A CRISIS meeting and tough conversations kickstarted Greater Western Sydney’s season and drove its late-season charge to the finals, Lachie Whitfield has revealed.
The Giants have turned around a 0-3 start to the season to return to finals after a one-year absence that had followed their appearance in the 2019 Toyota AFL Grand Final.
Whitfield was sidelined for the early-season losses due to a bruised liver but joined in the open and honest discussions about what needed to be done for the Giants to quickly find some winning form.
"We had a crisis meeting after round three where we looked each other in the eyes and said, 'Do we want to have another poor season like we did last year, or do we want to actually make something of it?'" Whitfield told AFL.com.au.
"We sort of made a commitment to each other that we'd give it everything we had, learn to play our role better and be more selfless in the way we went about our footy.
"Funnily enough, you do that and you enjoy your footy more and you get more wins. It's a pretty easy formula when you say it like that but sometimes it just takes some hard conversations."
The third of the early losses came against Melbourne and was made worse when captain Stephen Coniglio and veterans Phil Davis and Matt de Boer went down with what turned out to be long-term injuries.
Coniglio’s serious ankle and toe injuries required operations and sidelined him until round 18 with vice-captain Toby Greene stepping in as skipper for much of the time in between.
The Giants won eight and drew one of the 14 matches when Greene led the team this season, but Whitfield expects Coniglio to return to the starting 22 for the elimination final against Sydney on Saturday.
Whitfield joined the Giants’ leadership group at the start of last season so has had a close-up view of the way Coniglio and Greene each lead the team and is impressed by both approaches.
"Toby is a different type of leader to Stephen and the rest of the leadership group. He chucks the team on his back and leads by example," Whitfield said.
"His words pre-game are short and precise, then he just plays with the ferocity that makes everyone else around him better.
"I didn't really have any ambitions to be part of a leadership group but you learn along the way that it's not just about you, it's about making those around you better to get success.
"My leadership is still a work in progress but seeing Toby do such a good job is quite inspiring."
Despite his own early-season injury, Whitfield has had another outstanding season for the Giants as he averages 25 disposals a game playing across half-back or through the midfield.
The reigning club champion’s sublime skills and smart decisions remain a key weapon for the Giants and have helped improve the ball movement that was often a problem for the team last season.
The 27-year-old believes the final against the Swans could come down to which team is able to move the ball better and that the Giants have the players to match their opponents’ strengths in this area.
"We're getting it right in some games and then in other games we can fall into the trap of playing a bit slow and down the line," Whitfield said.
"Players like Isaac Cumming and Lachie Ash have been able to help share the load on the ball movement through the back half and been really important.
"The real positive is that in our last six weeks we've been able to see the rewards from playing to a good system and now that’s really working."