Football’s salvation in Queensland once again opened its arms to the AFL, playing host to the competition’s two newest teams. The Giants haven’t started 2020 as they would’ve liked, and despite all their talent, found themselves outside the eight at the halfway mark of the season. The Suns on the other hand, started the year like a puppy fresh from a nap, but like the puppy, have crashed back to earth following Matt Rowell’s season ending injury and having to play numerous matches in a shortened period of time. The Giants, fresh off an impressive victory in the Grand Final rematch, withstood all the defensive pressure Gold Coast could muster, and did enough to record another win to strengthen their finals and premiership hopes. Here is the Mongrel’s review of GWS’s clinical 26-poing victory over their baby-faced rivals.
THE BACK STORY
It has been the most up-and-down season in Greater Western Sydney’s short history. They have looked destructively brilliant against Geelong and Hawthorn, and downright awful against the Bulldogs and North Melbourne. Their inside 50 numbers have been poor, and only their ridiculous forward line efficiency has saved them from falling further down the ladder.
2020 has been fairly awful for us all, but for these young Suns, it has been a season of discovery and growth the likes of which have rarely been seen on the Gold Coast. Matt Rowell exploded on the scene, until a season ending shoulder injury burst his bubble. Izak Rankine also took the AFL world by storm, and showed everyone his immense talent and game sense that feature on many highlights reels over the next decade.
The competition’s two newest outfits have been on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Giants have been consistent finals performers, while the Suns have never featured in September action, and in reality have only ever looked capable for a few fleeting moments.
But this is the dawning of a new era. An era that will hopefully give Gold Coast fans something to smile about after a history of mediocrity. They still need a bit of time, but like the Giants, the Suns ooze talent out of every pore, and it’s clear the AFL’s perennial easy beats are pushovers no more.
It was a stagnant, pressure filled start to the contest, and as a result, the Giants only managed a single goal from their first five scoring shots. While the Suns guarded the space and gave GWS no room to move, their tackling pressure left a lot to be desired. Jack Lukosius was his usual assured self coming out of defence, but his kick became too predictable, and the Giants controlled the inside 50s. At the other end, Ben King couldn’t the space he needed, and Sam Day was inaccurate. This left Alex Sexton to do the bulk of the work forward of the ball for the Suns, but he too couldn’t punish the Giants on the scoreboard. Late in the first quarter it was a disaster for Leon Cameron, as Toby Greene pulled up lame with a slight hamstring injury. Given the congested nature of the next four rounds, the Giants opted not to risk him, and ruled him out for the rest of the game.
The second quarter began just as the first had ended. The Suns kept guarding the space and gave the Giants no room to strut their stuff, but they only registered 13 tackles to half time, four of which came from Touk Miller. In perfect conditions, both sides turned up the pressure, and scoring dried up as a result.
Dour football was on the menu, and it continued into the second half, with both sides turning up the defensive pressure. Intercept marking rose, and each team’s tall defenders reaped the rewards of a game style fast becoming uneventful. At the end of the third quarter, both sides combined for just seven goals, although both teams kicked seven behinds each.
The final quarter again started defensively, and the fun, free flowing football the Suns started the season with was straggled out of them. However, the floodgates opened, and GWS kicked four goals in the quarter to at least the fans in attendance something to applaud. The Suns kept themselves in the game too with two goals of their own, but they only ever got as close as 22 points, and would need a miracle to get themselves across the line. The Giants kept nailing the steadying goal they needed to keep the Suns at bay, and ran away with an important victory.
What’s up with Leon Cameron’s coaching style? As a player, he was a creative monster, and always seemed to have the time and space to get creative with ball in hand. As a coach, he seems to instruct his players to play as defensively as they can, and lacks any genuine ideas to jolt his team into free flowing football. They have all the talent in the world, and have players that move the ball so effectively by foot, but that is yet to be reflected on the scoreboard, and their key forwards have been starved of opportunity to assert themselves.
On the other hand, Stuart Dew coaches his team in exactly the manner in which he played, with a dare and risk that he could achieve with his lethal left foot. Like Cameron, Dew also has a wealth of talent at his disposal, and has largely left his players to play with freedom and confidence. Dew understands that mistakes will be made, and his charges probably won’t be ready to challenge during September for another 2-3 years, but the style of football Dew has engineered at Metricon will ensure that when the Suns are ready, they are more than confident in taking the game on and hitting the scoreboard quickly, as any finals side should be able to do.
THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH
Let’s start from the winners’ backline, and it was another sublime performance from Nick Haynes. Gathering 18 touches (15 kicks, three handballs) and pulling down eight marks, Haynes was involved in so many of the Giants forward thrusts. The other rebounder that made life extremely hard for the Suns was inclusion Zac Williams. Amassing 26 disposals, including 20 kicks, Williams was the player Leon Cameron utilised to send the Giants forward, and was the main player bringing the ball back into play after a Gold Coast behind. In a purely stopping performance, Lachlan Keeffe deserves the most praise for taking Ben King completely out of the game. Keeffe only registered five touches, all of them handballs, but his work on King was exemplary, and he kept the Suns big man to just six disposals, and a goal which came against the run of play. Phil Davis also put together a solid four quarter performance in a nullifying role on Sam Day. Day presented well, but thanks to Davis, had no impact on the game. Davis also registered 12 touches of his own. From a Gold Coast point of view, given they only kicked four goals, no forward can lay claim to have had a good day, although Ben Ainsworth was the most effective, with 14 disposals and a goal from three attempts, as well as nine marks and seven inside 50s.
In the middle, and from a Giants perspective, it was their usual suspects taking control of the midfield. Six Giants midfielders each registered over 20 touches (the best Sun only had 19), and from a purely statistical accumulation, it was one way traffic. The head of pack was Lachie Whitfield, whose 29 disposals reeked of astonishing class. Smooth mover Josh Kelly also impressed, his 28 touches were a mixture of tough inside ball winning, and outside run and accuracy by foot. Whitfield also took a clear game high 13 marks, and Kelly registered a team high six inside 50s. If you haven’t seen this game yet, and are looking for one player that exemplified pure toughness at the contest, look no further than the underrated Jacob Hopper. Entering the prime of his career, Hopper was a beast at the stoppages, and of his 27 disposals, 14 of them were contested. Put simply Hopper was the man getting his hands dirty, allowing Whitfield and Kelly to do their best work on the outside. Skipper Stephen Coniglio was also prominent on the inside, as was Tim Taranto, a player who is far more important to the Giants premiership hopes than first thought. Harry Perryman also continued his fine start to 2020, with 20 possessions. Most pleasingly for Leon Cameron, is that Kelly, Coniglio, Taranto and Hopper all hit the scoreboard, which lessened the load the tall forwards needed to carry.
From the perspective of the Suns, it is hard to find a midfielder that had a day out given how much ball their GWS opponents managed to accumulate. However, that would be doing a disservice to the work in the centre that a select few players managed to put together. Hugh Greenwood in particular only recorded 14 touches, but 10 of his possessions were contested, and he amassed a game high six clearances. Will Powell also tried hard all day and finished with 17 disposals, and Touk Miller played a lone tackling hand in the middle, laying six important tackles for his side’s cause, the next best Suns midfielder only had three. Rising star nominee Noah Anderson battled hard against the avalanche to record 15 workmanlike touches, but there were far too many passengers wearing red, and too much responsibility was left to too few.
Forward of the ball for the Giants, and due to the defensive nature of the contest, the three main targets each had their battles, but each put their stamp on the game. Harry Himmelberg was the best of the trio, his two goals were accompanied with some excellent marking power. Jeremy Finlayson worked his way up the ground and his supreme kicking was a throughout the contest. Despite only amassing 11 possessions, all but one of Finlayson’s disposals were kicks, and he had four score involvements. Jeremy Cameron kicked two goals and led well, but he was mostly kept out of the game by Sam Collins, who continues to show significant improvement and may feature in some All Australian Teams in the future. Wunderkind Jack Lukosius was his team’s best player, and although his kicking areas were predictable at times, Lukosius’ 19 disposals out of the back half were important in send the Suns forward, and he also recording five score involvements, five defensive rebounds and three inside 50s. After being the man tasked with curbing Toby Greene, Connor Budarik found himself without a job to do after quarter time. Gathering 13 touches, Budarik turned into a rebounder, and his work with ball in hand, as well as his defensive pressure deep in defence was vital to the Suns cause.
THE NERVOUS MEN
Normally in this section, we highlight those players who will be nervous come selection night, those who put together mediocre performances and will be looking to make amends on the training night. This, however, was the very definition of an uneventful, dour scrap. With this in mind, no player stood out as having produced overly poor performances.
Given they were the losers of the game, two Suns players did not live up to their usual standards. Izak Rankine could not get himself into the game but tried hard all day. Only registering nine touches, Rankine didn’t get his hands on the ball until the second term, and although he worked hard, the usual Rankine magic did not materialise at all. Alex Sexton also had a day to forget after quarter time. Only two of Sexton’s six disposals came after quarter time, and both of his shots at goal in the first term were behinds.
It was simply a clinical, professional performance from a team looking at bounce back from its less than stellar start to 2020. Following an impressive victory, the Giants did exactly what they need to do in putting away an opponent that came for the fight. For the Suns, a season that started with so much promise is threatening to combust, but this team seems to have enough mettle to curb the devastation they experienced in 2019. In Sydney, Leon Cameron certainly has more to work on, and this season will only get tougher due to its contested nature and injuries to the team’s talisman, but now that the Giants have pushed themselves back into the top eight, they can now set themselves for a run at another premiership.