There is an aura of déjà vu about this weekend’s matchup between the GWS Giants and the Western Bulldogs. Both teams play exciting brands of footy, both have been cursed with injuries, and both took part in one of the greatest preliminary finals in 2016 – against each other. The circumstances were quite similar, the aura of déjà vu that besets us, but the circumstances are also quite different. After all, three years is a long time in footy and a lot has changed since. Let’s discuss these changes.
The most obvious changes that happen in footy are player changes. Trades, free agency, delistings, retirements. It’s all happened since these two last met in the finals.
The Bulldogs have by far experienced the greatest change in their list compared to the Giants. If we look at their lineup back in 2016 they’ve lost a number of players to all of those factors – a big change for a Premiership side. Joel Hamling, Jordan Roughead, Jake Stringer all moved to different clubs in the years since, while Dale Morris, Tom Boyd, Matthew Boyd, Clay Smith – who played the game of his life that day, Liam Picken and Shane Biggs all retired afterwards. That is among other list changes. A stark contrast falls upon their lineup going into Saturday’s game, versus their lineup from 2016 that beat GWS on their way to a miracle flag.
GWS on the other hand haven’t been as ravaged as the Bulldogs in their list changes, but still there has been a shakeup. The most notable is Dylan Shiel, who was traded to Essendon at the end of 2018, following a long and protracted trade saga, where he was one of the AFL’s most sought after targets. Nathan Wilson, Devon Smith, Rory Lobb and Tom Scully also have made moves elsewhere since this final, while co-captain Callan Ward will not play this weekend after another ACL injury. Shane Mumford retired then subsequently unretired and Jonathon Patton is out after a third ACL injury and is likely to be on the move to Hawthorn in the trade period.
It’s clear to see that both teams look largely different this time around, however nothing has been as drastic as the Bulldogs. This team going into the finals is starkly different from the team that won the flag only three years ago. The Giants on the other hand, have kept their core relatively intact, including securing superstars Josh Kelly and Stephen Coniglio to contracts at the club.
The Western Bulldogs have yet to return to the finals since their Premiership in 2016, and only secured their spot this year on the back of a ridiculous lift in form in the back half of the season, becoming the highest scoring side in the AFL over the last two months. They enter the finals in scary form and are even the favourites to beat the Giants in Sydney, just like in that Prelim.
GWS have managed to make the finals in each year since this initial matchup but have fallen short of the flag that many had expected them to have won by now. They made the Prelims again in 2017 but were soundly defeated by a high-flying Richmond side who also went on to glory, while Collingwood gave them the business in 2018 in the semi-finals, after the Giants injuries and poor form took a toll on the team. This year in contrast to the Bulldogs, the Giants have somewhat stumbled into the finals, finishing a paltry sixth and missing out on a top four spot for the first time since 2015. In fact, during this poor run of form GWS were handily defeated by 61 points against the Bulldogs on their home ground. They’d hope to redeem themselves now when it matters most.
It will be a difficult matchup to call, but all signs point to a repeat of 2016’s result. The Bulldog’s finished seventh on the ladder in 2016 and now in 2019, playing a fast-paced, ‘manic pressure’ style that we have come to associate with Luke Beveridge’s outfit. They have arguably the best midfield trio in the comp in the form of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Josh Dunkley, and are a team all others should fear.
As for the Giants, they seem to lack that which makes Premiers – the intangibles. They’ve lost far too many key players too injury and their form has not been the greatest to close off the season. They do have the Coleman medallist in Jeremy Cameron, who will prove a handful for the Doggies, but this has been the weakest Giants side we’ve seen in a long time. It’ll be a cracking match, one that we all cannot wait to tune in to.