Leon Cameron predicted there would be a response from Greater Western Sydney after their limp, lifeless loss to Fremantle. It came as forecast on Sunday – but the four points did not, as a fresh spate of injuries darkened an already grim season.
The Giants seemed to have vengeance on their minds against Melbourne, asserting themselves with a watered-down version of the wanton physicality that propelled them to an AFL grand final two years ago.
It was enough to put them in the game at Manuka Oval in Canberra. But then injury claimed defensive lynchpin Phil Davis and captain Stephen Coniglio within minutes of each other in the second quarter, before Matt de Boer went down early in the third – leaving them two men short on the bench for almost half the match and making the availability of a medical sub, Nick Shipley, a bit like putting a band-aid on an axe wound.
Davis seemed to tweak something in his calf while trailing a leading Luke Jackson, signalling to the bench straight away that he was in trouble. Coniglio got his ankle caught underneath him as he was tackled by Tom Sparrow and was carried from the field in wincing pain, re-emerging later on the bench in a moon-boot and on crutches.
Then de Boer, who had been tagging Clayton Oliver and kept him to just a handful of touches in the first half, followed them down the race with a hamstring issue, which ended his night early too.
Thus, the door was opened for the Dees, who overran the Giants in the second half to stitch up a 34-point victory, 15.12 (102) to 11.2 (68).
The full extent of the injuries will reveal itself during the week, but Cameron is expecting to lose all three for at least a couple of weeks. “Clearly, to have three of our leadership group go down halfway through the game was disappointing,” he said. “But it is what it is. For three and a half quarters we were really good. Did fatigue get us in the end? I’d hate to think not. We played a tough brand of footy but just ran out of legs at the end.”
It was GWS’s third defeat in a row, making this their worst start to a season since 2013 – their second year in the AFL. They weren’t the pushovers they were against Fremantle, at least, but that is a very low bar to clear for a team so talented. The effort was clearly there and the intensity never dropped, but not even a miracle could get them into the finals mix at this point, given the extent of their injury crisis.