From the grandstand: Baby Giants were never ready for big boys

8 March 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

Remember your first day of high school? Remember that nervous and uneasy feeling before you entered the school’s premises?

You didn’t know what kind of work to expect in class. You had no idea where any of the classrooms were. More importantly, you were desperate to impress the cool kids at lunchtime so you didn’t finish your first day as a year seven student headfirst in the dumpster.

Scary, right?

However the school and its teachers – it’s hoped – did their best to ensure your first day was just as enjoyable as your last. They gave you directions to your next class, played down the work you’d cover in class and assured you the other school kids weren’t as bad as they seemed.

But unlike the school and its teachers, the AFL has not treated its newest team with the same amount of care.

The 2011 NAB Cup will be remembered as Greater Western Sydney’s embarrassing inauguration into the AFL. The club was unfairly forced into a position it was clearly ill-equipped for.

You won’t see anyone affiliated with the club complain about the situation. But surely even they know in their own hearts that the team should never have been welcomed into a highly-professional league at such an early stage in the club’s history.

The Giants, a team full of skinny under 19 kids, have lost all their preseason games so far – comprehensively too. The combined losing margin from their four matches equalled 334 points – that’s 84 points per game.

Two of those matches took place in the first round of the NAB Cup, where a game ran for 40 minutes instead of a standard 120-minute match. It could’ve been much worse.

Perhaps GWS’ most humiliating performance was its 157-point thrashing at the hands of Carlton just over a week ago.

While eight teams battled for a semi-final place in the NAB Cup, Carlton travelled up to Canberra to take on the young Giants in a NAB Challenge practice game. What transpired bordered on the line between awkward and ridiculous.

Ponder these stats – the Blues had 66 forward 50 entries to GWS’ paltry 16. They also collected a whopping 50 clearances to 18.

It doesn’t get any easier to absorb.

The Blues accumulated 131 more kicks, 198 more disposals and 78 more marks than their lacklustre opponents.

Glenn Luff from Champion Data – the AFL’s official stats carrier – claimed he had never seen a game where stats were so heavily weighted to one team.

Certain television programs – like the AFL Footy Show – often benefit greatly from negative publicity. The media always pounces on a controversial moment in an attempt to cause a public ruckus, but inadvertently encourage more people to tune in.

But in the case of the Giants, bad publicity is bad publicity.

This club already has an incredibly difficult task – to build a successful franchise in a Rugby League heartland. Surely if the AFL wanted the Giants to have a strong following when they officially enter the competition next year, they needed to begin with strong performances that would impress the people of Western Sydney.

Now, 334 losing points later, all the AFL has done is shamed a vulnerable club and wasted the time of some of the more established clubs.

Yes, the experience of playing against the best players in the land would’ve been a huge thrill for the Giants’ youngsters. Yes, the team’s matches have exposed the sport to Sydneysiders and gained a further 500 club members during the past fortnight.

But the wellbeing of the more well-known AFL clubs has been totally ignored.

Heading into the home-and-away season, teams want competitive practice matches – not walkovers.

In fact, after seeing Sydney and Carlton demolish the uncompetitive Giants in the past few weeks, Port Adelaide requested the AFL cancel its match against them this Saturday night at Willaston. The Power pointed out to the AFL it would rather play a team from the SANFL then face the Giants. The match will still go ahead.

So why did the AFL expose the Giants so early?


There is no better man in the country to sell and coach the Giants than Kevin Sheedy. He is the ultimate mastermind when it comes to advertising the AFL product and there’s no doubt he can build a successful club.

But even a man of Sheedy’s calibre and knowledge can’t cover this one up. Stats and scoreboards don’t lie and it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn if other AFL clubs feel the same way as the Power.

The decision to include GWS in this year’s preseason matches wasn’t to even up the numbers in an odd numbered competition. The AFL could’ve easily found another solution if they wanted to.

Like Israel Folau’s recruitment from the NRL, it was a marketing-focused decision. Now the AFL must admit it has failed and wasted the time of a number of parties.

The AFL introduced the Giants at their weakest and most underprepared state. That’s not how you should be treated on your first day.

Ben Waterworth is a third year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s sports editor. This piece is part of his weekly sports column, ‘From the Grandstand‘.