For some teams in this series, finding the questions to ask in the articles was a bit of work. Not so for the GWS Giants.

There are questions all around the place in regard to the boys from Western Sydney. So much so that I could actually pick and choose which ones to ask. That happened with no other team thus far.

Over the last couple of weeks, these previews have started to take on a life of their own. They’re getting bigger. I’d like to say better, but that is entirely up to you to decide.

So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next 10-15 are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions regarding the Giants in 2022.

 

CAN COGS REGAIN HIS PLACE IN THIS GAME?

In terms of the Giants’ 2022 campaign, this is no small question.

Stephen Coniglio is a big-reputation player. He has established himself as one of the – pardon the pun – cogs in this GWS team during a pretty successful era, but his fall from grace over the 2020/21 seasons has been dramatic. He has gone from one of the best mids who is able to sneak forward and hit the scoreboard to a player that looks continually unsure of his place in this team and in the league, itself.

Did he feel the weight of captaincy? Or was it just injuries that stifled the creativity of one of the best ball users in the game?

Whatever was going on, it hit Coniglio like a ton of bricks to the point he looked like a player that was not enjoying his football at all. In short – he looked like a liability out there.

I felt for both Cogs and Leon Cameron at points over the last couple of seasons. Coniglio was clearly not going to come out and perform at the level we were accustomed to, but it was almost as though the Giants were trying to hide him and nurse him through until he could find that spark. AFL players are like sharks – if they sense blood in the water, it’s feeding time.

Sadly, Coniglio was viewed as the prey at points in the last two years.

Prior to the interrupted 2020 season, Coniglio was a perennial 23-28 disposals per game player. In 2021, he managed just 14 touches per game and had his name – as captain of the damn club – was brought up in trade discussions. Though nothing came of it, even the notion that he was suggested as a trade piece is disrespectful to a bloke that recommitted to this team so recently.

Is an extended rest and the chance to recuperate all Coniglio requires? Or is there something more to his horror run of form? People often dismiss the psychological side of sport, but self-doubt is torturous and can be just as debilitating as any physical injuries. If you’re going into a contest thinking you don’t belong, chances are… you don’t. Not at that point, anyway. If a player starts to question his value to a team, it can be a very slippery slope. If that player shares a piece of your captaincy and has five years left to run on the deal that keeps him tied to the club, then it becomes less of a concern and more of a real problem.

I will put this out there right now – as goes Stephen Coniglio in 2022, so go the Giants.

Remember how brilliant he was in games in 2019 and prior? Remember games of 30+ disposals and three goals? It was only committed to memory in the past few years, and Coniglio is just 28 years old. This should be his prime. He should be posting those numbers now and leading his club deep into the finals.

Instead, here we are – questioning whether he has still got what it takes to be a significant part of this team… it boggles the mind.

So, what does success look like in 2022 for Cogs? And what does failure look like?

Success is easy – back to over 20 touches per game is a given. Coniglio running with the footy and setting up teammates makes the Giants tick like a Swiss watch. He’s notched just six goals in the past two years – in 2019, he had 15. That is the type of number that makes people sit up and take notice.

And what does failure look like?

Well, anything like his 2021 season will be more than enough to tick that box.

We get to see what Stephen Coniglio is made of this season. Never an All-Australian, never a Best and Fairest, he was handed the reins to this club as captain and the horse took off like a bat out of hell (RIP Big Fella) in the wrong direction. Can he get things under control again and turn that beast around? Can he re-establish himself as a player to be reckoned with? Or did we see the version of Stephen Coniglio that compelled coaches to plan for him go up in flames with the Giants’ 2019 premiership hopes?

As goes Coniglio, so go the Giants. Mark it down.

 

HOW PATIENT IS LACHIE ASH?

When he is waiting for the footy, not very patient at all.

That can be a good thing, or a bad thing depending on how his frustration is channelled, but in watching Ash demanding the ball and being denied, only to stand with his hands on his hips, or react as though visibly upset, I find myself wondering whether he just has incredibly high standards for his own performance, or if he is someone who wants it all and wants it now?

Attempting to crack the GWS midfield has been the downfall of many young players. Over the past five or six years, it is possibly the hardest position to break into in the game. They’ve lost names like Shiel, Treloar, Adams, Steele, but have a look at the names currently occupying places in that rotation – Whitfield, Kelly, Taranto, Hopper, Coniglio, Ward, and then you have a young star in the making like Tom Green carving out his niche as well. The Giants have never been short on midfield quality. Where is the room for Lachie Ash?

As we are all aware, as good as he is in the half back role, Ash is a midfielder at heart, and he wants to play that role.

Ash does not lack for confidence. When you see him play live, he is one of the hardest runners at the club. I may make it sound like he is being selfish when he doesn’t get the footy and reacts poorly, but that is not the case. He is not running hard to provide an option for him – no, he is doing the hard yards for the team. He is a team man – he just has the confidence to believe that is the best option every time. Heath Shaw used to look as though he thought the same thing.

So, as Tom Green finds his midfield minutes, Lachie Ash is plying his trade off half back, but at what point does he push into that midfield group and stake his claim with a starring role in this team, not just a supporting role?

The ceiling for Ash is a high one. With his tank and his evident will to win, he made significant steps in year two, jumping +7.4 in disposals. Even a step up of an additional 3-4 touches per game would start to see Ash’s name inserted into the conversation as to who the best talent from that 2019 Draft is. Could he be one of the weapons that propels the Giants back toward the top four and into genuine contention for a flag?

Playing with fellow young stars off half back – Isaac Cumming and Connor Idun – Ash has the opportunity to be the running rebounder that makes the jump into the midfield. It took Rory Laird years to do this – Ash will want his opportunity fast-tracked. If it comes in 2022, his emergence as a star could be just what the doctor ordered.

But whose spot does he take?

 

HAS GWS CREATED THE BLUEPRINT FOR DEFENSIVE PLAYER TRANSITION?

People tend to forget quickly. In a world where we have information, stats, and stories about players of the moment coming at us left, right, and centre, there is not much time to look in the rear vision mirror and celebrate what was, but in this case, it is necessary.

And deserved.

Phil Davis has been a warrior for this club, but is now in what looks to be his last year on the list. The former captain threw himself into action week after week, taking on the biggest and the baddest forwards the game could throw at him. And winning.

If you’d like to watch Davis at his competitive, angry, and effective best, dip into your library of games (or try to find it on youtube) and take a gander at his demolition of Buddy Franklin in the 2018 Elimination Final. Against the greatest forward of his generation, Davis went into the contest with a chip on his shoulder. He’d sat there as the talking heads on AFL 360 asked him about what’s it was like preparing to playing on Franklin?

My bet is they would not have asked Franklin what it was like preparing to play on Davis. Maybe they should have?

You could see by the look in his eyes that Davis meant business, and in a complete blanketing of the star forward, Davis was close to best on ground, holding Buddy goalless and denying him opportunity after opportunity.

And while Davis was going about his business, there was a young player watching, learning, developing in the background. Sam Taylor had a horror 2020 season which really set him back, but man, he made up for it in 2021 with a brilliant season that confirmed his position as the number one defender on this team. And perhaps positioned him as the number one defender in the league in the next 12 months.

Taylor is a weapon inside defensive fifty, often backing his judgment to attack the footy in flight and allowing his man to sneak out the back in the process. The problem for the forward was that Taylor was so good, the ball didn’t get out the back – Taylor either marked it or killed it.. Like Davis, his 2021 Elimination Final efforts against Franklin were excellent. Yes, Buddy kicked three, so it was not on the same level as the Davis whitewash of 2018, but in an intense game, Taylor took the game on and attacking the footy with intent in the last quarter, it genuinely started to appear as though the Swans were targeting him as the forward.

With the transition from rising star to the number one defender, the Giants’ defence is in safe hands with Sam Taylor. Phil Davis is still there but is more a luxury now than a necessity – a year to get himself right and be ready for an assault on September, perhaps?

The Giants have also loaded up at other defensive positions. We saw the maturation of Nick Haynes into an All-Australian player several years ago, and like clockwork, while he is still playing good footy, we are starting to see signs of Isaac Cumming emerging as the next defensive star. Heath Shaw was a star running out of defence for the Giants – will Lachie Ash or Connor Idun be the next to collect an AA selection playing that role?

So many speak of GWS’ midfield, but this defence is a prime example of recruiting talent and developing their replacements well. The way they gel in 2022 may well be the key to this team.

 

WHAT IS THE BEST POSITION FOR HARRY PERRYMAN?

He spent most of 2021 playing in defence, but in a side less-stocked with A-Graders, would Perryman be a star of the game playing a more prominent role on another team? No, I am not mooting a move anywhere – he recently re-signed – but what I am doing is highlighting that GWS have this untapped resource right under their nose that could start to blossom at any given moment.

We saw plenty of his offensive side in 2020 when Perryman was deployed on a wing. Through the first three games of the season, Perryman ran forward with intent and kicked eight goals. A wingman leading the Coleman Medal race after three games? Yeah, it was happening as recently as two seasons ago.

Strangely, Perryman was soon moved away from the wing and deployed both across half-back and half-forward as Leon Cameron toyed with his lineup, but Perryman’s value was already highlighted – he was a player that can play anywhere and be highly effective.

Let’s assume for a moment that GWS head into 2022 with a full list to choose from (minus Jack Buckley and now Zac Sproule, I suppose). With players in defence such as Lachie Ash and Lachie Whitfield, Isaac Cumming, Connor Idun, Nick Haynes, Sam Taylor, and Phil Davis, is there now an option to use Perryman in a more attacking role?

GWS, like many teams, sadly, use their wing position as a rotation device for mids. We’ve seen Kelly, Whitfield, Taranto, and Ward all cycle through there over the past year, but the team could do with some consistency in the role. Could Perryman be that consistency? Could he make that position his own?

He has proven he is a two-way player, with no qualms about doing either attack or defence at any given time, so a move to the wing may give him the chance to showcase what he is capable of.

Perryman has just turned 23 – it seems like he has been around for a long time as he has become a fixture in this team, but really, this could be around the time he starts to find his peak form? If he does, and if Perryman is playing on the wing, he could potentially be the best in the business in that position by the end of the 2022 season.

 

ARE THERE CLEANER HANDS IN THE GAME THAN THOSE OF TOM GREEN?

Sometimes you see a player than you just know is set to become a star of the game, and if you cannot see that in Tom Green, I don’t know what you’re actually looking for.

Tom Green turned 21 the day before writing this, but if he is not one of the two most important midfielders in the Giants’ team by the end of 2022, I will be greatly surprised. You just cannot teach what Green brings to the table.

Whether in the dry or the wet, the way Tom Green plays footy is like watching a puppet-master pull the strings. While others fumble and bumble their way around the ball, his hands are like a vice, and if he managed to get one of those mitts on the footy, it is staying in his possession until he chooses to get rid of it. He has control of the footy like few others and just does… not… fumble!

Was Tom Green robbed of the 2021 Rising Star Award?

No knock on Luke Jackson, who continue to emerge as a star of the game, but Green’s year was superior over the entire journey. His influence in the middle and ability to setup teammates as they cruised by aided the Giants in heading back to the finals. If he had not missed the final three games of the home and away fixture, we may well be celebrating him as the Ron Evans Medallist.

Alas, that did not occur, but you don’t need an award to recognise how good Green is set to be in the coming seasons. There is a bit of Josh Kennedy about him, a bit of Tom Mitchell, and a bit of Greg Williams. I don’t think we’re ever going to see him win the half time sprint at the Grand Final, but what he lacks in pace, he makes up for with classy disposal and the way he effortlessly finds and extracts the footy. In a star-studded midfield, Tom Green is looking to make the step from the young player attempting to establish his place in the team to one of its standouts.

2022 could provide that opportunity.

I expect a career-high season from Green – at 20 touches per game in 2021, 23-24 per game is highly achievable this season. His 4.2 clearances could easily become six this season as he commands more attention and the Giants (hopefully) have the services of a big man capable of getting first hands to the ball more often than not.

If this is the year of Tom Green, this could very well be the year of the Giants. It’s a lot of pressure to place on a young man, I know, but with those hands, he is not one to allow an opportunity to slip through his fingers.

 

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