On paper, making the trip to GIANTS Stadium would seem to be a likely Giants win. They head into this with three wins in a row, while the Hawks are coming in off repeated 50+ point losses since their bye. Can the young Hawks find a way to combat the Giants or will the orange tsunami continue a late charge towards the finals? Here’s how things played out.
It may seem weird, given what I’m about to reflect on, that a Giants midfielder (Stephen Coniglio) was arguably best on ground. The Hawks were +15 for clearances (41-26) and +11 with centre clearances (17-6). The Hawks midfielders, and their high half-forwards were very good at impacting the stoppages, and then spreading from there. This is a really good base that Sam Mitchell and his team can build upon. It also led to the Hawks being +19 in disposals and +12 in contested possessions. Reading all of this, you might be inclined to think that the Hawks had a pretty good win; that’s where stats can lie.
While the Hawks did dominate around the ball, this didn’t lead to good field position and multiple moments of repeat entries. The Giants were +5 for inside 50’s, but, and this is more telling, were +12 (17-5) for marks inside 50. The orange tsunami swept from defensive 50, running in waves, and capitalising on their ability to move the ball quickly while operating with synergy with their forward line.
The Hawks, in creating extra bodies at the contest and trying to press the field, were often caught too high up the ground. This enabled the Giants forwards to run back into open space and the ball users to kick over the Hawks zone, giving them some great looks at goal.
You want to be strong at the contest and around the ball, that’s important. The next step is making that count through forward pressure (locking the ball in your forward half) and good forward craft.
The Benefit of Forward Craft
I place the caveat on this that the Hawks forwards are young – especially with no Luke Breust today. And you could tell. Their midfielders were very good all day, and while they were able to manufacture a handful of goals directly from centre bounces, beyond that, they didn’t look threatening.
There were times when the run and carry from defense had opened up the game for the Hawks, but, as the kick went to space, it was the Giants defenders who were reading the play quicker and better than the Hawks forwards. On numerous occasions the Hawks forwards seemed either lost or were second to the ball. Perhaps, this is because of some over-possessing via handball from the Hawks, it could also be some of the kicks going forward being errant, but even from the centre bounces, it seemed that the only way they’d score goals was a lucky bounce or a crumb off a pack – no clear leads to space.
The good thing is, the number of opportunities that the Hawks were creating. However, as the game went on, they started kicking long down the line with less change of angles, allowing Sam Taylor and Harry Himmelberg ease in intercept marking.
Mitch Lewis has a great set of hands, and Fergus Greene seems to read the ball off packs well. They need to learn each other’s leading patterns, but also find ways to get into dangerous space more, meaning that on the rebound, the Hawks can capitalise on field position and clearance dominance.
The Hawks could benefit from trying to lure an experienced key forward to the club in the off season. They need someone who can organise the space up forward, and guide the players in their leading patterns and in reading the play as it unfolds.
From the Viewing Gallery
Playing to the whistle is very important. In the early stages of the opening term, the ball was heading out of bounds inside the Hawks forward 50. Some of the Giants eased off in chasing the ball, but Chad Wingard stayed focused, tapping the ball back to Dylan Moore, who finished from the pocket. Great presence of mind from The Chad.
I haven’t seen a lot of Jack Buckley play, but I can say that I’m very impressed. Many times in today’s game he impacted the contest, and then followed up his spoil by collecting the loose ball, using it well, and staying involved in the play. Rebounding defenders like these are worth their weight in gold.
Congratulations to Denver Grainger-Barrass in kicking his first career goal today. The defender hasn’t found consistency at the top flight in his preferred position, but after a great outing in the VFL, he was swung forward today. Even if he ends up as a key defender long-term, spending some time up forward will be great for his development.
Stephen Coniglio had a monster game, and kicked goals at key moments. He started strong with 13 disposals and two goals in the opening quarter, including some fancy footwork to soccer it from midair from a forward 50 throw in. He’s having a great year, and is reminding the AFL world of his ability.
Owning the moments are really important in close contests. Unfortunately for Will Day, he didn’t take his two opportunities in the final term. The Hawks were coming, and Day first won a free kick close to goal. Rather than taking his time, he rushed his snap (a drop punt would have sufficed) from close range. He got a second chance from straight in front about a minute later, but pushed that wide as well, leading to the Giants inevitably going forward and converting, that being the final nail. Day is already getting close to superstar territory. Hopefully, he can learn from this and find that composure and finishing as his career goes.
Kieran Briggs is developing into a serious ruckman. He was everywhere today, and you can see him grow in confidence through every game – even taking on more nimble players on the mark, successfully. As the Giants push towards finals, Briggs will be a big reason influencing how far they go, as he comes up against more seasoned ruckmen.
It was an entertaining game at GIANTS Stadium, as the boys from Greater Western Sydney withstood the challenge of a gallant Hawks outfit. There’s lots to like for both sides as they grow under new management and develop their young players. The Giants take the four points and those in the top eight will be hearing a big, big sound from the west of the town as the knock on the door of the eight. The Hawks can re-group and look for their fifth win of the season against North next Sunday, while the Giants head to Adelaide Oval to take on the Crows in what should be, as WWE Superstar Sheamus would say, a BANGER on Saturday Night, with top eight ramifications.
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