It will be arguably the biggest game in Greater Western Sydney’s history.
When the Giants host the Swans in Sydney Derby X on Sunday, it will most likely be before a record home crowd in what will be the fledgling club’s 100th AFL game. More importantly, it will be a crunch game between two quality outfits looking to stitch up a top-four berth.
Co-captain Callan Ward, who has played in 94 of the GWS’s 99 games, hopes the Derby will help cement the Giants’ credibility as an authentic and imposing finals contender.
“It’s going to be massive. We’ve lost the past two matches but we’ve got to turn it around, because if we don’t Sydney will smash us because they’re a very good side,’’ Ward said.
“We’ve been trying to build the Derby up over the past five years and I guess over the past couple of seasons we’ve become more competitive and it’s grown legs a little bit.
“It’s definitely a game that everyone up here looks forward to and especially the playing groups. I’d like to think that we’ve started playing in a way that any footy fan would like to watch. They like a team that kicks a lot of goals and defends really well and I think that’s the type of footy we’ve been able to play this season.
“I guess people always used to look at these games and say we’re the little brother and those sorts of things, and we probably even spoke that way in our first couple of years because we had a young squad hoping to compete against them.
“At times it was challenging and there were some dark times when it was hard to keep a smile on your face.” – Callan Ward
“But now, when you look at our age demographic, we’re almost the same as Sydney. If you look across the whole team there might be 0.2 or 0.4 of a year in age difference between the teams.
“We’re now at a stage in our development where we firmly believe we can compete with and win against the best teams in the competition, so it’s not about being the little brother any more.
“Now I think it doesn’t even really need to be mentioned that we are more mature or we’ve grown up and that sort of stuff, because we’ve started to play the sort of footy that we want and our players genuinely believe that we’re good enough.’’
Ward, a member of the inaugural GWS squad after playing 60 games for the Bulldogs, said the Giants’ road to 100 games had “been a long journey but at the same time it’s gone really quickly’’.
“It’s hard to believe it’s our fifth season already. I guess our journey is that the first couple of years were very exciting in that we were a new club in the AFL, with lots of guys experiencing their first game and their first season at that level, and we had staff who might not have worked in the AFL before, and assistant coaches who were new to the caper.
“At times it was challenging and there were some dark times when it was hard to keep a smile on your face when you were getting smashed by 100 points a lot of weeks. But I guess that’s what makes it all worthwhile now. Knowing we’ve done the hard yards and have earned the right to compete with the best the competition has to offer.
“I guess the journey, especially from our third season on, has been one of an upward trend, so hopefully we’ll keep that going.
For a team that averages 10,000 fans to its home games, Sunday evening’s match should break the record of 19,507 at Spotless Stadium, which has a capacity of 24,500.
“For the first time in our history we’ve got Spotless Stadium sold out in the week going into the match, so I presume it’s going to be a record crowd with plenty of Giants fans cheering us on – although no doubt there’ll be a fair Swans contingent there as well,’’ Ward said.
The teams will also play for the White Ribbon Cup, a cause close to Ward’s heart. He is an ambassador for White Ribbon, the campaign to prevent men’s violence against women.
“As most men do, I’ve got sisters, a mum, a girlfriend and I just hate the thought that any man would commit violence against them, it would be heartbreaking,’’ Ward said.
“The thought that any woman might be abused by a man just makes my blood boil. I haven’t had any personal experiences where I’ve seen violence against women, but I know people who have and it’s just such a shattering thing to see the effects. To me it’s just such an important cause and something I take very seriously.
“I have a strong belief that there is no place for it in society. I think through organisations like White Ribbon we’ve been able to open people’s eyes to the fact that it’s a lot more common than people might believe and the more we can work together on this the more we can stop it.’’
White Ribbon is the Giants community partner and during the week the players donated $5000 to the cause as part of the AFL Players Care initiative. At quarter time the Giants will ask the crowd to stand up and take the White Ribbon Oath, pledging to speak out and act to prevent violence by men against women.
“I’d encourage any Australian man to take the pledge and acknowledge that any sort of violence against women is completely unacceptable,’’ Ward said.
The AFL Players’ Association has been a long-time advocate of preventing domestic violence, supporting programs such as The Line, a national campaign aimed at encouraging young people to challenge attitudes.