Giants' season review: Glimpses shown as youngsters take charge

INJURIES slowed Greater Western Sydney's shift to a running, attacking game style under new coach Cam Bernasconi, but there were glimpses of what its evolving list is capable of. 

After consistently being the oldest list in the competition, it was young players like Alyce Parker, Tarni Evans and Georgia Garnett who took charge this season, in an exciting turn for Giants fans. 

Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the 18 AFLW teams' seasons in reverse ladder order.

Alyce Parker in action in Greater Western Sydney's S7 round 10 clash with Gold Coast at Henson Park. Picture: Getty Images

Head coach: Cam Bernasconi 

Leadership group: Alicia Eva (captain), Alyce Parker (vice-captain), Nicola Barr, Pepa Randall, Chloe Dalton 

Ladder position: 11th, four wins and six losses, 63.1% 

Debutants: Zarlie Goldsworthy, Meghan Gaffney, Madison Brazendale, Cambridge McCormick, Tess Cattle, Grace Hill 

Milestones: Alicia Eva (50 games), Cora Staunton (50 games, 50 goals), Jodie Hicks (25 games) 

Rising Star nominations: Emily Pease (round six), Tarni Evans (round eight) 

Retirements: Tanya Hetherington, Brid Stack

Tanya Hetherington is chaired off following her final AFLW match in 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Best team performance 

Coming off a 47-point loss to eventual grand finalist Brisbane, the Giants steeled themselves for the first ever AFLW Sydney derby against the Swans. With a potency in attack rarely seen from GWS, the side piled on a club record 65 points on the way to the biggest win in Giants history.

Not only did they get the ball inside 50 34 times, but they also generated a scoring shot from 67.6 per cent of those entries to register a club best 23 shots on goal. Long-time Giants Nicola Barr and Cora Staunton each kicked two goals, as did young talent Zarlie Goldsworthy in her debut performance.

The way GWS played against Sydney was the encapsulation of new coach Cam Bernasconi's running, attacking game style, and while they weren't quite able to execute that more consistently throughout the season, it was an example of the potential in the group. 

AFLW S7 Highlights: Sydney v GWS

05:53 Sep 10. 2022. 5:08 PM

The Swans and Giants clash in round three of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance 

In the Giants' round six win over Carlton, it was 21-year-old Georgia Garnett who showed just what she is made of. With 17 disposals, 321 metres gained, six inside 50s and four score involvements to her name, Garnett also took 12 marks – the third-most of any player in AFLW history. 

Garnett moved really well around the ground ball inside 50 and was repeatedly used as a conduit between teammates thanks to her quick thinking and clean hands. When she wasn't deep in attack, she was leading high up the ground to be an aerial target and link into the forward line. 

Rightly earning the maximum 10 coaches' votes and three competition best and fairest votes, it was Garnett's best game in what proved to be a breakout season.

Georgia Garnett kicks the ball during Greater Western Sydney's clash against Hawthorn in round eight, S7, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Most improved 

Once again, Georgia Garnett was far and away the Giants' biggest improver across the course of the season. After going to coach Cam Bernasconi during the pre-season to request a move from defence into attack, she has paid that trust back in spades. 

Garnett kicked six goals from an average 11.6 disposals, 2.1 inside 50s and three score involvements, while also leading the competition for marks with 58. It is not just her aerial ability, however, that makes her so dangerous. Her elite ball use makes the Giants a more impressive prospect ahead of the ball, going at a disposal efficiency of 72.1 per cent throughout the season.

Garnett only needs a second to slot classy opener

00:34 Sep 17. 2022. 11:32 AM

Georgia Garnett kicks the first goal of the match

Star recruit 

A familiar face at GWS, Jodie Hicks' return was one of the more impressive comebacks in AFLW. Drafted with pick five in 2017, Hicks lost her love for the sport and gave it away in 2021. Rediscovering her passion for footy in the local leagues, she was redrafted to this new era of the Giants with pick 82 with the plan to become a small defender instead of the forward role she was previously known for. 

Hicks played every game of the season in that new role and excelled, averaging 12.6 disposals, 3.2 tackles and 3.2 intercepts and polled her first ever coaches' votes, with 10 for the season across four separate games. 

Jodie Hicks during GWS's match against Collingwood in 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Unsung hero 

Drafted out of Launceston with pick 75, Madison Brazendale's impact on the Giants this season has been somewhat undersold. Playing every game, Brazendale gave GWS a drive and dash out of defence that has been largely absent in recent seasons. 

While not gathering huge numbers, averaging 9.8 disposals, 2.9 intercepts and 1.3 score involvements, Brazendale offered a real point of difference to the side and played into the new quick, running style of play the Giants were looking to achieve. 

Madison Brazendale in action during Greater Western Sydney's clash against Richmond in round nine, S7, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

What went well 

With a new coach on board, GWS was looking to refresh and one way of achieving that was by moving some players into new roles. Aforementioned pair Georgia Garnett and Jodie Hicks both fit that category, and did so with great effect, while continuing to use Nicola Barr up forward and – until she was struck down with a foot injury – Tait Mackrill as an inside midfielder. 

Another part of this refresh was list turnover. For several seasons the Giants have had the oldest list in the competition, but this season they skewed young and gave experience to that youth. Getting games into new faces Madison Brazendale, Tess Cattle, Meghan Gaffney and Zarlie Goldsworthy while also enjoying consistent games from Tarni Evans, Emily Pease, Brodee Mowbray, and Garnett was valuable not only this season, but was also an investment in the future of the club. 

Barr dances her way to ripping major

00:46 Oct 23. 2022. 4:49 PM

Nicola Barr slots a cool running goal after a classy baulk

What needs improvement 

Something that has plagued GWS for a number of seasons now is an inability to find a consistent mindset from the first round, right until the final game. Too often the Giants will incur a big loss – their 96-point loss to Adelaide in round five being the clearest example of this – only to bounce back with strength the following week. This yo-yoing throughout a season is not conducive to success, and finding a way to break this inconsistent mentality will do more for the club than any one player recruitment could. 

Outside of this, the heavy reliance on Alyce Parker still exists. Newly elevated to vice-captain, Parker is still just 22 years old and has had to do much of the heavy lifting around the ball. While injuries were partly to blame this season – Mackrill was looking promising at the contest and Bec Beeson wasn't able to get on the park at all due to concussion – finding more spread through that tough midfield role is something the Giants will no doubt be looking at. 

Dejected GWS players leave the ground after their round five loss to Adelaide at Wigan Oval on September 25, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Off-season focus 

Bolstering a defensive line that has now lost reliable key defender Tanya Hetherington through retirement is likely the first port of call, to prevent strong rebounders like Tarni Evans from being trapped in tighter lockdown roles.  

Elsewhere on the ground, solidifying their tall contingent will be important, but that will largely be achieved by getting Jess Allan, Fleur Davies and Isabel Huntington back from injury and inactivity.