GREATER Western Sydney had one of the most difficult starts to the season imaginable, with key forward Jacinda Barclay passing away before pre-season, before COVID forced the team on the road.
Once again, the gap between the Giants' best and worst footy was too wide, resulting in a ninth-place finish, but they would have been happy with the performances of youngsters Georgia Garnett, Emily Goodsir and Tarni Evans.
WHO'S HANGING UP THE BOOTS? Your club's retiring players
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams in reverse ladder order.
Coach: Alan McConnell
Leadership group: Alicia Eva (captain), Jess Dal Pos, Pepa Randall, Cora Staunton, Britt Tully
2021 finishing position: Ninth, four wins and five losses, 74.1 per cent
Best team performance: St Kilda 3.7 (25) lost to GWS 7.3 (45) in round seven.
GWS is fast gaining a reputation as the competition's premier wet-weather side, and its 20-point win over the Saints at RSEA Park was no exception. Cora Staunton and Bec Privitelli booted three apiece, as the Giants showed good maturity to steady when challenged in the third term, having jumped out to an early lead.
Best individual performance: Staunton booted four against West Coast, but it's tough to go past Alyce Parker's efforts against St Kilda. The All-Australian midfielder had a huge day in wet conditions, recording 28 disposals, eight intercepts, seven inside 50s, six marks and six clearances.
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Nil
Debutants: Tarni Evans, Georgia Garnett, Libby Graham, Erin Todd (AFLW debuts); Katherine Smith (club debut)
Most improved: Bec Beeson bounced back with a bang in 2021. The quick and tenacious midfielder averaged 21.7 disposals and 4.6 tackles (up from 16.0 and 2.7 in 2020), finishing second in the club's best and fairest count.
Star recruit: The Giants only brought in one player from another club in Katherine Smith, but would have been thrilled with the impact of the level-headed former Dee. Coming off a torn ACL, she made her club debut in round five. Having played defence for Melbourne, Smith lined up forward for the Giants and provided a strong presence forward of the footy.
Unsung hero: Elle Bennetts finished fourth in the Giants' best and fairest, but her hard running on the wing often flies under the radar in the wider AFLW world. Also a netballer, Bennetts has worked hard at improving her game since joining the club as a rookie ahead of the 2018 season. She averaged a career-high 14.8 touches in 2021.
- The Giants deserve big plaudits for going on the road for what was an undefined period of time (eventually a month) at the start of the year as COVID-induced lockdown hit Sydney. Their on-field performance took a slight hit, recording their first win in round three when back home, but the sacrifice the part-time athletes made in leaving their homes and work shouldn't be discounted in getting the season started.
- With the likes of Parker, Beeson and Britt Tully in the midfield, the Giants were the leading clearance side and one of the best "hard-ball gets" sides in the competition, recording the third-highest average for the season. Two genuine rucks in Erin McKinnon and Jess Allan gave the midfielders first use of the ball, with the Giants sitting top in hitouts and second in hitouts-to-advantage.
What needs improvement:
- Consistency (or a lack thereof) still plagues the Giants, five years into the competition. They were the sole side to not have an opportunity for unselected players to play seconds footy (with the AFL Sydney competition not starting until April), but have now formed an alliance with Williamstown for the remainder of the VFLW season.
- The Giants were good at winning the footy, especially in contested situations, but struggled to maintain both it and control over the game. They sat second-last for marks and third-last for short kicks, making life difficult for their forwards, with rushed and shallow entries inside forward 50.
BEST AND FAIREST WRAP Who was your club champion?
Early call for 2022: The Giants threatened for top-two in 2019, qualified for finals in 2020 but slid and struggled to match it with the big guns this year. It's difficult to quantify the effect of Jacinda Barclay's passing and starting the season on the road, but the Giants should be aiming to contest a top-six spot in 2022.
Season rating: 5/10