into the top eight, then win a final to boot.

The Giants scored some big wins through the season with the undoubted highlight being a stirring win over Geelong at Kardinia Park. Losing over 900 games of experience to injury and suspension through the week was then exacerbated with star winger Josh Kelly withdrawing before the match. Undermanned but not undeterred, superstar forward Toby Greene rallied the team to a 38 point lead in the 3rd quarter, before holding on for a 19 point victory. The flip side saw a draw to eventual wooden spooner North Melbourne, a poor loss to Gold Coast and an 18 point reverse against the struggling Hawks.

In the finals, the Giants recorded a famous one point win over cross town rivals the Swans in a slug-fest before, emotionally drained, they ran out of puff against Geelong.

Kelly was immense, winning the club Best and Fairest with Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper and Greene all enjoying very strong seasons. With Phil Davis, Stephen Coniglio and Brayden Preuss all fit and firing after missing the 2021 season, the Giants will be looking to build upon their return to finals action.

Key ins: Jarrod Bander (West Coast), Finn Callaghan, Leek Aleer, Josh Fahey, Cooper Hamilton (all draft)

Key outs: Jeremy Finlayson (Port Adelaide), Shane Mumford (retired), Sam Reid, Matt Buntine, Nick Shipley, Tom Hutchesson (all released)

When all are on the park and playing to their best, the Giants undoubtedly possess one of the best midfields in the competition. Kelly, Taranto, Hopper, Coniglio, the emerging Tom Green, veteran Callan Ward and elite tagger Matt De Boer – that’s a hell of a group. This group has everything: speed, size, bravery, intelligence and no little skill. This was the group that drove the Giants to the 2019 grand final where they fell to the Richmond juggernaut. With a little more maturity and seasoning into those young bodies now, there’s no reason that this group can’t once again return to genuinely elite status.

With the retirement of massive long time ruckman Shane Mumford, they’ll be serviced by the equally huge Preuss, who will make his delayed debut in orange after a shoulder injury cost him the entirety of 2021. Caught behind a pair of All Australian rucks in Max Gawn at Melbourne and Todd Goldstein as a Kangaroo, this is Preuss’ first genuine run at a number one ruck berth.

Defensively, the Giants will welcome back the towering presence of Davis. The veteran full back adds an air of confidence to the backline. He and Nick Haynes form a solid duo with an almost telepathic understanding of when to leave their man and when to stay home. With Davis turning 32 through the season the development of Sam Taylor will be important. He showed something last season and with another solid campaign under his belt could claim a full time key defensive post. Harry Perryman and Lachie Whitfield act as the attacking half backs, often playing as auxiliary midfielders which, if when the ball is turned over can leave the defense exposed. That’s where Davis’ reading of the play is so important.

First round draft pick Leek Aleer is an X Factor, should he get a few games. The South Sudanese born youngster is, at 20 years of age, a little older than most rookies after missing his draft year with a gruesome broken leg. The hyper-athletic defender will look to follow in the footsteps of fellow South Sudanese refugee Aliir Aliir, who won his first All Australian blazer last season. He’s remarkably quick over the ground and smashed the draft combine standing jump record.

Where the Giants continue to blow hot and cold is in attack. Toby Greene is, depending on your point of view, a mega star or the most maligned player in the AFL. As he did at Kardinia Park, he can turn a game on it’s head. Yet, as happened in the final against the Swans, his questionable temperament can get the better of him. His ban for contact with an umpire will see him miss the opening five rounds of the 2022 season. He kicked 45 goals last season, despite missing time with injury and suspension.

In Greene’s absence, coach Cameron will look to build around another troubled star in Jesse Hogan. After asking out of Melbourne then flaming out at Fremantle, Hogan started to play something close to his best football in the back end of 2021. He gave the Giants a big marking target who could also create when the ball hit the deck. He’s not nearly close to the elite running capacity that saw him drag defenders all over the ground whilst a Demon. If he can get near that level again, the Giants will have a serious weapon in their arsenal.

Around Hogan (and eventually Greene) are a swarm of talented, sometimes brilliant but maddeningly inconstant group of smaller forwards. Bobby Hill, Jake Riccardi and Harry Himmelberg all show flashes yet rarely seem to put it altogether at the same time. With Greene out for the first month it will be interesting to see if Cameron continues with last seasons experiment of playing Taranto as something close to a full time forward.

Prediction: 8th

The Giants are one of the more difficult teams in the AFL to read.

When they can get all of their talents on the field and firing the Giants are a formidable outfit, perhaps capable of making a top four bid. As we’ve continually seen though, it’s exceedingly rare to see the Giants at full strength.

How they cope without their talisman Toby Greene to begin the season will be telling. Should the Giants win three or four games over that stretch they could set themselves up for a higher than expected finish. Should they struggle out of the gates, they could well fall out of the finals to any of the Dockers, Saints or Blues.

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