By: Daniel Kelly (@UKurrie)

The Northern Bullants returned from the bye and were overwhelmed by a powerful Greater Western Sydney Giants side 23.10 (148) to 5.8 (38) at Preston City Oval in Round 6 of the 2022 VFL season.

Giants forward Jake Riccardi, drafted by GWS from Ants VFL standalone rivals Werribee in 2019, kicked his first goal within a minute, a second inside three minutes, and ultimately ended with nine for the day, along with a handful of goal assists.

In what is hopefully a coincidence, the Bullants also had the bye in Round 5 of the 2021 season, and they suffered their heaviest defeat of the season (to Werribee, by 160 points) the week after in Round 6.

Even the quarter time scores – 67 to the visitors and 7 to the Bullants – were the same in both Round 6 2021 and Round 6 2022.

Just like last season, this meant the game was effectively over at quarter time.

The Giants moved the ball with ease all game, especially through the middle of the ground, which left the Bullants backmen at the whim of AFL listed delivery and finishing from the likes of Riccardi, Tanner Bruhn, James Peatling, Josh Fahey, Jarrod Brander and Xavier O’Halloran.

Whilst the Bullants, as they always do, held their own at clearances despite the result, the post clearance contest was generally won by the Giants and they rebounded at will and at pace.

Captain Tom Wilson delivered as he always does – 28 disposals, 6 inside 50s – but he was joined by Baxter Knight (24 disposals) and Matthew King (22 disposals) with the highest possession totals for the Ants.

King and Knight are putting together seasons of consistent quality which surely means they are amongst the first pieces on the chessboard every match.

Jackson Barling also put in one of his best days in an Ants jumper.

Barling is a good example of the quality of possession being more important than the volume – and that there are various ways to impact the match.

Often playing through the midfield, the 21-year-old from West Preston contributed 16 possessions but nine of those were clearances, five went inside 50, and he added seven tackles.

Jack Boyd continues to show his obvious quality up forward and he would contribute three of the Ants five goals, with Tynan Smith and Billy Murphy adding singles.

The Ants slowed the Giants onslaught after quarter time, only allowing the western Sydney team to kick a – relatively – reasonable three goals in the second quarter, five in the third and four in the final.

Unfortunately, the Ants could only add one, two and one goal across the same three quarters.

The additional issue of the Giants dominance of possession being controlled through the corridor meant that GWS shots on goal were from more straightforward positions.

It took until the 9th minute of the third quarter for the Giants to kick their second behind and, by then, they’d added 16 majors.

At that stage, the Ants had 10 scoring shots (for a score of 4.6.30) compared to the 18 (16.2.98) from the Giants.

This was not an ideal comparison to start with, but GWS’s accuracy meant that advantage was realised in a 75-point margin.

By the end of play, the Giants ran out an impressive 110-point winner.

The Preston side are still maturing; this is their 14th match since returning in the famous red and white, which would – in normal times – be just over halfway a normal season.

When you add a couple of significant pauses in the season last year, some healthy turnover of the list this year, a new coach, and one of the youngest squads in the league – learning days like this will happen.

Regardless, it would be particularly disappointing that this performance came after the Bullants were solidly taking games up to talented AFL backed programs in the Suns and Footscray, before breaking through against a strong Sydney side a couple of weeks ago.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder about the impact of last week’s bye on being able to start fast during this match.

Backline coach Paul Dunn felt that there we no signs of the bye being an issue.

‘It’s really hard to say,’ he said.

‘Given the first month of footy we did have, the bye was a good opportunity to refresh the group and this week they trained really well on the track.’

Despite the lopsided scoreboard, Dunn is keen to find balance in the feedback to the team.

‘We’re going to review the game pretty honestly with the group,’ he said.

‘They need to see the good from the win a couple of weeks ago, to also how we were beaten today. But I think it will be refreshing for them – it’s going to allow us to reset – and we look forward to being positive and going into Sandringham on a six day break next Saturday.’

Second gamer Sean Martin, who joined the Ants this year from Tatura in the Goulburn Valley Football League, had the arduous task of taking on Jake Riccardi for stretches of this match as the Bullants tried to solve the Giants forward.

He fared better than most and won as many fifty/fifty duels as can be expected against an AFL calibre player having a day out.

‘They’re a very good team,’ he said.

‘I just don’t think we played the style of football that the Bullants play. They shut us down across a lot of aspects of the game.’

‘Credit to them but we’re going to bounce back.’

The opportunity to rebound comes against Sandringham, who drew with the Giants in Round 5 and lost narrowly to unbeaten league leaders Casey in Round 6, on Saturday 7th May, at Trevor Barker Beach Oval – first bounce at 2.05 pm.

Best: Barling, Boyd, Wilson, Knight, King, Podhajski

Goals: Boyd 3, Smith, Murphy