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Giants “army” is small on numbers but big on hope


GWS lost to Richmond in the wet at the MCG in round 18, but the Giants have genuine hope of a preliminary final reversal. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Giants “army” is small on numbers but big on hope

Luke Michael    

When Greater Western Sydney walks on to the hallowed turf of the MCG for its preliminary final clash with Richmond, the Giants will face perhaps the most one-sided crowd in AFL finals history.

With less than 3000 Giants supporters purchasing tickets, and 90,000-plus Richmond fans packing the stands, the Giants will feel the weight of support heavily against them.

GWS, with its bounty of first-round draft picks, lack of history and soulless veneer, will again play the villain versus this year’s fairytale side in Richmond. It’s becoming a recurring theme.

The Giants faced a similar situation this time last year, squaring off against the success-starved Western Bulldogs in the 2016 preliminary final. But while that was played at relatively homely Spotless Stadium with a capacity of only 24,000, on Saturday they’ll face easily the biggest crowd in their fledgling history.

GWS has said this won’t faze them. Former Tiger Brett Deledio claimed earlier this week his new team was “built for the MCG”.

“My advice would be get out there, soak it up, look around and get a feel for what the atmosphere is like,” he said. “Once the ball is bounced, forget it and listen to your teammates, because that’s all you can rely on out there.

“I’ve played there for 12 years, so know what the Tigers supporters are like. They’ll be yelling, screaming, no doubt about that, we look forward to that. This group really looks forward to playing in front of a huge crowd. We’ve got a lot of boys here who are built for the MCG.”

But despite Deledio’s claims, the Giants have not acclimatised well to the MCG, winning only one of their 11 matches at the venue, and that against a rebuilding Melbourne in 2014.

In fact, if any team is built for the MCG it’s the Tigers, who have a 10-2 record there this season, even their two losses by an aggregate of just 11 points. That includes a 19 point win over the Giants at the MCG in round 18 this year, in which GWS managed only three goals after half-time.

So how can they overcome all this to emerge victorious on Saturday?

Firstly, they will do well to make use of their speed and running power, exemplified by their star midfielders Dylan Shiel, Lachie Whitfield and Tom Scully, an asset Deledio highlighted this week.

“They’re great young players that thrive on the big stage, the big open spaces of the MCG, we’ve got some guys who can cover the ground. We’ll be looking to utilise that as one of our strengths,” he said.

GWS has run plenty of teams off their feet at Spotless, which has a width of 123 metres. Theoretically, they should thrive at the MCG, which is 146 metres wide. They’ll also need to heed the weather conditions on Saturday, with forecasts predicting a 60 per cent chance of showers and the risk of a thunderstorm.

It was a wet and windy day the last time these sides met in round 18, with the Giants unable to cope with Richmond’s pressure after rain began to fell at the beginning of the second term.

While for the Giants it was their only real test in rainy conditions this season, Richmond has proved itself a wet weather specialists. The Tigers have a 3-0 record in wet weather matches this year, the win over GWS following impressive MCG victories in the wet against West Coast and Melbourne.

While this doesn’t bode well for GWS’s chances, they can at least be comforted by some of their statistical dominance this season in stats usually vital to deciding wet weather contests.

Rain-filled matches are often dominated by stoppages, and it’s there the Giants should have the advantage.

They ranked first in the competition this season for clearance differentials, averaging 7.5 more clearances a game than their opponents (by way of comparison, Collingwood was ranked second at just 2.6 more clearances per game). The Tigers on the other hand, are ranked 11th, averaging 0.9 fewer clearances a game than their opponents.

The Giants also dominate Richmond in other key statistical areas like percentage of effective disposals, tackles, contested possessions and uncontested possessions.

What these stats can’t account for is Richmond’s manic forward pressure, which allows them to lock the ball inside their forward 50, a good reason the Tigers are ranked fourth for inside 50s differential this season, compared to the Giants’ ninth.

The Giants will also count on some of their experienced recruits, Heath Shaw and Steve Johnson, to offer some guidance on how best to play the MCG. Both were part of premiership teams on the ground, hopefully a counter to the lack of MCG experience of the majority of their teammates.

And then there is Deledio, who will run out for his 250th game in a preliminary final not with the Tigers, but against them.

The Giants have trained with blaring music this week, attempting to prepare for the cacophony of Richmond fans booing them at every opportunity. Deledio, the Giant most accustomed to the passion of the Tiger army, will confront this noise for the first time as an opponent, alongside teammates he has barely played with.

He knows GWS has the talent and game style which can beat Richmond on Saturday, but he’s also more aware the Giants will need to overcome a frenzied crowd, an unfamiliar ground and likely wet weather.

Victory for GWS would not only be momentous, it would be character-defining for the club.

If the Giants can walk off the ground early on Saturday evening victorious, they might have killed off the prospect of another potential fairytale premiership and broken Richmond fans’ hearts, but they will also surely have finally proved they have the mettle of a true AFL team.

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