It was a rough year on-field for the Giants, punctuated by an even rougher off-season from a list management perspective. Not Collingwood levels – if the Pies were midnight on the Doomsday Clock, the Giants were still sitting around 11.45. But it was enough to put a scare through fans and GWS employees alike, losing heavyweights in Jeremy Cameron and Zac Williams, plus deeply invested-into youngsters such as Caldwell, Hately and Corr. If backing up their whirlwind 2019 Grand Final appearance with a 10th-place finish in 2020 was the wound, having other clubs vulture the playing list was salt being forced into it for a young, but proud, club.
One of the catalysts behind GWS’s demise was limping into the season with too many wounded foot soldiers. The limping was literal for new Captain Coniglio, who not only had the end of his 2019 season ruined by a knee injury, but had his 2020 tainted in the form of a robbed pre-season. For Taranto it was more metaphorical, with the reigning Best & Fairest winner requiring a shoulder reconstruction on the eve of the season. Ward was never at his best following 2019’s ACL, Kelly kept popping up with persistent soft tissue niggles and even part-timer Toby Greene’s contributions were solely missed with hamstring issues of his own. When your club’s biggest strength is midfield dominance built upon the foundation of the creams of a decade of draft crops, removing that core identity naturally brings down the house of cards.
Coach Leon Cameron self-diagnosed GWS’s issues last year as a failure in ball movement (or, more accurately, the slowing down of it) after being one of the most electric coast-to-coast threats in 2019. The raw numbers back him up – the Giants ranked 1st in Kicks and 2nd in Marks in 2019 with their lightning-fast ball movement, but that dropped to 7th and 5th respectively last season. I’m just spitballing here, but the AFL’s new man-on-the-mark rule might actually work strongly in GWS’s favour by helping to sate this need for speed.
Ruck issues have always been the one chink in the Giants’ midfield armour, but 2020 took that to new levels. Adelaide import Sam Jacobs was supposed to solve that problem. But when Mumford – who has already retired once and racks up more Frees Against than Disposals on some days – is your preferred ruckman by season’s end, you know it’s still a serious issue, and Sauce retired accordingly. Preuss was this year’s creative solution after the Giants ranked 17th for hitouts in 2020, but that has already hit a massive snag with the big unit undergoing a shoulder reconstruction after a pre-season mishap.
Back to relying on the elite midfield again, then? Cool.
Cameron, Williams, Caldwell, Corr, Langdon [trades, free agency]
Jacobs, Sheridan [retired]
Hately, Shaw [delisted]
Hogan (FREM), Preuss (MEL).
The Giants often get their hair clipped by rival clubs in the trade and free agency period – which is an occupational hazard of stockpiling draft picks and elite talent – but this off-season was more like a buzz cut than a trim. Jeremy Cameron was their highest-paid player, Zac Williams and Aidan Corr left in their primes at 26 years old each and both Hately and Caldwell were highly-rated first-round draft picks out the door as soon as they contractually could. All gone in one fell swoop.
Throw in the retirement of Shaw on top of Williams and Corr and GWS’s back 6 will look slightly different in 2021, and therefore definitely an area of interest in DFS. More on that later.
Hogan is a low-risk and low-investment but very high-reward replacement for the outgoing Jeremy Cameron. If he can even begin to unlock the right headspace in his new non-AFL dominant state, the 89-point average he posted in his final year at Melbourne isn’t even his ceiling. A happy Hogan could do some serious damage, so fingers crossed. But if not, GWS still have three talented talls in Finlayson, Himmelberg and Riccardi they can lean on, even if none of that trio boast the star power of a Cameron or a Hogan.
#12 Tanner Bruhn – M – 72 avg from 2 games in 2019 NAB League
If not for an injury-ruined 2019 season for the Geelong Falcon and the 2020 season being subsequently wiped out by a global pandemic, I might have been writing about Bruhn in a DFS preview for a club with one of the top handful of picks instead. The Giants get a steal here with an inside midfielder with versatility and very few weaknesses – it’s just a shame that he’ll face the fate of so many promising young midfielders before him at GWS by being forced to bide his time behind an elite midfield core. The Giants have already hinted a couple of times this pre-season that he’ll push for a spot in the forward line in 2021, which is bittersweet for fantasy as we won’t see his full upside. Brent Daniels’ recent hamstring injury brings that debut one step closer to fruition.
#15 Conor Stone – F – 54 avg from 8 games in 2019 NAB League
Capable of being a midfielder further down the track, Stone joins Bruhn in forward line calculations for the Giants this year according to Forwards Coach Steve Johnson. Equally dangerous playing deep out of the square with his goal-smarts as a half forward with his elite endurance, Stone can fill whatever niche GWS is looking for in the front half this year. For DFS purposes, expect him to be more of an impact player than an accumulator if he gets his chance in 2021.
#18 Ryan Angwin – M – 44 avg from 11 games in 2019 NAB League
“Raw” is the word most often used to describe Angwin, a clever midfielder whose slim body shape will cast him as more of a wingman early in his career before he builds the muscle required to compete on the inside at the top level. While finishing 3rd in GWS’s post-Christmas 2km time trial highlights his strengths in the endurance side of the game, Angwin will be one to watch when the rest of his attributes catch up.
#58 Cameron Fleeton – D – 58 avg from 9 games in 2019 NAB League
Something of a Swiss Army knife as a defender, Fleeton’s versatility is his biggest strength. His best chance of seeing senior action this year is as a lockdown type because, despite the retirement of Shaw and Williams’ defection, Ash and Cumming are already there in the box seat to pick up the slack as creators.
#59 Jacob Wehr – D – 61 avg from 17 games in SANFL
From the fringe of the SANFL Reserves side to an AFL list in the space of 6 months, Wehr’s the definition of a draft bolter. Won a flag last year with Woodville-West Torrens as a designated user off half back, where his composure and precision left peg put him on GWS’s radar with the last pick in the draft. We have higher expectations than usual with mature-agers in fantasyland, and his DFS outlook is strong with an attacking role in store for him if he earns a debut. “If” being the key word, but we can hope.
For all their woes, the Giants were particularly tough to score against in fantasy last year, ranking 15th for AF conceded. That’s pretty typical of sides with dominant midfields for obvious reasons, as the Giants ranked 17th for Disposals conceded and clocked in as the toughest team for MID’s to score against in 2020. While the victims of tagger de Boer certainly play some part in that brutal DvP trend, the talent disparity is too much to overcome for most clubs between the arcs.
I was surprised to see that the Giants ranked as the 2nd-hardest for Key FWD’s to score against, especially with Sam Taylor out for the season and Phil Davis down for the second half of it. The maiden All-Australian berth for Nick Haynes is thoroughly deserved when looking through that lens, and the Giants loom as an even bigger threat to key forwards with the aforementioned duo fit and firing this pre-season.
On the flip side, the ruck is a massive target area against the Giants in 2021. They conceded the most (unadjusted) 100’s to RUC’s last year (as well as the previously mentioned 2nd-most hitouts), and that was with Jacobs and Mumford a year younger at the wheel. What kind of unspeakable damage will opposition rucks do to the uncapped Matthew Flynn, the poor kid suddenly thrust into the driver’s seat of GWS’s Ferrari of a midfield? Pray for him.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Stephen Coniglio
Didn’t get a proper run at it in 2020 with the lingering knee issue, but even the man himself has admitted to being disappointed by his output in his first year as skipper (which still a brisk 98 AF, implying just how lofty his standards are). That’s far from the narrative with Coniglio in GWS’s pre-season so far, between coming back early and having “not missed a beat” prior to his concussion in a practice match in early February.
Obviously Coniglio is heavily invested in getting back to his best (he averaged a career-high 110 AF in 2018), but so too are GWS, as every club wants their skipper leading from the front. So I expect a return to a mostly-midfield role for Cogs this year, who was forced to spend long periods of time up forward in 2020 with their jam-packed midfield group. Encouragingly, he averaged 102 when receiving at least a 50% CBA share, and that swelled to 114 when it was above 80%.
So if it looks like Cogs is ticking the boxes of a) back on the ball and b) fully fit, lock and load in DFS. Few boast his ceiling and have as many pathways – disposals, tackles, goals and any combination of – to get here as he does.
2. Jacob Hopper
I call it the Priddis Effect, a phenomenon that impacts many others in the league like Jarryd Lyons, Jed Anderson, Lachie Hunter, Cam Guthrie, Touk Miller, Ed Curnow and even Scott Pendlebury in fantasy – they aren’t “sexy” picks. Whether they’re not as gifted as actual footballers as they are as fantasy players or they’re simply overshadowed by spunkier teammates, this group of players are massively underrated in DFS. Constantly under-owned in relation to what the pure numbers suggest they should be, you can leverage exposures in these players to get a head start on the field.
Hopper falls under the “sexier teammates” sub-category. Not in the first handful of midfielders you’d reel off when talking about GWS’s onball division, some punters might be surprised to learn that he clocked more CBA’s than any other MID for the Giants last year, and that he averaged a hefty 101 AF when hitting his mean CBA share of 75% or better. Take advantage of Hopper’s low brand-name value by combining him with his bigger-name teammates in GWS stacks at a discounted price-tag.
3. Nick Haynes
We love players that follow DvP trends closely, and the Giants’ interceptor is very much in that category. In his games against the top 8 softest sides for General DEF’s, Haynes averaged a massive 104 AF (adjusted), compared to just 79 AF against the tougher half of the league.
Haynes scales heavily on marks, as you can imagine – he averaged an adjusted 110 AF when taking an unadjusted 8+ marks last year – so keep your eyes peeled for which teams are leaking easy +6 combos to backmen early in 2021 and pounce on Haynes when the wind is blowing just right.
4. Isaac Cumming
With Zac Williams and Heath Shaw erased from the depth chart, the vinegar strokes are over and it’s time for Cumming. The line-breaker and designated kicker served his apprenticeship in the NEAFL, averaging 89 and 98 in 2018-19 before being wiped out for the majority of last year with a hamstring tear. His Round 18 adjusted figures of 20 touches, 10 marks and 84 AF was a brief and bittersweet example of what we missed out from him off a half-back last year.
With the fantasy footy community externally and the GWS camp internally all singing the same tune on 2021 being a break-out for Cumming, smash him in DFS early and often before his price adjusts.
5. Matthew Flynn
Much like Matt Saracen in Friday Night Lights, the untried and unheralded Flynn has been thrust into the limelight with the responsibility for sparking his team’s offense. Preuss’ shoulder is cooked, Mumford is geriatric and Briggs is still in the rehab group, so QB3 becomes QB1 overnight. But what does this mean for DFS?
Offensively, he’s worth a look if the price is right, and that price should be basement as a debutant in his 6th-year. We love solo rucks in DFS because of the elevated floor with some semblance of guaranteed hitouts – Flynn’s 200cm, so we should be good there – and an 83-point average in the 2’s over the 2018-19 seasons as both ruckman and marking forward are encouraging numbers, NEAFL caveats included.
Defensively, however… it could get messy.
- Whitfield’s bung liver is a week-to-week proposition according to the Giants, which means no contested work until the internal bruising subsides – translated, he’s been all-but ruled out of pre-season action. He’s played all over the ground in the past couple of years, but all the messaging from the GWS camp has been consistent in Whitfield lining up on half-back this year.
- Ash is in the same sweet spot as Cumming, pushing hard to replace one of Shaw and Williams off half-back. He had to play a more lockdown role in his debut season where he averaged 55 AF, but was released somewhat towards the end of the year and that figure blossomed to 73 AF over his last 3 outings. Will be very popular early.
- Idun looks to be leading the race to fill Corr’s defensive post and can play against both big and small forwards. He’d have to keep club stalwart Reid out of the side for a gig in defence, so it’s far from settled. Has DFS upside in soft DEF match-ups where he’ll be able to outperform his price through easy +6 combos.
- Kelly returned from the off-season with a bang by winning the post-Christmas 2km time trial. The only thing stopping him from being the best player in the league is his body, and in fantasy that upside looks like the 116 AF points he averaged in 2019.
- Taranto won the pre-Christmas 2km time trial so the midfield group is super fit currently for the Giants. Averaged 113 from 22 games in 2019 and a shoulder reco last year was the only thing that stopped him improving on that again. GWS has hinted he’ll be a full-time inside midfielder this year, so I’m all in.
- Green is still behind a few in the inside pecking order, but will still increase his CBA share from last year’s 39% over 6 games. TOG is an issue at 66% last season, but averaging 92 in his last 2 games shows how quickly he can rack up. Value skyrockets if any of Hopper/Taranto/Coniglio miss with injury.
- Ward spent most of last season across half forward, especially in his last few with 15%, 0% and 0% CBA presence in those games. Who knows how that changes with a full pre-season under his belt, but he shouldn’t be getting inside time at the expense of any of the young core I mentioned above. Found it interesting that the GWS media team made the bold claim (deep, deep down on their club website) that he could be turned into a lockdown defender this year… stay tuned.
- The Giants changed their thinking mid-year with de Boer and his tagging duties. He swapped from a full-time tag with 70% CBA presence over his first 6 games, to doing it part-time on the spread from a HFF with just a 2% CBA share in his last 6. That freed up the midfielders to do midfield things – I expect we’ll see something like this again.
- Sounds like Greene has the keys to the forward line with Cameron moving on and Hogan’s impact an unknown for now. Save him for soft FWD match-ups in DFS, as he won’t get significant midfield time without a spate of injuries.
- Doesn’t sound like Leon Cameron is entertaining playing all of Hogan, Riccardi, Finlayson and Himmelberg in the same forward line this year, and rightly so. Race for the final spot comes down to the latter pair for mine.
- Shipley has been training as a wingman instead of a back flanker this year and is probably the next cab off the outside rank with Caldwell and Hately moving on and Whitfield shifting to defence. Finished 4th in GWS’s post-Christmas 2km time trial so he’s got the attributes for it.
- Can’t squeeze O’Halloran into the best 22 and he doesn’t have an easy path to his preferred inside midfield role. Will likely just be this year’s Caldwell/Hately, a talented midfielder bouncing between languishing in the revamped VFL and being played out of position in the AFL.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.