IF PREMIERSHIPS really are built on defence, then Greater Western Sydney is heading in the right direction for its next shot at glory.
The Giants had one of the most effective defensive groups in the competition when they reached the Toyota AFL Grand Final in 2019, ranking No.1 for scores conceded per inside 50.
But the departures of free agents Zac Williams and Aidan Corr, and the retirement of Heath Shaw, combined with injuries to key players including Lachie Whitfield (bruised liver) and Phil Davis (calf), have forced the Giants to rejuvenate on the run.
This became even more apparent when All-Australian Nick Haynes was pushed to a wing for much of last week's game against Collingwood to help him find the form he's lost as opposition teams work harder to counteract his intercept marking powers.
The club's inexperienced defensive group against the Magpies instead included Sam Taylor (21 years old, 38 games), Lachie Ash (19, 16), Isaac Cumming (22, 14), Jack Buckley (23, 6) and Connor Idun (20, 6).
That junior backline held the Pies to 15 scoring shots and six marks inside 50, from 52 forward-50 entries, as their team ran out 30-point winners.
Taylor's return from a serious bacterial infection last year, and 22-year-old Harry Perryman's move from the wing to the backline until he was struck down with glandular fever, have been important to the defensive refresh.
But so has the penetrating run and carry, and neat ball use, that Cumming and Lachie Ash have brought to the half-back line.
It's little surprise to see that the dashing duo lead the Giants for rebound 50s (Cumming 26, Ash 18), but few would expect them to sit ahead of Haynes and among the club leaders for intercepts (Cumming top with 31, Ash third with 26).
"I really enjoy playing with Ashie," Cumming told AFL.com.au
"We play the same position and help each other out with getting a few touches.
"But 'Whitters' (Whitfield) will come back in soon, and probably take up that role again, so we're just enjoying making the most of our partnership while we can."
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Originally from Broken Hill, Cumming made his way through the Giants' Academy until he was taken at pick No.20 in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft.
He is now establishing himself in defence after dipping his toe in with 10 games across the previous three seasons.
"It has been a decent apprenticeship," Cumming laughed.
"It helps when I can string a few games together, rather than just come in for two or three and then get dropped like I have in previous years. I'm feeling a lot more confident."
The classy 184cm defender is averaging 23 disposals this year, and also leads the Giants for average metres gained (487m). His backline brother Ash is gaining 400m a game.
"It's my role to defend first, but my strengths certainly are my kicking and running," Cumming said.
"I'm encouraged to bring that each week off the back of defending. And that's something I'm always looking to improve and build on."