Slowly, but surely here are the Giants In 2005, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou foreshadowed the arrival of a new team in Sydney. Much vitriol was hurled at the AFL Commission for the decision not just from Rugby League circles, but plenty of criticism was available from within. In just a few short weeks, seven years of planning will come to fruition as the Giants enter the AFL Premiership Season for the first time.
In 2006, it seemed such an extreme undertaking. The team was not a relocation, it was to be created from scratch. Based in Sydney, there was little in the way of underlying infrastructure and almost no perceptible community backing. With a Tasmanian bid being rejected in the process, many traditional AFL fans and administrators felt this was a birdge too far, and a senate inquiry found that the AFL had likely bitten off more than it could chew.
To assist with support, the AFL created the NSW scholarship scheme and increased funding to AFL programmes in the West of Sydney. It wasnt until 2008 that the AFL formally recognised that the club would be Greater Western Sydney, based at Blacktown.
The decision to create the team was unanimously approved by all AFL clubs. The AFL announced a budget of $200 million over 20 years for the new side, having learnt from previous mistakes with private ownership and poorly funded startup teams. Unlike other competitions, the AFL didnt require a bidding competition. It determined where the team was going and then sorted it out the administration from there. The team recieved support from the NSW government to upgrade the Blacktown Sports Park.
In 2009, the AFL delivered a masterstroke – multiple premiership coach, AFL innovator, and self generating publicity machine, Kevin Sheedy would take on the coaching role at GWS. If it wasnt bad enough inserting a team into the heart of rugby league territory, the AFL then encouraged Israel Folau to join the fledgling side in 2010 for what is widely reported to be worth $6 million over 4 seasons. This, along with other developments would only ensure the rise of a slew of “code war” articles in the Sydney press, as many an NRL figure declared the NRL needed to do more to fight the oncoming menace.
By November 2010 GWS had become the Giants and had announced Skoda as the major sponsor. The ACT Government announced a $23 million, ten year deal to play matches at Manuka. Canberra will be on the jumpper, and a separate jumper will be used for ACT matches.
Unlike the Gold Coast who spent their first year playing in the VFL, GWS would spend their first year in the newly eastablished NEAFL and Foxtel Cup competitions. There are some doubts as to whether this level of competition will provide adequate preparation for the forthcoming AFL season.
Finally, 2010 was closed out with the announcement that a $65 million redevelopment of the Sydney Showgrounds would take place, and the AFL would contribute $10 million. Stadium naming rights were sold to Skoda Australia.
2011 saw the Giants put through their paces at Blacktown in the Triangular matches against Sydney and Gold Coast at a sold out Blacktown. They were beaten soundly by the Swans, but enjoyed a much closer match against Gold Coast, but in the end the inexperienced side was bundled out in the first round.
The 2011 season saw the Giants compete in the NEAFL, which included matches against other AFL reserves teams from Sydney, Gold Coast and Brisbane. The Giants played other matches against clubs in the Eastern Division of the NEAFL. GWS placed 3rd in the conference behind the Swans reserves, and the ACT Tri-colours with 12 wins and 5 losses from 17 matches. Star recruit Israel Folau finished with 6 games after coming back from injury, where he kicked 7.1.
The 2011 season also saw the Giants compete in the Foxtel Cup featuring the top teams from the state leagues across the country. In their first round match at Manuka, the Northern Bullants (Carlton reserves) mercilessly flogged the hapless Giants by 89 points (almost 15 goals).
Due to the quality of the NEAFL competition – it is considered a third tier in Australian football (behind the AFL and the WAFL/SANFL/VFL) and the ease with which the Bullants thrashed them, there is cause for some concern that preparations might not have been adequate for the 2012 AFL Premiership Season.
At the end of 2011, the Greater Western Sydney founding memberships were listed as 12,198 – well over the 10,000 required by the AFL. The Telgraph reported that half of the memberships are believed to be from the ACT.
The year also saw the appointment of former Port Premiership coach Mark Williams to the coaching staff, and the firing of CEO Dale Holmes who lost the support of the board, particularly over the handling of the situation with Scully Snr, and for the Giants lacking all year round facilities.
The Giants were permitted 2 years to take uncontracted players, but like Gold Coast, were limited to one per team unless a deal was struck with the club. In the 2011 period Phil Davis (Adelaide), Callum Ward (bulldogs), Rhys Palmer (Fremantle), Tom Scully (Melbourne) and Sam Reid (Bulldogs) were taken as uncontracted players. Added to that recently retired players including James MCdonald (Melbourne), Chad Cornes (Port), Luke Power (Brisbane) and Dean Brogan (Port). In addition, they recruited Setanta Ohailpan in the draft to take the number of AFL experienced players to 10. These players were not involved at GWS prior to 2012. Its worth noting that GWS have another year to grab uncontracted players, and free agency kicks in at the end of 2012.
In addition the draft allowed them to take considerable numbers of the nations top Australian football talent.
To cap off 2011, The Daily Telegraph revealed that GWS Jumper sponsorships are worth $3 million in 2012 – before they’ve even played a game. Overall sponsorship is at more than $10 million. Local NRL clubs, and direct competitors for sponsor dollars, Penrith and Canberra were both revealed to be without major sponsors at the time. At present the Giants have 4,168 members, and are reported to be aiming for 17,000 this year. A target which many consider a trifle optimistic given Gold Coast ended up with 14,000 in their first year. The Telgraph reported that half of the memberships are believed to be from the ACT.
The Giants will open 2012 with a triangular series against the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood and Blacktown, before venturing down to play Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium, before finishing the NAB Cup at Albury against the Gold Coast Suns. The first real shot in anger will be fired a week before the rest of the season starts with an opening Sydney derby, when the Giants play the Swans at ANZ Stadium on March 24th. They will play a further 6 games at Skoda Stadium, 3 games at Manuka Oval in the ACT, and 1 game at Blacktown during the premiership season.
So we’ve got 2 months to see what hell the AFL hath wrought.