And It's Back: AFL Kicks Off In Sydney
Tipping sheets have been filled, memberships splurged on, pay TV subscriptions upgraded and all the dramas of the pre-season stored in the memory bank as the entire footballing fraternity revels in the fact that, as of Saturday night, footy is back.
Sydney is where the action is this weekend, as ANZ Stadium plays host to the weekend’s stand-alone game between league debutants, Greater Western Sydney and their crosstown rivals, the Swans. It’s a historical occasion for the AFL and although most football experts believe the result is a foregone conclusion, that’s not what’s drawing attention to ANZ Stadium this weekend.
The Giants have a staggering 17 debutants taking the field on Saturday night, but none will be under the microscope more than NRL convert Israel Folau. The boom recruit showed patches of what he’s capable of during the NAB Cup, taking pack marks, enforcing his physical presence and even booting a few majors along the way. Folau’s importance cannot be underestimated. He’s the figurehead of a new club trying to develop deep in the heart of NRL territory, so his successes will go a long way to stabilising the influence of GWS in Western Sydney.
The Giants will be without experienced players Luke Power, Dean Brogan and Tom Scully, all sitting out the first round through injury. But coach Kevin Sheedy won’t be letting injuries shift the focus from what lies ahead. The coaching stalwart, along with former Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams, will bring a tonne of experience to the table to guide the young Giants through the occasion
Waiting for the Giants on Saturday night will be the Swans, who've had a near faultless pre-season. Apart from the loss of Rhys Shaw and Ryan O’Keefe through injury, they're cherry ripe to give the new boys a hiding. While much of the football community see the Swans as unbackable favourites this weekend, coach John Longmire isn’t taking a win for granted, and ensuring the Swans get their 2012 campaign off to an ideal start will be top of mind for him and his charges.
With many pundits suggesting that anything under a 60 point loss would be a win for the Giants, what's more compelling than the numbers on the scoreboard will be the numbers through the gates. Attendance at ANZ stadium, as well as the television viewing audience, will be keenly monitored by AFL honchos waiting to see what conclusions can be drawn about their new club’s ability to draw a crowd.
The newly-formed Sydney rivalry will open the season in the Harbour City, but most football fans will wait with great anticipation for next weekend, when the remaining eight games complete the first round. Don’t expect a close encounter on Saturday night. In fact, expect the opposite. But watch closely as the great minds of Sheedy and Williams mould the young boys from Blacktown into an AFL powerhouse.
WORDS: Thomas Melenhorst