Lynch: Tigers investment about to pay off
When GWS hung on to defeat Collingwood in their pulsating preliminary final to advance to their breakthrough grand final, the initial thoughts of many footy fans would have been - this is exactly what the AFL didn't want.
There is no doubt a Richmond-Collingwood grand final match-up would have been one for the ages, not to mention the massive financial windfall two traditional Victorian clubs would deliver.
But it didn't take long to realise GWS' first appearance on the final Saturday in September has provided some legitimacy to the AFL's bold expansion plans of 2011 and 2012, a move that still has scores of critics across the country.
Poor crowds in western Sydney, even when the Giants are going well, and the ongoing struggles of the Suns has made the league's expansion plans an easy target for criticism, especially when nine years on the competition is still funding the experiment.
But Queenslanders will know from experience that even through Brisbane had played in multiple finals series in 1990s, it was the Lions' premierships of the early 2000s that truly cemented the club here in the Sunshine State.
Western Sydney is a vastly different environment in that doesn't boast the numbers of expat Victorians that Queensland has, and there is a long way to go before the Giants can stand on their own two feet financially.
But a premiership will work wonders.
Expansion has always been about the long game. The Giants and Suns were never expected to instantly convert lifelong adult fans of the rugby codes to our game, but to win the hearts and minds of their kids.
If the Giants can take a premiership cup back to Sydney with them this weekend you could expect a huge boost to Auskick enrolments the following year.
Unfortunately, it would also increase the pressure on the Suns, who are a year older and had what was supposedly the easier task of gaining traction on the Gold Coast, which has a pretty strong history in our game and has had a monopoly on the QAFL premierships for years now.
However, GWS' success this season and Brisbane's for that matter, also provide proof of what can be achieved with the right decisions.
Which is why although I'm tipping a Richmond win on Saturday, part of me can't help but hope for a Giants win.
Here's where I think the game will be decided.
HOW THEY WANT TO PLAY
They are the ultimate system-based side. Sides have found this year they have managed to gain the ascendancy in a key area of the game only to find the Tigers' system grind them down. It happened to Brisbane twice. The Tigers will give you a chance but you won't get two. Geelong found that in the preliminary final when they failed to make the most of their opportunities when momentum was in their favour in the second term. The Tigers don't dominate the stoppages but they win it back across half back from opposition kicks better than anyone, then deploying what looks like a basketball three-man weave up the ground with handball before surging it into their attack where their big forwards always provide a contest.
It doesn't really matter which one, because they are so interchangeable, but they need one of their big forwards to have a strong game. Tom Lynch was the difference in the preliminary final and I think he is the man. It is not a common occurrence for key forwards to be kicking big numbers of goals in a grand final but under the pressure only a premiership decider can bring, you need someone who can take a big contested mark to take the pressure off.
Who comes in for Jack Graham? Jack Ross and Kamdyn McIntosh were rested from the VFL grand final signalling they are the two obvious candidates for selection with the seven-gamer Ross most likely after last playing in round 22. Then there is Marlion Pickett. Could the Tigers take the ultimate gamble and give the 27 year old mid-season draft pick-up an AFL debut in a grand final after being best on ground in the VFL last week?
WHO THEY MUST STOP
Toby Greene is the Giants most important player because he wins the ball, sets up so much of their offence and also kicks goals himself.
GWS are one of the best clearance teams in the competition and the Tigers must be sure they don't give them too many opportunities to use the ball well into their forward 50.
HOW THEY WANT TO PLAY
They are so good at winning the footy at the source and that gives them the confidence to be more selective with their ball use moving forward. There has been a change during the finals to be prepared to use the ball slower and straighter out of their back half. Rather than the typical play on and switch that we've seen for a majority of the season.
Their kicks inside 50 will be critical. They need their class to stand up to the pressure of grand final day and I think they are capable of doing that. They are mostly elite kids who appear to have been built for this type of occasion. Along with the different defensive half ball movement the Giants have lifted their intensity at the ball and the opposition compared to late in the home and away season. They singled out Bontempelli and Neale in their first two finals and it worked. They may target Prestia this week.
Zac Williams was swung into the midfield with Whitfield and Greene out and starred. I think he has to stay there. He has that speed that can break a game open. GWS will win the footy but their ability to break away from stoppages will be important and Williams can be so damaging in that situation. People accept that Dustin Martin doesn't defend well out of stoppages so that is an area GWS can potentially exploit.
The doctor has a big day ahead of him. He has got to make calls on the availability of Lachie Whitfield coming off surgery to his appendix, and skipper Phil Davis who is also beaten up and was forced to play forward against the Pies. Can they carry them all into a grand final?
WHO THEY MUST STOP
Dustin Martin. He had a quiet start against Brisbane when he was well held in the midfield only to go forward and tear the game apart. Matt De Boer can do the job in the middle with his discipline to stick to his task and not ball watch but they have a headache when Martin goes forward.
Their strength is the big marking forwards but if they are well held, it can become a major problem because the Tigers can surge so well via smaller rebounding defenders.