The Battle of the Bridge and the making of a rivalry

How did the Swans & Giants rivalry go from manufactured to one of the most heated in the competition.

The Giants were a manufactured team that nobody wanted and Kevin Sheedy was stoking a fire that hadn’t been lit.

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READ: Sydney v GWS Preview

After a year in the TAC Cup followed by another in the NEAFL, the Greater Western Sydney Giants entered the AFL in 2012. In the lead up to the first premiership game against the Sydney Swans, Paul Roos, Sydney’s Head Coach, and Richard Colless, Sydney’s’ CEO made no secret of their disapproval of the Giants. After a poor crowd turned out at a practice match, Roos angrily stated, “We shouldn’t be promoting a second team in Sydney.” For the next three years, they would be the whipping boys of the AFL, but everyone knew this team full of first-round draft concessions would eventually gel and hopefully become a powerhouse.

We got a glimpse of what could be with Giants first win…

Result 1

First game of the season and it was expected that the Swans would win in a canter after going deep into September in 2013 and signing Lance “Buddy” Franklin in the trade period, but GWS didn’t read the script. Led by four goals from Jeremy Cameron and three to Jonathon Patton, GWS trailed at every change but kicked 6 goals to zip in the last and made sure that Lance Franklin’s Sydney debut didn’t go to plan.

Still a token rivalry until

Fast forward two years and the Giants not only played in the 2016 finals but finished in the top four. The script couldn’t have been written any better meeting their cross-town rivals in the Qualifying Final. This will go down as perhaps the start of the true rivalry. GWS were physical, bold and clean.

Result 1Undeterred by their first exposure to finals footy, the Giants challenged their more fancied rivals from the opening bounce. Sydney were the minor premiers but GWS were a team on the march and their battle was an instant classic. GWS led at every change in a bruising encounter in which they battered the Sydney midfield. No mean feat to give this sort of treatment to a midfield containing Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery and Tom Mitchell.

The win was soured by a high hit from Steve Johnson on Josh Kennedy which saw him miss the Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs. Very costly considering the effect he may have had on that tight contest. It was a tight game but in a devastating third quarter, the Giants blitzed the Swans into submission and secured a place in a Preliminary final. I don’t think it was until this game that the Swans gave the Giants the respect they deserved. Then the rivalry was truly born.

Battle of the Bridge 15

As they prepare for meeting 15, there is a genuine dislike between the two sides. The Giants may have won only four times but this is as spirited a derby as any other in the competition.

The Giants have proven time and time again this year that even with a list full of injuries, their game plan and team spirit will not be dimmed. Every Thursday at selection, more stars were out with injuries, but on game day, the game plan was still executed to perfection. They didn’t always win, but they were never out of the game. On more than one occasion this season the Giants finished the game with only one fit player one the bench, sometimes none. With an engine room consisting of Dylan Shiel, Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly, Callan Ward and Jacob Hopper, a strong backline and potent attack, it would be a mistake to take this team lightly.

Injuries have prevented them from fielding their best 22 for much of the year but their fringe players have come in and shown plenty. The biggest question is whether those players can produce in the finals. Their best is devastating but really need Jeremy Cameron to find some form, and quickly if they are to have any chance of going deep into September.

More than once this season, the pundits were calling the end of the Swans dynasty. After losses to the Gold Coast and Essendon, Sydney’s season looked all but over having to play four of the top eight to finish the season. But true to form, the bloods rallied and won 3 very impressive games knocking off Melbourne, Collingwood and GWS to cement their spot in the top 8. Aliir Aliir has been a revelation in defence and has turned himself into a very dynamic and athletic defender. Tom Papley, Isaac Heeney and Tom McCartin have been critical in ensuring that when the ball goes forward it says there.

Sydney have proven they can match it with the best but have questions marks over their bottom 6 players such as Jordan Dawson, Robbie Fox, Will Hayward and Ollie Florent. Sydney still have one of the best midfields going around and with George Hewett becoming one of the best run with players in the comp so if Callum Sinclair can give them first use of the pill, they will be in with a shot.

The second Battle of the Bridge Final has the added edge of being cut-throat elimination. Both have a long injury list and who each team has fit will go a long way to deciding the winner. Sydney expect to get back Luke Parker and Buddy Franklin while the Giants are hoping to have Ryan Griffen, Toby Greene and Brett Deledio back in their final 22. This one is harder to pick than a broken nose, but I think the Giants bottom six will cover the Swans and that is where the game will be won. If Sydney can again quell the influence of Lachie Whitfield then they will give themselves a great look at a Semi-final.

Bring it on.

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