Giant strides yet to be made
Giants fans cheer their team on during its AFL debut. Photo: Getty Images
GREATER Western Sydney made a respectable start. Well, it didn't get flogged.
Kevin Sheedy's new team began with a 10-goal loss to Sydney on a soft deck at Homebush that may well have helped its cause. Swan Josh Kennedy, medallist for best-afield, said while the margin looked wide ''it didn't really feel like it''.
The relentless Swans did what they needed to, grinding down the younger team in close. They were 10 goals up at three-quarter-time and here was a flashpoint. Sheedy's pre-game message ''don't allow yourself to be dominated'' must have hit home. GWS won the last quarter, preventing the blowout that the AFL must have feared. Sheedy at least knows he has a team that is not inclined to lay down.
Heading in the right direction? Many pundits expect Folau, unlike Karmichael Hunt, to return to rugby league once his first Giants contract is completed. Photo: Getty Images
Everyone knows the GWS experiment is going to take time, just as Israel Folau will not be any overnight sensation. Folau's performance - he had just one kick and a couple of other involvements - raised eyebrows because of his high profile, but realistically it does not much matter if he actually plays well.
His primary purpose is to give the game a try and, in the meantime, draw some interest in the new club. He's already doing that and if he in fact makes a decent player sometime, it would be a bonus for the AFL.
A few weeks ago the former league superstar played a woeful first half in a pre-season game in Launceston, looking lost and barely interested. Then, perhaps chastened or embarrassed, he promptly ripped down three contested marks after half-time. For the next week, the television shows kept replaying those grabs as though Folau had turned some sort of corner.
But he is miles from being an AFL player. As Luke Darcy said on Saturday night, the code may well lose him in the end.
The season-opener was won with midfield grunt, which Sydney has in spades. But the key forwards were interesting. At one end Folau was obliterated by Ted Richards; down the other end Sam Reid climbed to take a superb mark to emphasise his talent.
Reid is an interesting case. Many observers have jumped aboard his bandwagon this year, seeing a 20-year-old with a remarkably natural marking style, drawing comparisons with a young Nick Riewoldt.
But Reid is a flawed jewel; he misses too many set shots, including one from point-blank range on Saturday night. Coincidentally it is the same affliction that sent his elder brother Ben from key forward to key defence at Collingwood, where he won all-Australian honours.
He is also too young to be carrying the load he is toting at Sydney, where he is the only primary forward marking target. He will draw the best big defender, and I'm mindful of Dermott Brereton's notion that opponents will soon deny him the unfettered run at the ball in the air that he loves.
Reid needs help, and John Longmire needs more forward options for the Swans to be a contender. Fourteen goals against a team that will surely finish on the bottom is not enough.
The other talking point on Saturday was James McDonald's heavy bump on Luke Parker in the first quarter. It won plaudits from the commentators for a statement of intent by the new club, but in the current environment, it may cost the veteran when the Match Review Panel slows down the footage today.
It looked a perfect bump down the middle and the collision was inevitable, but Parker could not be tackled because he did not have the ball, which was bobbling nearby. McDonald, a scrupulously fair player over many years, tucked his shoulder and braced himself.
But there are two problems for McDonald. On a look at the vision yesterday, the Giants' player goes past the football to hit Parker. The MRP may not like that, nor the fact Parker was substituted out of the game later with what Longmire called ''a sore head''.
In a delightful irony, the former Melbourne skipper was a member of the MRP last year. He will be judged by his peers of 2011.
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