GREATER Western Sydney ruckman Kieren Briggs has welcomed the extra expectations being placed on his side in 2024.
After the Giants' meteoric rise last season, Briggs says the entire squad have their sights set firmly on a premiership.
There was no player more synonymous with the Giants' exhilarating surge in the back-half of the 2023 season than Briggs himself.
The 24-year-old local Academy product played his first game of the year in a team struggling for wins in round 10. But from that moment, the Giants would emerge victorious in 12 of their next 17 games, including two away finals victories, and fall just one point shy in the preliminary final against eventual premier, Collingwood.
Across that stretch, Briggs accrued the 10th most clearances per game in the League and the second most score launches per game as he emerged as one of the best ruckman in the competition in the second half of the campaign.
Briggs' influence on the Giants was profound and for the first time in his four years at the club, he will go into a season as the undisputed No.1 ruck.
"Internally, I've always thought I could be the number one guy. But I've just tried not to put too much pressure on myself, just tried to remain training the same way I always have been," Briggs told AFL.com.au.
"I don't want to get too comfortable and rest on the games from last year. It's not like I've played 200 (games)."
The exploits of his brilliant 2023 will likely garner extra attention from opposition rucks this season but it's not something he'll be unprepared for.
"We're looking back at tape from last year to find where my weaknesses are, and are obviously still trying to improve my strengths as well," he said.
"(Giants ruck coach) Shane (Mumford) has been really good at trying to implement new things into my game and I'm looking forward to hopefully displaying that this year."
The pressure and the extra expectation on Greater Western Sydney is something everyone at the Giants will need to be across this season.
By the time the opposition realised just how powerful they were last year, Adam Kingsley's side simply had too much momentum to be stopped.
But there is no hiding from the hype now surrounding them heading into 2024.
"We haven't shied away from it. We know that there's now external pressure, but I think we're taking it head on," Briggs said.
"We've spoken about making a prelim last year that there's a little bit of added expectation.
"We want to win a flag, so we're not shying away from the fact that we're a genuine chance. We're just doing everything we can to be able to be there in that final week in September."
It's hard to know where the added improvement will come from in a side that seemed so remarkably settled across every line in the second half of last year. But it's the intangibles that Briggs highlighted as an area of advancement.
Briggs said there were youngsters who can take their games to new levels though, with young gun midfielder Finn Callaghan and former No.1 draft pick Aaran Cadman the two big watches at the Giants.
"I think our closeness as a group has gone up. Having that extra 12 months together has really brought the group closer again. We focus a lot on team building and we're a whole squad, we're not just an AFL side," he said.
"They're both ultimate professionals. Finn's really had a great pre-season, which is good from his body point of view. He's fit and strong.
"'Cads' has put on a bit more weight again, he's going to be a lot more competitive with bigger bodies. Hopefully, he can have a bit of a breakout season and just build on some confidence that he got from playing AFL games last year."
As for who may emerge from outside what is seemingly a settled 23 at the Giants, there is one name that has constantly been mentioned over the pre-season.
"I think one to look out for this year is going to be young Darcy Jones. He's a small forward that's bringing lots of pressure, and he's going to apply pressure to try and break into that team early in the year," Briggs said.
As Briggs blossomed last season, his former teammate and fellow ruck Matt Flynn found it impossible to break back into the Giants side.
With Flynn now at West Coast, Briggs said the Eagles have acquired an excellent ruck talent and is already looking forward to their round two match-up at Optus Stadium.
"I think he's going really well," Briggs said.
"Flynny's a great competitor and I learned a lot of my stuff from him, so yeah, it'd be good to see him in the first few rounds. I've circled that one."