JESSE Hogan is set to be unleashed for his long-awaited debut for Greater Western Sydney on Saturday, as the key forward looks to resurrect his career at a third club.
The former Melbourne and Fremantle spearhead arrived at the Giants in last year's Trade Period but a quad strain interrupted both Hogan's pre-season and his new club's plans to refresh a forward line missing its all-time leading goalkicker Jeremy Cameron.
Hogan has since recovered from the injury and made his return through the VFL, kicking seven goals across two games to prove his form and fitness.
The Giants claimed Hogan for the bargain price of pick No.54, just two years after he and pick No.65 crossed from Melbourne to Fremantle for pick No.6 and No.23.
That stunning drop in value came after Hogan kicked a mere 18 goals in 19 games during his two years at the Dockers, which were marred by poor form, injury and off-field issues.
The Giants hope the 26-year-old can now live up to his early promise and rediscover the sort of form that saw him kick more than 40 goals in three of his four completed AFL seasons at Melbourne, and claiming the 2015 NAB AFL Rising Star award.
How the Giants have rebuilt Jesse
Hogan has had to manage back soreness throughout his career, as well as deal with lingering issues from a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot that prematurely ended his 2018 campaign, only to resurface in July the following year.
The Giants were very much aware of these ongoing concerns during trade talks with Fremantle, but saw Hogan's fitness as a calculated risk worth taking, especially once he convinced their recruitment team he would work with the club to manage the issues.
GWS's coaches and fitness staff were pleased with Hogan's fitness levels when he landed at the club in December. They were even more impressed that he arrived ahead of schedule, to join the recent first-to-fourth-year players for a couple of weeks of training, rather than wait until the new year to start pre-season with the more experienced group.
Hogan has been on a modified training program since then and works closely with Nick Poulos, head of high performance at the Giants, to ensure his running loads and gym program are fine-tuned for what his body can handle.
The key forward's program means that when the team has three heavy sessions in a week, Hogan is part of a small group that spends the second of those 'off legs'. He instead works on areas like core strength and flexibility.
Despite Hogan's size, at 195cm and 99kg, he is seen as a natural athlete who is able to build and maintain a strong fitness base more easily than most key position players. This even allowed him to spend time in the Melbourne midfield early in his career.
But with Hogan's chequered injury history in mind, the Giants encourage their prized recruit to make the most of his high footy IQ and focus on running to the right spots at the right times, rather than pushing up the ground then back toward goal more than a tall forward ideally should.
Getting out of the footy bubble
Hogan's time at Fremantle, and back in the city he grew up in, wasn't only restricted by injuries, as he also battled mental health challenges and was involved in the occasional off-field infraction.
Dockers football general manager Peter Bell described the first of these, a week before Hogan was set to debut in round one for his second club, as due to "poor choices around alcohol consumption". It set up a narrative that followed Hogan around the city.
The overbearing attention in his home state and recurring injury issues left Hogan considering retirement.
But Hogan's management team saw footy's growth states of NSW and Queensland as an option for the forward to live outside of the AFL bubble and get his career back on track in relative anonymity.
The Giants were interested, but Hogan had to convince them that he would take ownership of, and learn from, his past mistakes and commit to what could be his last chance at an AFL career.
Agreeing to a one-year deal at the Giants, and at reduced salary, was a first step in Hogan showing the club that he was willing to put his future on the line.
He was also quick to accept that he wouldn't be guaranteed a place in the team, but would have to compete with Harry Himmelberg, Jeremy Finlayson and Jake Riccardi to make up the Giants' new-look forward line.
Hogan had ticked the right boxes for the Giants with his determined and positive attitude.
The Giants saw Hogan's living arrangements as an integral step in getting him to settle in a new city and at a new club, so that he could focus on his footy.
Veteran ruckman and ruck coach, Shane Mumford, offered up the granny flat at the back of his property. Hogan has since embraced it as his new home. It helps that it's close to the beach and allows Hogan to regularly take time out to surf.
Hogan and the club have worked hard to set the enigmatic forward up with a real shot at making his GWS journey a success, and will hope that the game on Saturday is just the next step in him consistently living up to the promise that he showed early in his career.