Club by club preview: 12th – GWS Giants

Premiership Odds: $21 (via TopSport)

Prediction: 12th

The talent is there in Western Sydney, but question marks remain over their coach, Leon Cameron, and the direction the club is heading in.

The Giants were on track to be the first expansion side to make the finals last season but fell away terribly deep into the season and finished an underwhelming 11th.

In 2016, a jump from the bottom six to top six is unlikely, but a full season for the likes of Shiel, Whitfield, Cameron and Patton should ensure they improve somewhat on last season despite no variation in ladder position.

Some big clubs will be finishing just above the Giants, so based on the brutality and competitiveness of the league, they shouldn’t really see this as a failure, more so preparation for a push at finals the following year.

Key Ins:

Steve Johnson, Dawson Simpson, Jacob Hopper, Matthew Kennedy, Sam Reid, Daniel Lloyd

Key Outs:

Tomas Bugg, Curtly Hampton, Jed Lamb, Andrew Philips, Lachie Plowman, Adam Treloar, Jacob Townsend

Key Player: Callan Ward

The Giants co-captain is fast establishing himself as one of the league’s most fearless leaders after producing another solid 2015.

He averaged 25.3 disposals, 5.2 tackles and 11.5 kicks per game throughout last year playing a total of 22 games and will be looking to improve on this form heading into the new season.

Ward forms part of a midfield that has the potential to be devastating at its best, with the likes of Dylan Shiel, Stephen Coniglio and Shane Mumford.

Ward finished third in the club’s best and fairest last season behind the departing Treloar and eventual winner Heath Shaw. With Steve Johnson joining the ranks, Ward has experienced players to play off, with Mumford, Davis and Shaw ensuring the young Giants can move forward.

Rising Star: Jacob Hopper

This is the kid being compared with none other than Patrick Dangerfield.

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Jacob Hopper, a country lad from Riverina town Leeton is drawing comparisons to the newly turned Cat.

Hopper captained the NSW-ACT Rams in the national championships and finished the carnival rated ‘elite’ for SuperCoach points, contested possessions, metres gained, clearances, goals and score involvements, as well as above average for disposals per 100 minutes.

Dangerfield finished with the same ratings in those categories at seasons end last year. Hopper is a tough, classy midfielder with a ready-made AFL frame, a big presence around stoppages and the ability to hit the scoreboard.

The first-year player is pushing hard for round 1 selection and was one of the better players in a club simulation last week, starring with his clearance work and ability to feed the ball out via hand from congested situations.

Giants fans can only dream that Hopper will turn out to be another Dangerfield.

Under the Pump: Rhys Palmer

Ever since making his move to GWS in 2012, Palmer has been a bag of inconsistency, but in 2015 his form declined badly.

Palmer’s averages dropped to 15 disposals, nine kicks, five handballs, three marks, two tackles and one goal per game last season, and with the Giants’ list filled with young talent, there may not be a spot left for Palmer if he continues to struggle for form in 2016.

Palmer hasn’t had the goal-kicking impact the Giants thought he would when he signed from Fremantle, only managing 18 goals last season, and in 2016 he must pick up his game, otherwise he could find himself looking for another club.

Weakness: Medium-sized forwards

Cameron and Patton have fought injury but remain among the most talented young forwards in the game, comparing favourably to any pair in the league based purely on what they might become.

However, the Giants are weak in terms of medium-sized forwards. They recruited Johnson in the off-season and he’ll offer them invaluable experience as well as goal, but may be managed throughout the year.

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Cam McCarthy seems set on a move back home to Perth and no one knows currently where he’s head is at and may not produce his best form.

It puts a lot of pressure on the aforementioned Cameron and Patton as well as the small forwards, and with both of those players injury prone, GWS may struggle to find alternative avenues to goal.

Strength: Backline

They’ve got the experience with Shaw, Patfull and co-captain Phil Davis and they’ll be surrounded by youngsters such as Kennedy and Buntine.

GWS will look to improve on poor rebound 50 performances last season, with Shaw the only player to rank in the top 60 for that particular stat.

However, the Giants ranked mid-table for points conceded, a vast improvement on the team that regularly leaked record scores in their former years.

If their backline leaders can stay fit, then the pressure is lifted off their younger defenders, giving them the chance to develop into key position defenders.

What is the fixture like: Good

Hawthorn, West Coast, Collingwood and Carlton all visit the Giants in 2016, and indication they’re becoming more commercially viable.

They double up against North Melbourne and Fremantle and have just five 6-day breaks, leaving little room for complaint.

A first month in which they play Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney and Port Adelaide gives them as good a chance as any team in the league to fly out of the gates and gain some momentum.

Best 22

B: Nick Haynes, Joel Patfull, Adam Kennedy

HB: Heath Shaw, Phil Davis, Matt Buntine

C: Ryan Griffin, Dylan Shiel, Stephen Coniglio

HF: Steve Johnson, Jeremy Cameron, Devon Smith

F: Josh Kelly, Jonathan Patton, Cam McCarthy

R: Shane Mumford, Callan Ward, Toby Greene

I: Lachie Whitfield, Rhys Palmer, Tom Scully, Aidan Corr

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