The Big Questions – GWS 2023 Season Preview

I haven’t quite been able to get my head wrapped around the GWS Giants for a couple of seasons, now.

I mean, there is no way they should have been as poor as they were in 2022 – it just doesn’t make sense. The former coach, Leon Cameron got a lot of the blame. You know the old story, right – keys to the Ferrari… can’t drive it? Yep, that got old pretty quickly. So, they moved him on and when Mark McVeigh took on the role, he was left absolutely beside himself, to the point where he could only name about seven or eight blokes who put in after their loss to the Swans.

I haven’t seen a coach so disappointed in his charges as McVeigh that day. It was like he was coaching a team that didn’t want to play.

That’s not a coaching issue – that is something else, entirely.

But what is it?

I am sure this is a question new coach, Adam Kingsley, has pondered this preseason, as he takes control of a team that is STILL brimming with elite talent, but has under-delivered since the “big, big sound” of 2019 was silenced on Grand Final day.

Where is this team at? Where are the players at, individually? And can they turn some pretty concerning form around and start looking like a team that reflects the level of talent they have on their books?

And if not, where to next?

That’s what we’re here to find out.

It’s that time of year, already.

Christmas and New Year are now disappearing in the rearview mirror, it is time to get serious. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff is well underway. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2023, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.

This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.

We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.

The way it works is as follows.

Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.

You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.

And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to the Giants in 2023.

 

* Just before we start – I had a couple of GWS supporters message me over the off-season saying they’d like to become members but the media (I suppose meaning me in this case?) does not cover their team enough. Well, if you read this, like it, and would like to see more of it, jump on – I am largely guided by the number of supporters we have for each team. I’m sad to say that in 2021/22 GWS had the smallest number of supporters on our site. I’d like to support you guys and write more about your team, but it goes both ways. Cheers – HB.

 

HOW DO THE HOPPER/TARANTO ABSENCES HURT THIS SIDE?

Okay, please be aware that this is not a cheap shot at either bloke, at all. Not in the slightest – but when I ask the question as to how much their absence will hurt the team, I find myself shaking my head.

It won’t hurt them. Not now, anyway.

Looking at the league as a whole, there were two teams that could afford to lose high-end talent in the midfield following the 2022 season. One was the Western Bulldogs, and the other was the GWS Giants.

Forget the Dogs for a while – they have their own preview. Let’s take a look at the quality remaining in this GWS on-ball department.

Josh Kelly – The Rolls Royce, they call him. Can play inside or outside (I prefer him on the outside – he is a killer out there) and runs all day.

Tom Green – Already looks like one of the cleanest players in the league. Great hands, excellent vision, and finds plenty of it.

Lachie Ash – Has played negating roles, but could be unleashed as a standalone mid with the departure of the duo above.

Stephen Coniglio – Bounced back strongly in 2022 after struggling in 2020/21. A classy player who can sneak forward and punish teams.

Callan Ward – Heart and soul player. Never, ever takes a backward step and can match it at the coalface wiith anyone.

Then you have Toby Greene, who can pinch-hit in the middle, and Finn Callaghan, who will probably slot into a wing role… the Giants are not lacking for talent, at all. When you consider that Hopper was a non-entity in 2022, and Taranto looked like he had one foot out the door at times, this could very well be an “addition by subtraction” kind of scenario.

Yes, I know it is difficult to find high-end talent year upon year, but GWS seem to do it, and even losing a kid like Tanner Bruhn (he was never going to stay after he made his cat’s bum face on draft night) is not a blow big enough to reduce the overall quality of this midfield cohort.

Of course, injury may play a big part in proving that statement wrong, but really, you can apply that to any team. At face value, the Giants can still match it with anyone in the guts.

 

HAS THE DEFENSIVE TRANSITION OF KEY COMPONENTS BEEN CLOSE TO PERFECT?

If you jump into the Mongrel Time Machine with me and head back to 2019, you land at a time when the defensive pillars of the GWS Giants were named Phil Davis and Nick Haynes, and they were a strong, decisive pair of backmen who controlled the air, as well as their opponents.

I have vivid memories of watching Haynes rise through the ranks to become an All-Australian defender. Meanwhile, you had Phil Davis as the leader of the club and one f the few men able to nullify the great Buddy Franklin.

They ruled the roost in the back half for GWS, but as time ticks by and bodies start to fail us, we all need to make way for those coming through next. And that is exactly what these two have done. Whilst still maintaining their place in the team (when fit), the torch of being the first two defenders in the GWS side has been passed to Sam Taylor and Isaac Cumming, and man… they are running with it!

In 2022, Taylor emerged as the premier young key defender in the game. Taking on all comers, his attack on the contest was second to none, and his competitive spirit saw him make some incredible spoils when all seemed lost in a contest. That he could make the AA team with the Giants finishing in 13th place speaks volumes about how highly he is regarded in AFL circles and, besides, had he not been in the team, I may have staged a one-man riot outside AFL House.

Taylor finished second behind James Sicily in our 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Award, and at just 23 years of age, has plenty more development to come.

As for Cumming, he has matured into an excellent intercept/rebound option for the Giants. Knowing right when to peel off his opponent to aid his fellow defenders, he notched career-high numbers in disposals (23.5 per game) and led the team in rebounds (6.7). The latter number was good enough for sixth overall in the league.

Whilst most retain a soft spot for Phil Davis and Nick Haynes, it is clear that they have willingly stepped to the side to allow the new blood at GWS their time to shine, and in doing so, have set a wonderful example for them when their time to move aside approaches.

For all the flak GWS have copped, this transition from one pair of excellent defenders to their heir apparents has been absolutely first-class, and both the club and the players involved deserve a lot of credit for the maturity, patience, and team-first attitude they’ve displayed.

 

WHAT HAVE THE GIANTS FOUND IN TOBY BEDFORD?

They may have found one of the league’s best-kept secrets.

When you’re playing behind one of the best small forwards in the game, you’re only going to get limited opportunity. When that small forward rarely misses a game, those opportunities become even more scarce.

And that is the position Toby Bedford found himself in last season, stuck in the rotation behind Kysaiah Pickett, who may very well be in the top couple of small forwards in the game by the time the 2023 season finishes.

Sure, Bedford lined up in 16 games in 2022, but you cannot look at his stats and use them as a guide – he was the substitute an incredible ten times, and spent eight of those games on the bench for the entire game. Yes, the lazier ones amongst us would look at that as a pretty nice way to earn a living, but the competitive ones… it would eat away at them.

And I get the feeling Bedford is a competitive one.

He knew he had no option but to leave Melbourne and look for opportunity elsewhere, and he will get just that at GWS.

If hard work and endurance are a factor in getting him selected, Bedford will have little issue, having taken out the Giants’ most recent time trial. He has always been an elite runner, often placing in the top handful of the same lung-busting exercise at Melbourne, but you get the feeling he has something to prove this season, and he has picked the right club to make his mark.

With Bobby Hill finally moving on out, it leaves the door wide open for a crafty, elusive small man to make an impact. Bedford’s run and willingness to do the hard yards will see him form a valuable one-two punch with Brent Daniels, health permitting, and give GWS something they sorely missed last season – a presence when the ball hit the deck.

You think about it for a second – Daniels was gone for the year. Hill was being treated for testicular cancer. Who the hell else did GWS have at the fall of the ball? Toby Greene was always handy, but he was also acting as a marking target – he cannot be everything, no matter how good he is!

No, the Giants were wise to grab Bedford, and Bedford was wise to be grabbed by them. This is a big win for GWS, but as with most news about this club, you won’t hear about it until he scoots past 20 goals for the season and people start commenting on how Bedford has had a good year. Remember where you heard it first – he is primed for a good one.

 

WHAT DOES A FIT BRENT DANIELS ADD TO THIS TEAM?

He’s never spoken about outside of GWS fans, but his all-heart game style was one of the real drivers of the Giants’ 2019 finals run. His little legs pumping as he rumbled down through half forward, he wasn’t quite an excitement machine… but he wasn’t far away from being labelled as such.

After being restricted to 13 games in 2021, Daniels injured his foot in the 2022 preseason (Lisfranc fracture) and spent the entire season on the sidelines battling hamstring injuries, which had to frustrate him endlessly, particularly with the dearth of small forwards in the GWS lineup.

Can he gets back in 2023? And what does his role look like?

As covered above, the addition of Toby Bedford allows the Giants to be a little more expansive in their forward setup this season. Daniels loves to get on his bike, but given the tank of Bedford, we may find Brent playing a little closer to goal, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Daniels loves working up the ground but has never been a huge goal scorer. With just 22 across his 62 outings, a huge increase will be required if he is to give the Giants value for money inside 50. Given that, will it be Bedford that roams a little closer to goal, giving Daniels the room to operate?

Bedford seems more of a natural in front of goal, with nine goals from his 18 games (remembering that he spent so many games as the sub… I hate that stupid rule). If he does occupy the pocket, Daniels can use his creative and deceptively good bodywork to create between half-forward and the wing.

So, what does a successful season look like for Daniels?

20 games, for starters. He can accomplish this – he played all 26 games in 2019.

If he is playing higher up the ground, you’d want to see his numbers continually closer to 20 touches per game than ten. In 2021, he had five of his 13 games with 15+ disposals. You’d prefer that number to be a lot more this season.

In terms of goals, I am not too sure you can ask him to start doing something he has never looked like doing, but if he can get to around half a goal per game, I’d consider that a win, particularly as he kicked just two goals from his 13 outings in 2021.

I like Daniels – he is a bloody hard worker. If his body is able to stand up, he will make a significant difference to this team, but if we’re using history as our guide… the last three seasons don’t instil a lot of hope.

 

HARRY HIMMELBERG – DEFENCE OR FORWARD?

One of the inspired moves from Mark McVeigh was the redeployment of Harry Himmelberg from the role of second or third forward to defensive sweeper. After the initial success, this was the move that caused Leon Cameron to jokingly message McVeigh and ask how long he had that move tucked up his sleeve!

The numbers tell us that Double-H averaged a career-high 4.32 rebound fifties per contest last year, but those numbers don’t take into account that he played nine games as a forward.

So, if we subtract those games, we get a better reflection as to how potent he was in the role.

Over his 13 games playing as a defender, Himmelberg averaged 7.3 R50s per game. Know where that puts him in the league?

I had to look it up, as well. It places him third overall, behind only Steven May and James Sicily.

Does Adam Kingsley dare move him away from the back half to try him as a forward again in 2023? Why would he?

I’ve often heard Dermott Brereton comment about Himmelberg, stating that he was playing the role of a marking forward with the skill set of a half-forward flanker. He’s right – Double H is not a big mark clunker. He is good on the lead, will contest, but he can go several games without dragging down a contested grab. If you’re going to move him back inside attacking 50, you’ve got to have the right supports around him to allow him to play his natural game.

I’m not sure GWS have that in place. Not yet, anyway.

Kingsley has seen how successful clubs operate. He would know full well that you don’t need to attempt something that is not broken. With Himmelberg excelling in his new role in 2022, he should continue in the same capacity in 2023, and if the Giants can get one last gasp out of the Haynes/Davis pair to support Taylor/Cumming, Himmelberg’s presence becomes an absolute luxury.

With HH coming out of contract after this season and heading into Restricted Free Agency, finding a spot where he is content to play footy and produce at a high level will be something the Giants need to get right.

 

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