Here it is: Shane Mumford is out for the season. When he went down against Collingwood in round 11 with an ankle injury requiring reconstruction, GWS lost the cornerstone of their success in the first half of the year.
Mumford’s average of 38 hitouts a game – 39% to advantage – has been crucial to unleashing the Giants’ midfielders such as Dylan Shiel and Devon Smith, who have in turn fuelled their newfound attacking style of play that has seen them beat a host of other September-worthy teams.
They who who thrived on Mumford’s work around the ground will find it harder to establish the chemistry – and space around the ground – working off GWS’ inexperienced reserve ruckmen, most recently Rory Lobb (two career games).
Co-captain Phil Davis departed in the same match for the same reason, meaning the league’s youngest team just got even younger: they will have a tough time reaching the finals after laying the groundwork earlier this year.
This doesn’t necessarily mean their season is over, however. And it definitely doesn’t detract from their amazing first half of the year. Let’s look at that now the elephant has been acknowledged…
The year to date
St Kilda, Melbourne and Gold Coast in three of the first four rounds is an easy run for a good AFL team, and GWS proved themselves as just that with wins of nine, 45 and 66 points respectively.
But it wasn’t until round six, after they overran Hawthorn with five last quarter goals and held on to beat the reigning premiers by 10 points, that we started seeing the Giants as finals contenders for the first time.
The Giants’ strengths shone through in the best game in their short history. Adam Treloar, Smith and Shiel won plenty in the middle working off Mumford, co-captain Callan Ward led from the front and spearhead Jeremy Cameron kicked a career-high seven goals.
Convincing wins against finals contenders Adelaide and then lowly Brisbane in rounds eight and 10 respectively helped cement their position on the ladder, but losses to Collingwood and North in their last two matches have seen them out of the top eight for the first time this year.
As mentioned, Shane Mumford’s work around the stoppages coupled with the pace of GWS’ developing midfield has made it hard to stop them out of the middle in 2015, with the Giants the side with the least tackles laid on them up to round 13.
Leadership has been another revelation contributing to GWS’ success. Co-captain Callan Ward has led from the front with his hard-running and tackling pressure, while creative playmakers Treloar and Shiel continue to thrive at AFL level. The young Giants clearly have talent, but now also have role models from which to learn how to spread this talent over four quarters.
Cam McCarthy has been a revelation up forward too, kicking 29.9 in 12 games and ensuring GWS’s forward line can still fire if Cameron is well-curtailed.
GWS have consistently let themselves down this year with their accuracy in front of goal. Going at an average of 46 per cent shot conversion, it has meant the scoreboard either hasn’t completely reflected GWS’s dominance in some of its important wins this year, or has cost them dearly in certain stages of games throughout the year.
Bad goalkicking can sap team enthusiasm if left unchecked, and their haul of 12.18 in round three arguably cost them the game against Sydney.
GWS’ marquee signings have also left something to be desired in their output. Having arrived from the Bulldogs, Ryan Griffen has yet to realise the game-breaking form of his older club, which is surprising given his playing style is so well-suited to the hard-running and skilful disposal GWS has displayed this year.
Former number one draft pick Jon Patton is also yet to play this year, and you suspect we’re still yet to see a full-strength GWS forward line in his absence.
Where to from here?
Injuries make it hard to predict how the Giants will handle part two of 2015.
If they can maintain their form, then they have a draw of ebbs and flows. Giant-killers (no pun intended) Richmond followed by games against top four sides (Sydney and Fremantle), cellar-dwellers (Gold Coast, Carlton) and fellow finals contenders (Geelong, Port Adelaide) await the Giants if they are to cement their spot in the top eight come September.
If they win only half these games, given their percentage, they could seal their inaugural finals berth. However, given their last two results without Mumford, GWS could still drop off the pace and force Leon Cameron to address his side’s lack of depth come season’s end.