RHYCE Shaw's remarkable return for a knee reconstruction in less than six months has cleared another significant hurdle with the veteran Sydney Swan putting in a tidy NAB Challenge performance in Canberra on Thursday night.
Shaw, 32, underwent LARS [ligament augmentation and reconstruction system] surgery in August last year after injuring his right knee against Geelong in round 22.
Now, less than half a year later, the 2012 premiership player made a strong comeback with 20 disposals and a third-quarter goal in the Swans' 40-point win over Greater Western Sydney at StarTrack Oval.
Shaw's return was a highlight for the Swans in their 2.15.7 (115) to 0.11.8 (75) victory, which saw impressive performances from youngsters Tom Mitchell and Gary Rohan, and Giants Lachie Whitfield and Stephen Coniglio.
Whitfield, the No.1 draft selection from 2012, shone with some precise kicking and vision to end with 25 possession and three goals, plus three scoring assists.
Sam Reid played forward and kicked three goals, and moved freely in an encouraging sign for the Swans given his recent track record with quad complaints.
The Giants weren't disgraced in the game and displayed better ball movement between the arcs than they did in 2013.
Jonathon Patton came on after half-time in his first game since he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in round three last year at the same venue.
The burly forward started as the substitute with the Giants structuring their forward line around Jeremy Cameron, Jonathan Giles and Adam Tomlinson in the first half.
He lined up against Heath Grundy and also spent time against Ted Richards. As expected, he started slowly but assisted in a goal to Dylan Addison to end with three touches.
A number of other Giants put in strong performances, namely Coniglio, who had 29 disposals (17 at half-time) and set co-captain Callan Ward up for the team's second goal.
Ward played well, showing strong evasive skills in the second quarter when he danced along the boundary before finding Toby Greene in the forward 50.
Greene had plenty of the ball (30 disposals) but was let down by shonky kicking in front of goal with two untidy shanks in the first half.
Lance Franklin, Mike Pyke, Lewis Roberts-Thomson, Lewis Jetta, Adam Goodes and Kurt Tippett were missing for the Swans while the Giants left out their three recent top 20 draftees – Tom Boyd, Josh Kelly and Cam McCarthy.
Franklin, Pyke and Roberts-Thomson are expected to play against West Coast next Thursday in Blacktown, and Boyd and Kelly could face St Kilda in Wagga on March 1.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Greater Western Sydney: They're getting better. They kept coming up, even when the Swans were able to kick super goals and push the margin away, and got within two goals in the third quarter. There's no doubt their mature-aged recruits will each bring something to their game, despite some being better than others on debut, and Patton will get better with each run. The end margin didn't reflect the contest with the Swans flattered by a streak of late goals but even then, the Giants were able to offer some resistance.
Sydney Swans: The Swans, famous for being largely disinterested with the pre-season football concept, didn't really have to get out of first gear to find answers when challenged. Every time the Giants inched closer, they put space on them with a combination of young players and senior heads steadying the ship. Jarrad McVeigh had a few vintage moments in the second quarter when he burst out of the centre and landed one in particular on Sam Reid's chest, while Nick Malceski gave them excellent drive into attack. They did it pretty easy and look set to be a contender again this year when their raft of absentees join in over the coming weeks.
Greater Western Sydney: It was all about the mature heads for the Giants with their five recycled acquisitions playing. The left foot of Josh Hunt will prove to be a weapon for the Giants this season. The two-time Geelong premiership defender had a couple of big kicks from half-back, hit targets and gave his new team some power. Former Bulldog Dylan Addison started strongly and looked zippy in the forward line, which he complemented with a nice contested mark at the start of the third and a pair of goals for the game. Jed Lamb found himself on the end of a nice piece of coast-to-coast play to resulted in a goal and he ended with 12 disposals. Shane Mumford dominated in the hit-outs with 30 while Heath Shaw had a quiet first half with seven touches and two rebounds but looked to lead well in the backline on his way to 13 for the game.
Sydney Swans: After being starved of opportunities at Richmond, it's clear Tom Derickx isn't going to waste a second at the Swans. The ruckman took a strong mark and kicked a goal in the first quarter after starting against Mumford. He also tackled strongly and stood strong in the centre hit-outs. Jeremy Laidler looked cool in defence and spent time on Adam Tomlinson while Toby Nankervis was pitted against Phil Davis at full-forward and managed a goal in the third.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 0.1.2 0.5.4 0.10.7 0.11.8 (75)
SYDNEY SWANS 0.3.1 2.6.6 2.11.7 2.15.7 (115)
Greater Western Sydney: Nil
Sydney Swans: Malceski, Cunningham
Greater Western Sydney: Whitfield 3, Addison 2, Ward 2, Smith, Lamb, Cameron, Giles
Sydney Swans: Reid 3, Cunningham 2, Mitchell 2, Rohan 2, Towers, B. Jack, Derickx, Shaw, Nankervis, K. Jack
Greater Western Sydney: Whitfield, Coniglio, Hunt, Greene, Ward, Mumford, Treloar
Sydney Swans: Mitchell, Reid, Parker, McVeigh, Shaw, Malceski, McGlynn, Cunningham
Greater Western Sydney: Nil
Sydney Swans: Nil
Umpires: Ryan, Pawley, Chamberlain, Rowe
Official crowd: 6854 at StarTrack Oval