There’s no doubt the lopsided free-kick count will be top of mind in this one, we’ll address that below in the review, but it is important to note the game was won by the team with a far better game style and who made the running with intent throughout the night.
Errors riddled both teams’ performance, and as a spectacle, it was a tough watch as both defences dominated through the evening. Australian icon Mike Whitney’s seminal ‘Who dares wins’ sprang to mind as I witnessed time after time Freo youngsters, Heath Chapman, Nathan O’Driscoll and ‘Frankie’ Frederick repeatedly take the game on with a view to winning while experienced and highly decorated counterparts on the Giants roster, Josh Kelly and Lachie Whitfield preferred the safe option with ultimately dire consequences.
A Round Four game won’t typically mean that much in a full season’s wash up, but with both of these clubs expecting to play finals it was nonetheless a traditional 8-point game. Despite the closeness on the scoreboard through three-quarters the Dockers notwithstanding their poor conversion were always the more likely victor and duly ran out 34 point winners which are relatively indicative of the difference between the two sides on the night.
Read on for extended analysis of five notable stories within the game:
INSIDE THE COACH’S BOX
Clubs will be lining up for the services of former Eagle Jaymie Graham, who improved his personal record to 3-0 in the caretaker role, while you can’t glean a lot from one outing the stand-in coach showed far greater agility throughout the night and trust in the game plan they are trying to build. The Dockers made numerous errors in this one, and padded the stats of Sam Taylor, Isaac Cumming and Harry Perryman down back, but continued to go to the well attacking through the centre and attempting to move the ball with speed.
The selection of Frederick to pair with Switkowski and Colyer was inspired as they threatened all night. Brennan Cox was a consistent star, and his aerial dominance paved the way for Luke Ryan and later Griffin Logue to prosper, while the inspired trading for Will Brodie continued to pay off with the former Sun best afield, released to a role he was hardly afforded at Metricon.
Meanwhile, Leon Cameron endured another dirty day at the office, countless times he has been ridiculed for being handed the keys to a Ferrari and treating it like a Volvo, but after very close viewing of his style in now a ninth year I believe the issue is that he only holds an automatic licence. This feeling has manifested through the Giants’ perceived underperformance and recounting his mentorship under Alistair Clarkson.
The former Hawthorn coach is rightly feted as a mastermind of a three-peat dynasty, but in creating his all-conquering team favoured the nurturing of multi-positional role players over natural football instincts. This served him extremely well as he found the right mix of disciplined soldier and generational talent. Cameron seems to have gone too far in stripping his players’ creativity, and you could see last night that star players capable of winning the game off their own bootlaces, Kelly, Whitfield, Coniglio, Taranto are rendered ineffectual at times within this system. The only player regularly capable of transgressing the coach’s very disciplined line is the missing in action Toby Greene, and his capacity to equally excite and disappoint with ill-discipline may be why there is such a strong line around stifling natural flair.
On the few occasions in the first half where the Giants moved the ball directly and with purpose, both Himmelberg and Hogan in particular looked dangerous and duly notched two goals apiece early. The static ball movement thereafter, resulted in neither of the key talls registering a single kick in the second half, added to that a forgettable 3 kick game by Riccardi and their channels to goal were basically closed shut.
Another confusing tactic was Cameron’s insistence in pushing key playmakers deep behind the ball, rather than in attacking situations where they could dictate terms. One example was the matchup between Callan Ward and Blake Acres. The Giants deployed him deep as a post bounce seventh defender, while Acres maintained a true wing position and was probably best on ground in the first half as he was the primary fulcrum that linked ball movement and attacking thrusts for his side. Meanwhile, Ward’s defensive positioning was counterproductive as he turned the ball over for two simple goals.
Presuss vs Darcy: GWS journeyman Braydon Preuss fought hard against a quality opponent in Sean Darcy and was awarded the bout on a points decision despite his team ultimately succumbing.
Brayshaw vs Green: Brayshaw has been a star in the early rounds and Cameron identified this, assigning Lachie Ash to a hard tag. It was mostly successful too, the young Docker only getting off the leash midway through the third term to record 15 of his 26 touches thereafter. He kicked a nice goal too in their final flurry, but wasn’t as dominant as other games. Tom Green himself found some close company from James Aish for much of the game until injured and was also somewhat subdued compared to previous weeks. He was however a driving force in the second term comeback, compiling five clearances in that period alone, and while matched up to Heath Chapman in the third took advantage twice after ball ups to collect the ball, break tackles and snap the two best goals of the night.
Lobb vs Hogan: Playing at opposite ends the two key forwards who used to wear the other’s guernsey each had moments where they looked like taking over the game. With some relatively fluent ball movement early Hogan got on the end of a couple of forward thrusts and kicked truly, also working hard up to the ball, spilling it free on occasion to his teams benefit. Lobb also endured periods of anonymity, but took a towering, contested mark in the seesawing third term and kicked truly to give his team the advantage heading into the last quarter. It’s hard to imagine he’ll ever be the dominant player he was predicted to be, but if he can continue to contribute up forward while playing a supportive second ruck role he is valuable to this team.
It’s later than you think
Famous football orator, John Kennedy often exclaimed this immortal line urging his players to take action immediately, for tomorrow the opportunity and perhaps even your career may be over.
We’ll explore this from two perspectives herein, the Giants possess two established weapons, Josh Kelly and Lachie Whitfield, both with multiple AA and B&Fs in their individual trophy cabinets, and likely amongst the very highest remunerated players in the land. For reasons unknown though they have both been cast out to the defensive end of the ground, typically the domain of players with limitations in their games, but not the absolute cream of the competition.
Kelly and Whitfield turn 27 and 28 this season respectively and while still in their nominal prime, they are each closer to the end of their career now than the start. They are both offensive weapons, capable of winning games off their own boot, and obviously have been favourably looked upon by umpires and AA selectors. Why is the coach seemingly holding them back from what they could be for this team? Or have they potentially peaked in what is still a brutal unforgiving game? As a neutral observer, let’s hope they either force or are released their liberty to again drive some exciting Giants football.
The Dockers however have unleashed several excitement machines into their roster, the result of shrewd selection at the draft table the likes of Heath Chapman, Hayden Young, Nathan O’Driscoll, Neil Erasmus and Michael Frederick have given a free air to an established Dockers line up featuring solid key position players at each end, mainstays Fyfe, Mundy and Brayshaw through the middle and Darcy in the ruck. Of the new players who are absolutely grabbing the bit between the teeth and not waiting the customary four or five seasons learning their craft they are each brining a new, but proactive element to the side. O’Driscoll often finds himself operating in a phone booth but has clean hands and is constantly travelling at top speed, his ability to hit the scoreboard in recent weeks and turn 50/50 situations into forward thrusts a massive plus. Hayden Young’s piercing left boot can open up play through the middle of the ground or progress the ball beyond the defensive press, while Frederick’s speed and anticipation nullify any attacking notion a defender might have lest he be burnt in the blink of an eye. Erasmus the youngest of the group has wasted no time finding his feet at senior level, and while still very raw, has already shown indications he will be a long term star, and Chapman will have polled three times in the Mongrel Rising Star after four games, able to win the ball in the air or on the ground and has brilliant awareness.
A 42-16 result requires some discussion, but I viewed it a little differently than the voice of affirmation that it will likely be filed under by most pundits. In the first half, before the discrepancy grew really wide, I pondered if this was one of the better-umpired games I’ve watched this year. Umpires were paying holding the ball as per the stated guidelines loudly announced in the pre-season, and common sense was applied not to reward the player ducking into tackles. My first inclination was that this might be an outcome of a lesser stage than the searing spotlight of a stand-alone Thursday or Friday night game, perhaps releasing the umpires to relax and therefore adjudicate what they see rather than feel pressured to make the right call. I’ll keep that thought in the back of my mind as I watch more games throughout the year, but the other thought I had around the discrepancy, particularly on Saturday night was a result of the Giants very disciplined, to the point of sterile strategy.
What I witnessed was a frustrated playing list, locked into a gameplan that didn’t suit its individual talents lashing out rashly and often which was penalised by the umpires. The most visible such occasion was after the second superb Tom Green gaol in the third term to give the Giants the lead, Jake Riccardi let his ego get the better of him in some argy-bargy and gave away a soft free-kick after barrelling over his opponent. The resultant turnover in the centre of the ground was quickly swept forward for a goal, numerous other examples were present throughout the night, especially the newly introduced umpire abuse authority, while they were also unlucky on a few deliberate calls, but they seemed in line with precedent.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
The Giants are starting down a 1-3 win/loss tally at present and things don’t get any easier with an engagement against the premiers at the MCG followed by hosting the streaking Saints. A trip to Adelaide is followed by the Cats and the Blues in Canberra and Giants Stadium respectively. If form is to be followed, Leon Cameron may be holding a press conference on the 15th of May with his side 2-7 and basically out of contention for the finals.
Fremantle have made an impressive start to the year, but that 3-1 strike rate might be needed as they face the Bombers coming off their first win of the season, albeit unimpressively against the Crows, then Carlton and the Cats before games they’d expect to win against North and the Suns. Justin Longmuir would be targeting a minimum of six wins after nine matches at this stage.
And lastly, five quick ones symbolising the votes awarded to Will Brodie on a career-night:
The all-time Queen and David Bowie collaboration was more than just a gateway for Vanilla Ice to enter pop culture notoriety, now it also gives us scribes a nice little intro to place certain players under the microscope too. All Australian Michael Walters has struggled to recapture his best form in 2022 after a similarly down season in 2021, however, showed signs on Saturday night that he was regaining his best. Being far more involved with 20 disposals, easily his best in the four rounds to date, and a tally he only matched four times last year, Walters still had a propensity to exacerbate contact in an attempt to draw a free kick but pleasingly won his own ball often, with 12 of his touches being contested.
It might be exceedingly tough on two players with less than 20 games in their careers, but as first-round selections a certain level of output and development is expected. Xavier O’Halloran and Tanner Bruhn only collected 11 touches each in line with their season averages, but coaches and fans could rightly expect more, especially when compared to their contemporaries on the Dockers as outlined above who had such an influence on how the game was won. It would be simplistic to suggest their impact was minimised through the stagnant Giants ball movement, although that’s part of the problem. Bruhn disposes at an elite 82% efficiency, yet only averages 3 kicks per game, and 62% of his game time was spent behind the attacking wing, he needs to get forward of the ball and set up scoring opportunities. O’Halloran also spends more than half of his time defensively but did not provide any linking run to try to open up opportunities forward of centre. The game plan is no doubt a contributing factor, but the individual players need to also take responsibility to break the shackles when required.
While the stats don’t necessarily support this with the Giants coming out on top in tackles inside the forward fifty 12-9, the impact of small Freo forwards Travis Colyer and Sam Switkowski cannot be underestimated. Combining for 26 touches, three goals two behinds, ten tackles, eleven score involvements and four goal assists was an outstanding contribution from players not accustomed to dominating the stat sheet. The frenetic pressure standard commenced from the opening bounce as Freo caused an incredibly 13-1 forward intercept discrepancy in the first quarter, the two busy Docker forwards led the charge then and throughout the match.
Another Fox game, and another highly listenable affair with the understated Adam Papalia in the main calling position, just doing the job for which he is paid, calling the action. Opinion is left to Dermott Brereton, wo can suffer from an abundance of verbosity at times (as was I in year 12 economics class, howdy Mr Macauley, I bet you never imaged your sermons on Keynesian theory would lead to amateur sports reporting?) but is one of the best footy brains in the business able to clearly explain the intent of players in leading to outcomes. Matthew Pavlich and Gerard Healy completed the roster and both were insightful and knowledgeable on the teams and situation. Each has their flaws, but they don’t tend to make the call or commentary about them which is the biggest criticism of the 7 team.
While the creativity in the Giants coaches box might resemble Richie Benaud’s famed jacket palette selection, this skill gap isn’t apparent in all areas of the operation. The design company who have produced the Giants vibrant orange away strip with super liminal G alongside the charcoal home strip are to be applauded for easily the best guernsey in the competition, and perhaps in the game’s history. They may not always play like an AFL team, but they god damn certainly look like one! The Dockers meanwhile are no slouches to the fashion stakes either, their standard purple and white V’s a standout, but last night they paired it with their long-term association with the Star Light foundation, adding 19 yellow stars to the strip with stunning effect. Personally, I can’t think of anything better than purple & gold on a sports uniform, think the showtime Lakers, Oakleigh Cricket Club and Cadbury chocolate.
Stats, Stats, Stats:
The free-kick differential of 42-16 is the equal 16th highest* on record and the widest disparity since the 1982 Second Semi Final between Richmond (36) and Carlton (62).
Despite Fremantle’s relatively poor conversion, they excelled in their efficiency inside F50, recording a score on 54.9% of their entries, above their 50.7% season average. They also held the Giants to 35.6% of scores vs I50 well below their season average to date of 45.8%.
Fremantle’s seven running bounces was their highest of the year, and more than the game average all the way back to 2015. The 7-1 difference was indicative of the way the Dockers attempted to take the game on while the Giants were content to sit back and allow their opposition to turn it over.