WHILE the Sydney derby is typically a heated on-field battle, off the field there is a cold war brewing between Greater Western Sydney and Sydney in the hunt for the best young talent in the Harbour City.
The Giants and Swans Academies have a shared mission to promote Australian Football over other sporting codes, attract and develop young athletes, and grow the pool of talented footballers.
But they have followed different paths to boosting their playing stocks with Academy graduates which now include 12 Giants and 10 Swans who followed a one-club course to join their affiliated AFL club.
The Swans' re-emergence has been helped by their Academy, plucking Callum Mills, Nick Blakey, Errol Gulden, Braeden Campbell and Sam Wicks from local clubs close to home. The Giants continue to rely on unearthing top talent from more traditional footy regions further afield.
All of the Giants' current crop of graduates that regularly run out with the AFL team hail from regional NSW or the ACT. Jacob Hopper, Harry Himmelberg, Jeremy Finlayson, Harry Perryman and Matt Flynn are from the south of the state, Isaac Cumming grew up in Broken Hill and Tom Green is from Canberra.
It's a vast and valuable footy factory but the long-term goal for the Giants is to join the Swans in discovering and developing the untapped talent on their doorstep, especially with 2.5 million people living in or near Western Sydney.
"While we're a club that bases ourselves around the greater west and the ACT, and even in southern NSW, our backyard of Western Sydney is where the big growth potential is," GWS head of Academies Jason Saddington told AFL.com.au.
"We want to attract athletes out of Western Sydney into AFL footy. Hopefully the Academy can do that and provide the pathway for them to be drafted into the Giants.
"But even though we love to see the players progress onto the Giants' list, across the whole competition this year there are 34 players who came through our program, which we're really proud of and shows kids there are more opportunities."
Kieren Briggs, Nick Shipley and mid-season draftee James Peatling are the only GWS Academy graduates originally from Sydney now on the Giants' AFL list.
Of the club's other locals, Jake Stein is from Penrith but focused on athletics in his youth, Jack Buckley was spotted in the NEAFL after dropping out of the Swans Academy in his teens, and Daniel Lloyd was picked up after dominating local footy on the Central Coast.
The lack of truly local talent on the Giants' list can be seen to flow into their ability to retain players and ultimately affect how they manage their salary cap.
"It has been great to have Briggs, Shipley and Peatling start to fly the flag for young local talent in Western Sydney. It shows there is a pathway for them into the AFL," said Saddington, who previously played 142 matches for Sydney and Carlton.
"There are about 350 kids in our program in Western Sydney. But, as an example, we've got 50-60 kids in the under-14s boys program and only three or four of them will get through to the 18s or 19s.
"There just isn't a huge depth of talent in Western Sydney yet."
The talent pool is gradually growing, though, with the number of junior footballers in Western Sydney rising by 25 per cent between 2016 and 2019. NAB AFL Auskick registrations increased by 15 per cent between 2017 and 2019.
The exposure to football and options to play the game across Western Sydney are also expanding, with a football club now set up in every local government area and an AFL program offered in 60 per cent of schools in the region, according to AFL NSW/ACT.
"All 1200-plus players in the Academy are decked out in Giants gear, playing jumper, shorts, socks, hoodies, backpacks and they get their own footy," Saddington said.
"So they have that real connection with the Giants and they look like mini-Giants. They stand out and more people are starting to recognise the brand and ask questions about the game.
"We're 10 years into the Academy program at the footy club, give us another 10 or 15 years and we'll see it has grown much, much more. Hopefully that's similar to what the Swans were able to do, but it still took them a good 20-odd years."