Will we look back at this and view it as a season-defining game for the GWS Giants?
Outside the eight and facing off against the team that humiliated them last September, Greater Western Sydney had their backs to the wall. They had a former clubman basically tell them they were playing selfish footy and questions were bandied around about their level of commitment to the cause.
How could they answer?
With Toby Greene, that’s how.
The GWS lightning rod slotted five goals in a virtuoso performance to lead his team over the reigning premiers despite a lift from Dustin Martin and period where the game was definitely played on Richmond’s terms.
Make no mistake – this was a huge win not just in the context of this season, but in terms of who the Giants are as a team. It was gutsy, it was hard and it was won with a grim determination – the exact aspects of the GWS team that have been questioned by many.
Oh, and did I mention Toby Greene? You’ll be reading a little more about him here.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE GREENE MACHINE
Last season, Toby Greene cost me members on our site. They didn’t like that I enjoyed the way Greene played. They told me so and left. And I was fine with that.
Last season, Toby Greene started to walk a fine line between what was acceptable on the footy field, and what wasn’t. And I was fine with that, too.
And last season, Toby Greene demonstrated just how much of a difference he can make to this GWS side. And you’d better believe I was right on board with him then.
You see, I am an unabashed Toby Greene fan. I am an admirer of a player that can walk the tightrope of what is fair play and what is a little untoward. I get a buzz watching him push people’s buttons. And I don’t mind that he occasionally steps over the line and into territory that gets him into trouble.
Because he is one of, if not the biggest x-factor in the game of Aussie Rules footy right now. And now, more than ever, the game needs players like Toby Greene.
Remember when the clubs started taking steps to recruit athletes and teach them the game? As long as you could run for a long time or you could hit a good number in your 20 metres sprint, clubs were prepared to persevere. Players who could actually play – really, play the game of football, were almost relegated to afterthoughts.
Toby Greene was taken at number 11 in 2011. Before him went names like Adam Tomlinson, Billy Longer, Matt Buntine, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Dom Tyson. Yeah, GWS had close to a monopoly on that draft and also picked up their current captain at pick two, but looking back now, Greene is the match winner from that class. Tom Mitchell (pick 21 father/son) has been wonderful, but in terms of pure footy ability, Greene is the one.
He is a footballer. My dad would have called him a footballer’s footballer, and I can picture him smiling if he had the chance to see Greene play.
Whilst everyone else on the park tonight found it hard to glove a mark, Greene was the exception. He was superb in the air, taking four contested grabs, kicking four goals to keep the Giants in it and then one more to ice the game in a fitting crescendo to what was a flawless symphony from him.
If this were a video game, everyone else was playing on the highest difficulty and Greene was cruising around on easy mode.
Earlier this year I wrote that this would be the season that saw Toby Greene go from infamy to superstardom. Against the premiers, Greene put his stamp on the game and the season with a scintillating display of brilliance.
He was firing on all cylinders, he was making opponents pay for even the smallest lapse and he was simply the difference between the Giants winning this game and losing it.
The journey to superstardom is complete. It’s been a tough road at times, but he has made it. Enjoy it, Toby.
Ah yes, I was exchanging texts with my Tiger-supporting friend before the first bounce. We were firing off scenarios about the upcoming game and I sent the following to him.
“Stop Whitfield. Stop Kelly. Stop the Giants.”
Not to blow my own horn here, as I reckon every man and his dog knows this, but the Tigers didn’t make the effort to stop either of these players.
And it cost them.
More on Kelly in a minute, but the game of Lachie Whitfield, once we put aside that horrific turnover in the second quarter, was possibly his best for the season. Particularly when you consider the opposition.
The last time Whitfield encountered the Tigers, he was days removed from having surgery to remove his appendix. He was limited and could only kick on one side of the body. He was not himself and he had a point to prove this evening.
Consider it proven.
Starting at half back to both avoid any attention Richmond were planning on giving him in the middle, and to provide a great kicking option from defence, Whitfield was able to drive the Giants out of trouble on numerous occasions, and his non-stop run was pivotal when GWS needed to find an option at half back.
Inevitably, it was Whitfield making the space to relieve the pressure and accept the short kick, opening up the rest of the ground in the process. Whilst we all bow to Toby Greene after this game, Whitfield’s last quarter was where he was at his best.
In that stanza, he recorded eight touches and went at 100% efficiency in the process. When you consider the heat applied in that quarter, it is an outstanding outcome.
I often feel as though teams want to punish Whitfield whenever they get the chance. If they get an opportunity to tackle him hard or lay a bump, they always take it and it is credit to Whitfield that he is able to stand up to that week-in and week-out and continue playing good footy.
And that’s what he did this evening. When the heat was turned up, Whitfield responded.
KELLY KNUCKLES DOWN
I’m not sure I have seen Josh Kelly play a game where he’s been harder at the footy than this one.
Usually, I am accustomed to seeing Kelly embrace the role of the “Rolls Royce”, cruising around and distributing the footy on the outside. It was both a surprise and relief to see him insert himself into the contest and win plenty of the footy at the coal face.
And it wasn’t just about winning the footy for him in this game. His defensive pressure and willingness to apply pressure without the footy was excellent.
Kelly led the game with eight tackles in a throwback to what he was doing for the Giants a couple of seasons ago (he had double figure tackles five times in 2017) and was integral in ensuring the Tigers’ mids were unable to deliver cleanly inside 50.
In a period where the heart of the Giants has been in question, the name of Josh Kelly has been raised several times. Does he work hard enough? Is he all-in with this team? Will he fly the coop when the next opportunity arises?
Kelly answered questions about his commitment emphatically in this one. He put his head over the footy, won 13 contested touches and had it not been for the brilliance of Toby Greene, he would be the big story coming out of this win.
Of course, without the brilliance of Toby Greene, we wouldn’t be talking about a win at all, would we?
That’s right, damn it – I am going to bring up Toby Greene every chance I get.
If your jury was about regarding Shai Bolton, call them in and have a listen to their verdict.
GUILTY… of being a breakout star in 2020.
His first half, in particular, was incredibly impressive, with the Giants learning quickly that you simply cannot allow him to get goal side. He was clean with the footy in hand, used that incredible stutter-step to change direction (one of the best change of directions in the game, but the way) and was once again part of the reason the Tigers were able to pull the Giants back and get the game on their terms.
Bolton has been yet another of Hardwick’s soldiers that has seen a solider go down and stepped immediately into his place. Such is the Richmond system, that players like Bolton, who have been on the fringe until this season, are now being given experience in prominent roles.
He was a little quiet in the third quarter, but on the basis of what we saw this evening, the Tigers have a future midfield standout on their books.
It looked for a while there as though Dustin Martin was going to put the Tigers on his back and drag them to a win. When he gets that footy on the half forward flank and immediately wheels onto his right foot, you know something bad is going to happen.
In this one, you felt he was standing on the precipice of something wonderful but just couldn’t drop over the edge. He was still combative and extremely hard at the footy (how was it when Harry Himmelberg went to tackle him and just the force of knocking into Dusty took the wind out of him!) and is a brilliant finisher around goals, but he just couldn’t get enough of the footy in his hands in the last quarter to power the Tigers over the line.
Is he still the best player in the comp? Look, others are now arguing that others have stepped up and stepped past him, but on his day and in his moment, no one can handle Dustin Martin. I’m not sure whether you could say the same for Christian Petracca yet, could you?
Look, let’s forget for a moment that he didn’t kick a goal. Let’s forget that he actually finished the game with almost Castagna-like numbers for scoring. Instead, let’s focus on his attack on the footy and his relentless pursuit of the ball in the last quarter. He was a desperado.
GWS had plenty who stood out in moments in this game, but I loved the way Brent Daniels attacked the contest. Carrying what looked to be a slight injury to his shoulder from half way through the last quarter, Daniels did not once alter the way he threw himself into the fray.
Yes, if he’d given that snap in the last quarter some elevation, or the one in the first quarter was a fraction straighter it would have made for a better story, but the job of a small forward like him is to get dangerous, and that is exactly what he did in this one.
Now, next time… a goal or two would be nice as well.
THE ROAD BACK
Last year the Giants had both Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto emerge as stars in the making. Taranto went on to win the Giants best and fairest award and looked set for a big year in 2020. Unfortunately, his shoulder popped out in a really innocuous incident in Round One, and though the amount of games he missed was reduced due to the Covid lockdown, he has still had to fight his way back to fitness and find his place in this team again.
Tonight was another solid step in that direction.
Taranto finished with 18 touches and six important clearances as he continues to re-establish himself as one of the best young players in the game. Having him back in the team, the Giants look a little more balanced in the middle as Taranto often brings the two-way running to the contest and though he only had three this evening, he loves to lay a tackle.
SHHHH… MATT DE BOER DID A GREAT JOB AGAIN
You wouldn’t really know it, would you?
Had Matt de Boer gone to Dustin Martin in this game, every shot at a stoppage would have been of those two pushing and shoving.
But he didn’t go to Martin; he gravitated to Kane Lambert after starting every centre bounce at half forward.
It’s an interesting set up from Leon Cameron, inasmuch as he seems to be willing to allow whomever de Boer is targeting to have a crack at the first possession, but seems to want to limit them around the ground.
Lambert finished with 14 touches in this game but those numbers were bolstered by eight in the last quarter when de Boer seemed to have released, or at least relaxed the tag. During the first three quarters, Lambert was restricted to just six touches, including a big, fat goose egg in the first quarter.
It is worth noting just how important Lambert can be to the Tiger midfield. It was Round Five that saw Lambert accumulate 27 touches and kick three goals in a best afield display. Leon Cameron was obviously watching that day, and without Trent Cotchin and Dion Prestia in the team, recognised that shutting down Lambert was akin to throwing a spanner into the works of the Richmond machine.
For the majority of this game, de Boer’s presence made the Richmond machine more than a little clunky.
I’m not sure that bringing Sam Jacobs in is having the impact the Giants anticipated. He started strongly, taking a nice contested grab and converting, but really looked to be plodding around later in the game, and was reduced to a spectator at a couple of stoppages late in the game, pushed under the footy by Ivan Soldo – hardly a Max Gawn/Nic Nat kind of presence.
Interestingly, this was Jacobs’ first real chance to shine since early in the year, having been supplanted in the line-up by Shane Mumford… the bloke he was brought in as an upgrade to!
I really don’t know what the Giants do here with Jacobs. It is clear that he has lost more than a step or two, and he wasn’t all that quick to begin with. They cannot ever play both him and Mumford in the same team, and if Mummy was fit, I doubt he’d be getting a run right now.
When the Giants pulled the trigger on the deal to get Jacobs to Western Sydney, I thought it had the potential to be a game changer for them, but I didn’t expect it to make them worse. Sauce has a bit of work to do if he plans on being a positive addition to this side.
For the second game in a row we have witnessed the redundancy of the power forward position, with Tom Lynch, Jack Riewoldt and Jeremy Cameron registering one goal between them.
I name those three because they are your traditional big forwards – they’ve all kicked big bags and had seasons where they were viewed as legitimate threats to the Coleman Medal at the very least.
But what the hell is going on with big forwards? Are we seeing the slow death of them?
Between those three, we saw just one mark inside 50 – to Riewoldt. Cameron and Lynch managed to pick up a couple of marks each up their field, but were both pretty ineffective on the day.
I suppose it’s not really a huge deal when you’ve got another bloke starring and kicking five goals, but looking at season 2020 and seeing the poor form from the three mentioned here as well as blokes like Ben Brown… you have to wonder what is going on.
ARE YOU AS SICK OF DANIEL RIOLI AS I AM?
Another eight disposals in this game. I am sure a few will point to him having six tackles, but I reckon three were from effort and three were from being clearly second to the footy. He is a Rioli FFS… do something!
WOULD YOU TRY JAYDEN SHORT ON THE WING?
As many of you are aware, I do weekly wingman rankings and just once this season have we seen a Tiger make the top ten. That was Kamdyn McIntosh a few weeks back. Other than that, it has been slim pickings out there for Richmond.
They really lack that potent outside run-and-carry player who can tear the game open. Or actually, they don’t, but he is sitting in defence most of the time. With that canon of a leg, Short receiving the ball on the outside would send shivers up the spine of just about every coach, and would have Lynch and Riewoldt salivating at the prospect of deep entries (like Joe Ganino when he picks up some old drunk).
I’m sure they like him at half back, but when you’ve got Patrick Naish, Jack Graham and the like running around out there, I reckon a touch of class from Jayden Short could go a long way.
HOW MUCH HAS STEPHEN CONIGLIO LIFTED?
I reckon there has been an “all of team” lift in response to the stories that Cogs was going to be dropped last week. His second half clearance work was excellent as he imposed his will in the middle and went head to head with Dusty Martin at several stoppages.
Cogs had all five of his clearances after half time as he elevated his game when his team needed him to.
HAYNES OR VLASTUIN?
This was asked during the game by someone on commentary, and I liked the thought of it. If getting Haynes as your loose man in defence meant you left Vlastuin as the loose man in the Tiger defence, would you do it?
How about if the tables were turned? Would you be okay with Haynes wandering around without a man to cover if it meant you could have Vlastuin covering your defensive 50?
Both blokes had six intercepts each in this game, with Haynes playing the link man a little more for the Giants. If you have been reading my stuff for a while, you know I am a Haynes fan, but in all honesty, I reckon this one was a stalemate.
WHY AREN’T PLAYERS RUSHING THE BALL THROUGH FOR A BEHIND UNDER PRESSURE?
This rule just sets players on edge in defence, doesn’t it?
Aidan Corr was the latest to get a bit of “deer in the headlights” about him on the goal line, opting to be tackled over the line, and penalised, as opposed to stepping backward, conceding the point under pressure and taking the kick in.
Jake Aarts (first on every role call) claimed the free kick, being awarded a holding the ball decision against Corr, and slotted a costly goal for the Tigers. Get that defensive coach to work on the bloody rules and drill it into the players!
In one of those “don’t flirt with form” lessons, Harry Perryman was moved back to the wing for the first time in weeks, giving Josh Kelly the opportunity to move into the centre more often. Sadly, Perryman was unable to enjoy the same impact he was having prior to his move into defence.
A bit of a reality check for the Eggman, this week. He was really unable to find space in the Houli role but found some success providing a distraction against Matt de Boer in the last. It was the only time Kane Lambert looked like having an impact, and that was in part due to Derek Eggmelosse-Smith getting stuck into de Boer.
I love Mabior Chol’s closing speed when he mans the mark at full-back. He forces anyone who plays on to kick under extreme pressure.
Interesting to see Dusty pinged for one throw. I reckon there was another one in there somewhere as well.
And that’ll do for me. A much-needed win for the Giants has them back amongst it with the season almost half over. Yep… can you believe that? They get the Suns next week and I am sure at one point they may have been looking at this as an easier week. No more.
The Tigers move to 4-3, similar to last season, and now get the resurgent Bulldogs in what will reveal quite a bit about both sides. It’s worth mentioning, not as an excuse, but as a very pertinent fact, that the Tigers have some elite talent to return to this side. Cotchin, Houli , Astbury, Edwards, Caddy and Prestia are all easily best 22 players. I’m quite amazed they’ve been this good without them.
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