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Round 3 recap: Ward

WITH the 2020 AFL season resumption taking place recently, we have re-commenced weekly player performance recaps. Following the conclusion of round three last week, former GWS co-captain Callan Ward is analysed through the scope.

For the second week in a row, the Giants struggled to capture their renowned smooth-transition football when they faced the Western Bulldogs in round three. Instead, they were forced to chip the ball around the field, due to the Bulldogs' smothering zone defence. This subsequently limited the influence of the classy GWS midfield, including Callan Ward who has filled an outside role so far this season. Along with the majority of his teammates, Ward found it difficult to generate quick transition through the corridor, and instead hugged the boundary for most of the match. This was largely due to the Dogs' unwavering focus to restrict their opposition from the middle of the ground and slow their ball movement. The reduced minutes per quarter was certainly an assisting factor for the Bulldogs, as they seemed to never run out of energy and always managed to set up their defensive structure with ease.

However, if the Giants hope to go one win further than their 2019 grand final loss, they must find a way to succeed in what appears to be a new-look style of football. By transitioning the ball through the corridor, as Ward accomplished on multiple occasions throughout the match, GWS should speed up their ball movement and see more scoring opportunities this season.

Examples of Ward's daring attitude can be found below.

Second quarter, 3:33 remaining

Giants' Jackson Hately receives a handball on his team's half-back flank as GWS attempts to move the ball out of defence. He turns forward to see an emerging Bulldog before executing a long handball over him towards Callan Ward. Noticing the disposal is likely to fall short, Ward takes five quick steps towards the arial ball, before steadying himself to catch it. With soft hands, the former Giants best and fairest winner takes the ball in front of his eyes and instantly scans the centre of the ground. This is because he understands being 14 points down in the closing stages of the first half in a low scoring match is not something to settle for. He opts against searching for a safe option close to the boundary, and instead chooses to look inboard where his team is more likely to open up the ground and create a scoring opportunity from. The mature-aged midfielder shifts his centre of gravity to the left and twists his body towards the area he hopes to find a target. He takes two steps while rotating his direction of travel, before locating an option near the corridor. Understanding the ball must reach his under-pressure teammate quickly, Ward drills an around-the-corner right-foot kick to a tightly-pressured Jye Caldwell. Due to an precisely-placed disposal, Caldwell manages to mark the ball and continue to move it forward.

Third quarter, 11:03 remaining

GWS defender Heath Shaw takes a mark just backward of an open right wing. He looks forward to find ample space in front of him. Meanwhile, Callan Ward bursts from his position near the centre of the ground into Shaw's vision to create a kicking option for his teammate. The former 22under22 team member sprints about 40 metres into a position where Shaw is able to place a kick. Giving a perfect demonstration of a 'gut run', Ward's lead proves to be vital in quickly pushing the ball forward before the Bulldogs can collapse and restrict the Giants ball movement. Noticing Shaw's kick float slightly further forward than intended, Ward shifts his movement to the left in order to track the arial ball. The 2018 AFLPA Most Courageous Player takes three adjusted steps towards his team's goals before watching the ball land in the hand of his outstretched left arm. Ward's elite coordination and touch allows him to guide the ball into his control, despite Shaw's kick forcing him to adapt his skill execution. Once he concludes the mark, the Giants number eight slows his stride, as he observes an opponent directly in his forward path. Ward then pretends to begin stepping behind his mark, but instead takes four steps to the right, giving himself an opportunity to analyse the play in front of him and decide what to do next. The experienced campaigner again, understands the state of the match and knows if his team doesn't make quick progress on the scoreboard, the outcome will slip from their reach. Therefore, he chooses to continue moving the ball forward to stop the opposition from setting up their constricting defence behind the play. He manages to burst from the mark for seven quick steps while analysing the forward line situation, before his opponent pressures him towards the boundary. Nonetheless, this is allows enough time for Ward to evaluate his options and kick deep to give his key forwards a chance to jump at the football. A long right boot allows dangerous tall Harry Perryman to leap for a mark. Although he doesn't bring the ball down, Ward's disposal enables a scoring shot from midfielder Stephen Coniglio after the ball falls to ground.

The Giants have struggled to take the game on and transition the ball through the corridor so far this year. However, if they are able to mirror Callan Wards bravery by foot and take more risks throughout matches without forcing their ball movement, the Giants should recapture a style of football which has seen them climb the ladder in recent years.

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