Sport AFL The AFL Big Sticks: After slump, GWS counting blessings
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The AFL Big Sticks: After slump, GWS counting blessings

AFL elimination final GWS Giants and Sydney Swans
Back into the fray: Giant Stephen Coniglio. Photo: Getty
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Greater Western Sydney has had a topsy turvy year, with injuries and at times indifferent form making it hard to assess how far Leon Cameron’s team could go in the AFL finals.

But after the Giants secured a home elimination final with Saturday’s 72-point AFL win over Gold Coast, Cameron expects several big names to be back for the match against the Western Bulldogs.

Cameron believes Toby Greene (calf), Stephen Coniglio (knee), Jacob Hopper (hamstring), Brett Deledio (calf) and Nick Haynes (larynx) are all likely to push for selection.

Some may pick up crucial match fitness in the reserves next weekend, but Cameron said he was wary about pitching in all his returning players for the clash.

Final chance? It’s been an up and down season for the Giants. Photo: Getty

The Giants faced a similar problem last year when Greene, Deledio, Zac Williams and Matt de Boer returned from injury to play a role in a 49-point rout of crosstown rivals Sydney in an elimination final.

Cameron said he would draw on that experience in determining just who returns for this year’s final.

“No doubt, out of those names, two or three of those guys, or four guys are going to be putting up their hand,” Cameron said.

“We’ve just got to make sure we make that right call like we did last year.”

Dew takes lessons from wooden spoon year

For Gold Coast, 2019 started with three wins in four matches and ended poorly, but coach Stuart Dew is taking some positives from the wooden spoon experience.

The Suns suffered 18 straight defeats, including the 72-point thrashing from GWS on Saturday, but Dew is adamant it doesn’t tell the real story.

“A lot of the guys have had career-best years – some may argue comparing to what – but a lot of them we’re comparing to their second or third years,” Dew said.

The Suns celebrate an early season win after overcoming Fremantle. Photo: Getty

“They’re starting to get going … Darcy Macpherson’s gone from a forward pocket NEAFL player to an AFL player. Jack (Lukosius) and Ben (King) obviously their first year and Charlie Ballard is a second-year player.

“There’s so much there on an individual level. Now the work’s ahead of us to get that synergy, make sure we can keep that group playing as much football together as possible.

“We knew at the start of the year the win-loss may not be a true reflection of where we’re at.

“All our job is – the club and the players – is understanding where have we made our gains and how that’s going to hold us in good stead.”

The emergence of King as a promising key forward option was one area that Dew emphasised.

While the Giants’ Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron was stealing the headlines for the opposition in his 150th match, 18-year-old King booted three goals for the Suns to take his tally to 17 majors from 14 appearances in his debut season.

“Kingy, since he’s come in, he’s presented really well … he works really hard,” Dew said.

“It was Jeremy’s 150th tonight and I think Kingy’s in about his 13th. I look forward to seeing his journey from where he’s at to 150 and beyond.”

Ratten says skills should be next coach’s focus

St Kilda caretaker coach Brett Ratten has warned hIs AFL club must improve its skill levels, irrespective of whether he gets the job on a permanent basis.

The Saints finished 3-3 under Ratten, ending their 2019 season with a 9-13 record after a 45-point loss to Sydney at the SCG.

Ratten lamented a host of skill errors and missed scoring opportunities.

“I thought we left the season with just a little sour taste in our mouth because of the way we used the footy,” Ratten said.

Smiles all round for the Saints’ interim coach Brett Ratten. Photo: Getty 

“Our skill level is not at the level that’s needed and that’s something that is going to have to change, whether I’m the coach or not.

“Because if we don’t improve in that space, players can’t play here and we have to get players that can develop and improve in that space, or we have to recruit them to come into our footy club.”

He suggested the trade period would be important and the Saints could develop quicker than expected with the addition of the right talent.

He also expects to learn in the next seven to 10 days whether he gets appointed as full-time coach.

”A decision will be made, good, bad or indifferent,” Ratten said.

I’ll have to put my tail between my legs or I’ll have a big smile on my face. But I’ve really enjoyed the six weeks and the spirit of the football club and what I hopefully look forward to is the opportunity.

“We haven’t played brilliant footy this year and we’ve still won nine games. We had a lot of players out and went through a lot of adversity, so there is some upside to this team and that’s exciting.”

Attendances still on the up

The AFL has broken its attendance record for the third straight year.

Sunday’s crowd at the MCG for the Richmond-Brisbane game took the season total to 6,894,771, with the Sunday twilight game at Adelaide Oval between Port Adelaide and Fremantle to come.

It tops last year’s regular season total of 6,894,770, while the 2017 figure was 6,732,601

with AAP