Was that what people were stating prior to Greater Western Sydney’s stunning belting of Richmond at Marvel Stadium? How they are eating their words now.

Right from the outset, GWS looked switched on. Moving the ball through the corridor with apparent ease, and in the process exposing a Richmond side that looked completely out of run, the Giants piled on the pressure to more or less put the game away by halftime.

It was a comprehensive beating by GWS, who have been on the road for weeks, and in knocking over both the Cats and Tigers in successive weeks, have indicated that they are finally serious about playing finals footy.

And given the form they’ve displayed, there’d be a few teams that would not like to run into them in the first week of September.

The win secures GWS’ place in the top eight for now, with just one game remaining, and sets the table for a clash with the Blues in Round 23, whilst for the Tigers… well, they basically need everything to go right for them to be able to defend their title.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big

 

DO WE OWE LEON CAMERON AN APOLOGY?

Hmmmm, not quite yet, but we may want to prepare one.

We’ve all heard the jibes over the years, right?

Keys to the Ferrari, blah, blah, blah… hell, there have been times where I have questioned what Leon Cameron is doing with this club, but the last two weeks of football have been some of the best, team-oriented displays of footy from a collective bunch of blokes you’d want to see.

Heading down the highway to the soon-to-be Sexyland Stadium (they’ve sold their naming rights to every other business; Sexyland can’t be far off), the Giants gave the Cats a lesson, and they backed it up this week against the road-weary Tigers, who drove about five kilometres to Marvel Stadium to tangle with them.

And without some of their more impressive names, the Giants handled the Tigers with apparent ease. This was not the team that started the season 0-3, or fell by the wayside in 2020. Nor was it the team that shat the bed against the Gold Coast and Hawthorn.

No, no… this was a team that came to Marvel Stadium ready to play, and not only matched the Richmond intensity, but ran them off their legs as well. They broke tackles, took the game on, and at half time, sat with a healthy 50-point buffer.

Cameron threw Tim Taranto forward to cover for the loss of Toby Greene. With Greene deemed by many to be irreplaceable (including myself… I love Toby), the 2019 best and fairest winner set the game alight, with four first-half goals as he gave seasoned defender, Nick Vlastuin a bit of a touch up. Taranto was strong in the contest, got to the right spots and generally seemed to be having fun playing the role that Greene has occupied so expertly this season.

If you could read the mind of Leon Cameron, he must have been mentally high-fiving himself as his move of Taranto into the attacking half sparked the Giants, and soon enough, that spark ignited the whole team.

Cameron had his team attack through the guts, catching out the strolling Richmond midfielders and half backs as they meandered through the area. Their kicking was precise and their vision excellent as they made the Tigers pay for even a couple of metres space afforded them.

After half time, the game was effectively done. GWS outscored Richmond by a goal in the third, effectively extinguishing Brian Taylor’s hopes for a miraculous comeback, and from that point on, it was the junkiest of junk time.

 

HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE CAN ONE MAN MAKE?

Are we talking about Dusty, or are we talking about Toby?

Let’s talk about both.

What we experienced this week was a team having to fill a hole as a once-off, and doing it very effectively. Yes, it was quite a sizeable hole left by Toby Greene’s absence, but with the right motivation and a willingness to give it a crack, the 23-year-old GWS star, Tim Taranto took on the challenge and delivered in a big way. His four goals will be a talking point, but his ability to contest in the air without impeding his opponent, despite appearing out of the contest at times, should be something that gets just as much attention.

Of course, it won’t – it is not as sexy, but Taranto getting a hand into a contest and disrupting what would normally be an easy intercept, allowed the Giants to create chaos inside fifty, and they capitalised on that chaos more often than not in the first half.

For the Tigers, they are being forced to compensate for the reigning best player in the league every single week. I’m not saying he was the best player in the league this season, but coming into 2021, Dustin Martin was coming off a third Norm Smith Medal and whilst the Tigers had built a winning team, removing Dusty from the equation was like trying to compete in a road race and you find you’re missing your accelerator. Covering for someone one week can be done, but replacing a champion…

… that is not so easily accomplished.

The Tigers have a nice complementary cast around Martin usually, with blokes like Lambert, Graham and Prestia able to work well with Dusty drawing the heat.

But he hasn’t been there to draw it for a while now, and these Tigers looked tired.

So, how much of a difference can one man make? As a one-off instance, it can be done. As a full time replacement… much more difficult.

 

WAS THAT FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF UMPIRING THE WORST SINCE ANZAC DAY 2019?

Well, let’s just say that there are times the AFL is lucky there are no crowds at games.

The free kick reversal as Jack Riewoldt’s kick from the boundary sailed through for a goal was a disgrace. I love the way Sam Taylor goes about it, but he and Lynch both seemed to be engaging, and not in delightful conversation. There was a pull of Taylor’s jumper and all of a sudden, the whistle blew and – bam – the goal was gone.

They go to the middle, bounce the ball and again, a free kick is paid, this time to GWS right in front of goal. Now, I am not arguing that this one wasn’t there – it was, but the last time I checked, we’re still watching a bunch of blokes running around out there, wanting to mix it up a little, test each other and yeah… maybe once in a while there’ll be a bit of rough stuff. Do we really want a game where whistles are blowing 90 metres off the ball and free kicks are being gifted in front of goal?

I hated it.

There’ll be some that’ll think I am sticking up for Richmond on this point – not so. This is not about Richmond. It is not about Greater Western Sydney, either. This is about people getting a little carried away with controlling the amount of aggression in the contest and taking pre-emptive steps to ensure nothing gets out of hand.

I’ll give you a quick tip – nothing gets out of hand in an AFL game these days – nothing. The players might get a little grumpy, push and shove each other, or maybe have a bit of a wrestle, but they don’t resort to violence. You’d be safer running around on an AFL footy field being a jackass than you would with the same bunch of blokes at a pub. Sometimes I just feel the umpires get a little too exuberant when it comes to keeping things in check.

Once in a while, just let the boys have their push and shove… and maybe an elbow in the back. 🙂

 

HOW DO WE RATE LACHIE ASH’S JOB ON DION PRESTIA?

Really highly.

He has found his niche, and whilst I still see him throw his hands up in despair when he does not receive the footy after making space, Lachie Ash’s diligence to the task at hand saw Prestia pick up just three touches in the first quarter, and commit both some lazy and undisciplined acts out of frustration.

Prestia mouthed off, providing Jacob Hopper with a 50 metre penalty and should have been punished. He was also caught holding the footy, and made zero attempt to get rid of it, staring at the umpire as though he expected him to bail him out.

He didn’t.

If you watch this encounter again, and I am sure some GWS fans will, watch Ash run off Prestia, and watch Prestia refuse to go anywhere near him when he does. This was why Ash started to get a little upset at the goings-on. He was making the play and knew Prestia either couldn’t, or didn’t want to go with him.

Whilst on Prestia, there’ll be some who look at the stat sheet and tick off his performance. 22 touches and four tackles… not the worst day at the office, right?

Wrong.

Don’t be fooled by hollow possessions. Ash well and truly had his number in this one, and though he had ten clearances, seven of them came after half time – they were effectively junk time clearances.

Ash has been taught by the best, with Matt de Boer playing more across half forward at the moment… and whilst on de Boer, what’s with all the candy sales? He’s falling in love with that step a little too much these days – people will work it out if you use it too often, Matty!

 

WHERE DO THE TIGERS GET LEG SPEED FROM?

I’m talking 2022 – not next week.

They’re missing both regular wingmen, in Marlion Pickett and Kamdyn McIntosh, so there is a bit there, and if we’re talking about genuine leg speed in a straight line, Noah Balta is lightning quick, but the team they fielded tonight seemed to be home to plenty of plodders.

I like what Jack Graham brings to the table, but when he is teamed with Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia, and Kane Lambert in the middle, these blokes look more like a trio ready to slog it out in muddle puddles than burst through the guts with the footy.

Shai Bolton is the obvious answer, but after a ripping first quarter, we kind of saw very little from him for a long while. Where else to the Tigers get that blistering pace with the footy? Their kids are a little too young at this point to expect them to step into the roles and be effective – what is their recourse?

We saw some compensation in this game, with Thomson Dow and Rhyan Marshall slotting in off the wing, but dropping back to almost act as a seventh defender. They were starting right near the corner of the centre square. Whilst good in theory, that allowed the GWS wingers (O’Halloran, Kelly, Perryman, Bruhn) to play all out attack from there, and it brought the Tigers undone.

Richmond have plenty of work to do headed into 2022, and their pace on the outside will be a pressing issue when Hardwick and his list managers sit down and commence discussions on how to restructure this unit for another tilt.

 

WHERE IS ISAAC CUMMING IN THE HALF BACK PECKING ORDER?

It’s such a tough position when it comes to naming the best and most effective (hmmm, I just wrote “moist”. The moist effective player? Sounds weird!) half backs in the game.

Even in this game, Nick Vlastuin had a pretty good second half after Tim Taranto got away from him early, and ended up with 11 intercepts. Jayden Short has been excellent. Then you have Tom Stewart, Bailey Dale, Jordan Ridley, Daniel Rich, Jack Crisp, Aaron Hall, Christain Salem, Jake Lloyd and Jordan Dawson – the competition is fierce.

However, Cumming is really starting to flex some muscle in the role. He is fearless when forced to stand under a high ball inside fifty and does not appear to be fazed at all by the fact he may cop a nasty knock. He just looks smooth and confident as he casually goes up and plucks the footy out of the air.

He had another 24 touches in this one, and had a lovely even spread of six Rebound 50s and five Inside 50s amongst them. We’re starting to see him drift forward a little more now, taking a bit of a risk and forcing his opponent to be accountable. He had six score involvements in this game and missed a flying shot late in the game. You can see he is starting to develop the type of game that will see him contend for an All-Australian position, but as it stands, I just think there are a few too many in front of him.

That said, this is year four for him and with 21 games to his name in 2021, he has smashed through the barriers that prevented him from playing more than 11 games in the three years prior. At 22.5 touches per game and six R50s… he’d be just about the most improved player in the comp. Wouldn’t mind throwing twenty on him to make the AA team in 2022.

 

SHOULD WE BE JUDGING PLAYERS ON THE FIRST HALF ALONE?

Oh hell yes, we should.

That’s when the game was won, that’s when the damage was done, and that’s where the pressure was on.

Tim Taranto – outstanding, as I have covered, above.

Jacob Hopper – did the hard stuff early. Was in and under and making the play for teammates. 18 touches and a goal in the first half, to go with six clearances.

Josh Kelly – 18 disposals and five tackles as he danced around out there like he was a step ahead of everyone else.

Trent Cotchin – tried his guts out to lift the Tigers, looked to have copped a corkie in the process, but never doubt his heart. 16 touches and six clearances before the break.

Nick Haynes – Some huge defensive efforts. Just eight touches, but his positioning and ground work were excellent.

Harry Himmelberg – three first half goals and some excellent contests.

 

DID ANYONE SEE WHERE SHAI BOLTON WENT?

Just re-signed with the Tigers and was anointed by many as the heir apparent to the Dustin Martin throne at Punt Road.

However, after a blistering first quarter, where he picked up ten touches, he picked up just seven for the rest of the game, including an absolute Houdini job in the second quarter, where he disappeared into thin air as the Giants pressed hard.

That was the point the Tigers needed someone to stand up, and as that next-level star, it should have been him stepping up to support his captain. Instead, he returned no touches for the quarter and added just one tackle to his name. It was a disappointing effort, but if we’re going to be generous, I have to add that he did spend a fair whack of time inside forward fifty, and that place was like a damn wasteland at points in the second quarter.

Bolton ended the game with 2.2 to his name, but it concerned me that he only had the four score involvements. Does that mean that unless the score was for him, he wasn’t too keen to be involved?

 

IS THE TSUNAMI BACK?

Did you see signs of it in this game as well? Three or four players streaming through the middle and half forward together, a wave of orange and charcoal washing over their opponents and sweeping them out with the tide… it was beautiful to see.

Much was made of that GWS run back in 2016/17. Many spoke of how they were irrepressible – an unstoppable force. Yet they were halted… several times.

Older. Wiser. Equipped with the confidence to know when and how to turn it on and off, what I saw in this game was enough to convince me that the tsunami is still there. It is just waiting for something to trigger it. And if Leon Cameron can harness that power and unleash it in September… things will get really interesting, really quickly.

 

ANYTHING ELSE, MONGREL?

Yeah, a few things.

Loved Liam Baker’s game. One of the few Tigers to put in for all four quarters.

Ditto for Cal Ward, who was once again so reliable, whether darting in off the wing, or throwing his body into the contest. That booming goal from 55 metres out… I didn’t know he had it in those legs. I guess it demonstrates how far he has come back over the last 12 months.

Jayden Short should win his second Jack Dyer Medal. An incredibly consistent season for him again, but one day a coach will have the foresight to put someone on him to prevent him from running past for the handball. But it was not this day.

Players like Short, Daniel Rich and Jake Lloyd kill teams with cheap kicks off half back, but no one ever deploys someone to stop them. I’ve always thought you should never be caught out by what you know – you know Short is a weapon… you should be trying to prevent him from getting his hands on the footy as much as possible.

The ruck duel – Mummy wins the taps, Nank wins around the ground, but Mumford’s goal probably gets him the chocolates. Also, for the first time ever, I reckon Mumford got screwed over by the umps in this game. One incident saw him taken high and the umpire didn’t bat an eyelid.

And whilst I’d love to comment on the Tom Lynch v Sam Taylor battle, sadly, there were so many switched throughout the contest that it just wasn’t a genuine one-on-one contest for large periods, with Jake Stein doing some heavy lifting whilst Taylor went and played on Riewoldt.

And guys, between us, I don’t trust Jesse Hogan yet. Not by a long shot. Still looks too heavy.

 

Overall, this was a tremendous win for the Giants – their win in Round 21 was season-defining, but this one was a momentum builder. It was the game that made them believe again – in beating these Tigers, the Giants banished a demon and received the shot in the arm they needed… one that doesn’t have terrible blood clotting side effects and may kill you!

Sorry, been reading QAnon again…

In all seriousness, we saw one team on the rise beat up a team on the decline. One team was preparing for the real stuff to start. The other was looking at the finish line and counting the steps til they got there. They stumbled in this one, and GWS trod on them as they ran by.

There is no room for mercy in professional football. No feeling sorry for champion teams whose time has been and is slipping away quickly before our eyes – not from a team that watched on when they were at their highest peak. The Giants have had their ups and downs this season, but as we turn the corner and head for home, they are playing some spectacular footy, and it only takes four weeks of that type of play to add silverware to the trophy cabinet.

Richmond did it in 2017, and they had to knock over GWS to do it. They did it again in 2019 and embarrassed the Giants in the process. But the Kings are now dead. Can the Giants wear the crown? If they play footy like this, they’re going to be difficult to stop.

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