AN EXCITING batch of Sydney youngsters inspired a second-half turnaround at Giants Stadium on Saturday, with the midfield-bound Callum Mills the standout as the Swans fought back to record a draw against Greater Western Sydney.
Mills, who has been earmarked to shift into a midfield position this season, was prolific in his new onball role and found the footy at will in difficult wet conditions as the two sides tied 7.12 (54) to 8.6 (54) in the behind-closed-doors practice match.
The former No.3 pick worked well in tandem with fellow Academy graduate Nick Blakey, who spent the majority of the match on a wing and assisted a number of scoring opportunities with his class in possession.
James Bell, who featured eight times at senior level last season, also spent large periods playing higher up the field and was another to find the footy frequently to complement two nice goals when he drifted forward.
Ollie Florent, Chad Warner, James Rowbottom and last year's No.32 selection Errol Gulden also enjoyed impressive midfield stints, as the Swans overcame a 21-point half-time deficit to ultimately tie the game.
The Giants, who led for much of the match, saw flashes of brilliance from their A-Grade midfield as captain Stephen Coniglio (pictured) and the smooth-moving Josh Kelly dominated the game's early stages before being phased out of the match.
The experienced pair were well supported by second-year onballer Tom Green, who won plenty of contested footy and appears set to build on the promising development he showcased last season.
First-round pick Tanner Bruhn was another Giants standout, playing as a high half-forward and finishing his day with a classy goal on the run, with Tim Taranto also sharing his time evenly between midfield and attack.
The two sides will do battle again in eight days' time at Giants Stadium in the AAMI Community Series.
It's time to get excited about Callum Mills. Drafted as a midfielder at pick No.3 through the Swans Academy, Mills has spent his first five seasons at AFL level playing – and excelling – as a defender. However, finally expected to return to the midfield this year, Mills displayed his attributes on Saturday. He had the ball on a string in the game's early stages, winning a handful of disposals in the opening seconds – including the first centre clearance of the match – while his physicality and tackling strength were also features of his performance. Look out for Mills the midfielder in season 2021.
The standout was Swans Academy graduate Errol Gulden, who helped drag his side back into the game with a flurry of nice moments in the third term. A smart kick into space that resulted in Tom Papley's second goal, which drew the sides level, was the pick of the action. Last year's No.4 pick Logan McDonald was quiet, but the rain meant key forwards were destined to find it difficult, although an inspiring chase down tackle led to a Sam Reid goal in the final quarter. Braeden Campbell, taken at pick No.5 last year, also showed moments of quality across half-back. For the Giants, No.12 pick Tanner Bruhn did some good things and kicked a nice goal to press his case for a round one debut. A host of the club's other youngsters, including Jacob Wehr and Connor Stone, are expected to appear later in the day as reserves players from both sides compete in a half of action throughout the afternoon.
With Giants recruit Jesse Hogan expected to miss up to a month with a quad injury, Swans ruckman Tom Hickey was the only fresh face at Giants Stadium. Taking the No.1 ruck mantle, Hickley performed admirably but it was his work around the ground that was the feature of his display. The former Gold Coast, St Kilda and West Coast journeyman took a number of strong marks and looked mobile as he made his way across the field.
Is a new role on the cards for Giants veteran Callan Ward? With new recruit Braydon Preuss sidelined by a shoulder injury and the experienced Shane Mumford set to take a back seat to youngster Matthew Flynn this season, the 30-year-old Ward spent large periods of Saturday's game playing as the second ruckman. Make no mistake, Flynn still did the bulk of the ruck work as Ward found himself on a wing for the overwhelming majority of the contest. However, as the match wore on and as Flynn went to the bench, Ward competed against both Tom Hickey and Callum Sinclair in ruck battles across the field. Could he be the Shaun Grigg of season 2021?
Round one bolters
There were some terrific signs from Giants youngster Matthew Flynn, who looks set for an AFL debut in the coming weeks following an imposing display. In the absence of new recruit Braydon Preuss, who underwent shoulder surgery last week, Flynn held his own against the experienced Tom Hickey and perhaps even shaded the ruck battle across the afternoon. Pencil the 200cm and 103kg youngster, who is a graduate from the Giants Academy, in for round one. Elsewhere, Matthew Ling looks set to build on the three senior games he managed for the Swans last year after competing admirably on a host of bigger bodies including Harrison Himmelberg and Jake Riccardi in the backline.