Josh Kelly is trending up and has some hired help in Ward, Scully, Shiels and Mumford. Among wreckage of 10 players on the injury list, guys like Taranto and Perryman have plugged up deep holes. Toby Greene, Jeremy Cameron and Zak Williams are transforming into unstoppable headaches for opposition teams. At 9-2, the Giants are (finally) starting to deliver on great expectations.
In 2011, the year the Giants entered the AFL, football manager Graeme Allan predicteda Greater Western Sydney flag in 2015 or '16. Although they made the 2016 Preliminary Final, Allan's flag premonition is still yet to materialize. But there's something about their 2017 season that might have believers feeling like this is could be the year.
There's still a lot that can happen but for their first time since their inaugural season, the Giants look ready to land their first real knock out punch much like how the Power claimed their first trophy in 2004. Josh Kelly and his squad are sitting on top of the AFL at 9-2. The Giants have won nine of their past 10 matches against reasonable opposition claiming Bulldogs and Power as two prized scalps.
But, let's remember what we were all thinking when the Giants lost by 56-pts to the Crows at the Adelaide Oval in the season opener: when are the Giants ever going to be premiership-good? Critics, who tipped the Giants to win the 2017 premiership, abandoned ship. The Roar said the Giants are likely to sink to the bottom this year. Former Roo great and Triple M commentator Wayne Carey said, "Every side in the AFL would have beaten the Giants, the way they've played today." It wasn't who they lost to, it's how they lost and how they lost told a story of disengagement. The good news: that form was a blip. Since then they've only recorded more loss and they appear to have ample room to improve; they're not blowing sides away, but they show glimpses where they can pile on goals quickly in the span of 10 minutes.
For an expansion team like the Giants, winning a flag or becoming prime football real estate was never meant to happen overnight. The AFL planned it this way, for them to peak now, for them to grow into the team they've become. And if anyone has been paying close attention to the Giants, the past three seasons have indicated to the AFL they were coming: in 2014 they went 6-16; in 2015 they claimed an 11-11 record; and last year they qualified for the Preliminary Final on the back of a 16-6 season. And in 2017? This part is yet to be determined on how far they can go.
The genuine concerns I had with the Giants most years – developing list, inability to win big games, struggled to win away from home – are still some of the things on my mind for the 2017 Giants. On top of that, the 2017 season could have taken on a rather different complexion. The Giants have won four of their nine games by eight points or less; they could have been 5-6 sitting in 12 th on the ladder. Even their wins are questionable. They've played some average opponents: six out of the 11 games are teams struggling outside the eight, plus the Tigers and Eagles who have showed us indifferent form. But if we're locking down baseline facts, the Giants have a 9-2 record and they've beaten the Bulldogs, Power and the Eagles in Perth. If you look at the Tigers, who lost four close games in a row, their loses highlighted that good teams have certain traits needed to win those hard-fought games. The Giants seem to be have found that unquantified skill.
Josh Kelly, the nine-million dollar man, is 22 and averaging more touches per game than ever before in his career with 29.4, ranked 16 th in the league, operating at the same output as Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Dustin Martin. Kelly is in his break out season where he most elite players make their leap from serviceable and potential-laden to game changer. Kelly will only get better as the year progresses, but he's certainly a key cog in the 2017 Premiership plans so much so, the Giants can't have Kelly drop off or fade in form: his output is too great. Consider this: he tops the Giants in disposals, tackles (73), uncontested touches (199), Inside 50s (50) (he's also second for contested ball with 130). Now that he's become the club's greatest asset, he needs to continue to operate at his peak, in their new reality, if the Giants want to continue to get first use of the ball and continue to win games.
One player that could provide that x-factor come finals, is Steve Johnson, who has missed three games with injury. The silky forward has kicked more than 500 goals in his career, but sits on 8.8 this year. Last year he kicked 43.26, playing a small forward role in 22 games. If anything, what this year tells us is that Stevie J is not invincible and he's closer to his final game of football than not. If I were Leon Cameron and the Giants made the Grand Final, history tells us that you play a guy like Stevie J who will bring experience but also an elusive capability: the Hawks had Stuart Dew; and The Lions had Ackermanis. If Stevie J fails, Zak Williams will be just as exciting and perhaps the Giants are already grooming Williams to become the new Stevie J.
Without listing about a dozen players who deserve mentioning, Toby Greene, Jeremy Cameron, Heath Shaw and Shane Mumford are as good as it gets; they'd be walk up starts at any other club in the AFL.
The Giants have been dealt a cruel blow with their injury crisis that turned out to be not so bad. Sure, teams get injuries, but the scale and quality of injuries that hit the Giants doesn't seem to have knee capped them which is a scary thought. Some of the casualties included: Kennedy who was ruled out for the season and has kicked two goals in seven games; new recruit and former Tiger Brett Deledio who could be slowly going the way of Daniel Wells and is listed as "TBC" because of his calf. Ryan Griffen is just up out for three months with an ankle. And Devon Smith has another four weeks to sort out his knee. But because of these critical outs, the Giants have been able to throw new rookies and cusp players into the frying pan to analyze their value, readiness and their survival under pressure. It's hard to compute their outs but it's also harder to understand how thee replacements have been able to execute day in, day out. Names like Tim Taranto, Jacob Hooper, Will Setterfield and Harry Perryman have been appearing on team sheets and exceeding expectations.
The AFL competition this year, has been harder to predict than any other season I can recall. I wrote about that for VICE and still feel no games are locked in wins or losses and that, underdogs are every chance at taking down a large scalp. That makes the Giants' wins even more satisfying, knowing that anyone could win from anywhere on the ladder. And what they're doing, is working. If you had of asked me a few weeks who the 2017 flag would be won by, I would have said the Crows or Bulldogs. Then there's the Cats who are defying rebuild logic and have shown us a mixture of flat spots and exciting wins. But through all of the speculation the Giants have managed to stay inconspicuous and relatively small-time aside from the odd Toby Greene antic, but well and truly flying-under-the-radar. And it's working for them, all of it, because they've finally realized they are now living through their premiership window and are now capable of delivering a flag.