The Giants fell short of what looked like a guaranteed spot in the grand final
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GWS took a massive step forward in 2016, falling short of a maiden grand final appearance because of a one-goal loss to the eventual premiers. Their qualifying final win over Sydney was the best in the club's short history – they smashed their more experienced opponents with brutal, bruising footy – but the year threw up a few other contenders, including a 75-point dismantling of Hawthorn in which they recorded their highest score at AFL level.
Steve Johnson delivered for his new club, kicking 43 goals, but his suspension in that impressive finals win over the Swans should be one of his bigger footballing regrets. Stephen Coniglio, Rory Lobb, Josh Kelly and Toby Greene all had stellar seasons, the latter rewarded with an All Australian guernsey alongside defender Heath Shaw.
It was just three years ago that the Giants registered only one win for the season, having lost their first 18 games. In 2016 they finished fourth on the ladder and won 16 games and a final – a stunning rise. Though lapses in skill and discipline cost them at crucial times, their best football was as good as any rival, and anything less than a grand final appearance next year would have to be seen as a failure.
Six games that shaped GWS's season
Round 2: GWS 13.11 (89) d Geelong 11.10 (76)
The Giants put their disappointing opening-round loss to Melbourne behind them as they outplayed the Cats for their first AFL win over Geelong. A sold-out Manuka Oval saw the Cats kick a goal in the opening minute before the GWS took control, smashing their opponents around the clearances. Johnson kicked two goals and was among the Giants' best, Shane Mumford was an imposing presence for GWS (his legal hit on Mitch Duncan forced the Geelong midfielder from the ground with concussion) and Ryan Griffen was busy while limiting the influence of Cats recruit Patrick Dangerfield. Geelong came hard late in the game, kicking five unanswered goals either side of the final break, but the Giants stood tall – hero Griffen kicked the sealer – to record one of the club's best victories to date.
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Round 6: GWS 24.14 (158) d Hawthorn 12.11 (83)
Leon Cameron's side smashed Port Adelaide by 86 points in round four, their score of 22.19 (151) their highest since joining the competition in 2012. That record lasted all of two weeks as the Giants kicked 24.14 (158) in this blistering takedown of the reigning premiers, which included an opening term of seven goals to two. It was the biggest score against the Hawks in a decade. Johnson, who gave Hawthorn fans nightmares as a Geelong player, had five goals to his name by half-time, and he was ably supported by fast-rising tall Lobb, who kicked four majors and pulled in eight contested marks. The late withdrawal of Griffen was not felt by GWS, who had winners all over the ground. They led the disposal count by almost 100, with Shaw superb in defence and Coniglio excellent on both sides of the ball as he limited Sam Mitchell. The 75-point demolition stamped the Giants as a genuine premiership threat.
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Round 12: GWS 15.15 (105) d Sydney (9.9 (63)
In their 100th AFL game the Giants claimed another big scalp, knocking off their crosstown rivals for just the second time in 10 attempts. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for GWS – they had gone down in hard-fought encounters against top-eight sides Adelaide and Geelong – and kept the Swans from taking top spot on the ladder. The win was set up with a dynamic burst in the second and third quarters. After Sydney kicked a goal to level the scores at 23 apiece, the Giants kicked seven of the next eight goals to blow the game apart. Shaw was again sensational in defence, Greene kicked four goals and Josh Kelly and Callan Ward were instrumental in GWS's midfield dominance.
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Round 21: West Coast 14.13 (97) d GWS 14.12 (96)
The Giants were on the wrong end of one of the most remarkable finishes of the season as a Nic Naitanui snap in the final seconds got the Eagles over the line by a point. Another dominant performance – though one marred by some costly skill errors and lapses in discipline – saw GWS leading at every change, but three successive goals to West Coast levelled the scores in the last quarter. Lobb's fourth goal, with less than two minutes remaining, looked like the sealer, before a Josh Hill point and that sensational Naitanui snap buried the Giants.
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Qualifying final: GWS 12.19 (91) d Sydney 7.13 (55)
In this brutal and bruising encounter it was the Giants who appeared the seasoned September specialists and the Swans the nervous finals debutants overwhelmed by their more experienced opponents. GWS marched off to their first preliminary final on the back of some ferocious footy that rattled Sydney, who were overwhelmed by the Giants' fierce tackling and explosive ball movement. Johnson would cop a one-match ban for his high hit on Swans opponent Josh Kennedy, who was forced from the field for a concussion test. Shane Mumford crunched Kurt Tippett in a tackle that left the Swans ruckman seeing stars. After a tight first half, GWS forward Jeremy Cameron blew the game open in the third quarter with a thrilling three-goal burst in five minutes. The Giants' midfielders were mighty: Coniglio and Lachie Whitfield, not long removed from a year-old drugs story being broken, ran tirelessly all day, with Kelly, Tom Scully and Greene also playing large roles in this famous win.
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Preliminary final: Bulldogs 13.11 (89) d GWS 12.11 (83)
The Giants could not defend a 14-point last-quarter lead as they fell to the surging Dogs – the eventual 2016 premiers – in one of all all-time great finals. Lobb and Greene were again magnificent, kicking three goals each, while Jonathon Patton was outstanding with four majors. Jeremy Cameron, however, so important in GWS's win over Sydney, struggled, while an accidental knee to the head of co-captain Callan Ward hurt the Giants badly as he was forced off in the second quarter. The Bulldogs started the game with more purpose than GWS, who were initially kept in it by the Dogs' inability to convert their dominance of general play to the scoreboard. But things went up a notch in the second quarter as the Giants started to win more of the ball, and the lead changed four times. The game seemed to be there for the Giants' taking in the third after they kicked three in a row – including a monster from outside 50 by Shaw – but it was the Bulldogs who were able to dig deepest in the thrilling final quarter.
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Can GWS go one better in 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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