Greater Western Sydney's victory over North Melbourne at Blundstone Arena was important for a number of reasons.
While the most crucial was the Giants getting back on track after a disappointing loss to Adelaide, another headline from the Giants’ win was the debut of Jake Stein. From Commonwealth Games decathlete to AFL player in five years is quite a journey, and the early indications are that the Giants may well have a quality player on their hands. Sitting second in the ladder and looking like premiership contenders again, the emergence of Stein could help the Giant’s premiership pursuit.
The game between GWS Giants and North Melbourne was attended by just 7,832 fans at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena. Although a few more than the corresponding game the previous year (7,194), they’re still the lowest crowds at the Kangaroos’ home away from home, with all other matches attracting over 11,000.
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Stein's athletic career saw him breakthrough in 2011 at the World Youth Championships, establishing himself as one of Australia's most exciting young decathletes. The highlight of his career came in 2014 when Stein was selected to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Having failed to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio two years later, though, combined with a number of injury issues, meant that Stein hung up his spikes in 2016, switching his focus to footy soon after, signing for GWS a year later as a category B rookie.
Stein had never actually been an AFL fan previously. As a child, he opted for athletics, soccer and rugby league. Having made the decision to attempt a career in AFL, though, Stein threw himself completely into the sport, watching all nine games some weekends and continuing to work hard in training as he waited for his chance in the AFL. Now, in a team being tipped to go challenge for the premiership, as short as 9/2 with the latest AFL betting odds, Stein has stepped up and didn't look out of place during an impressive debut in a big win for the Giants.
The defender has been given his opportunity due in part to Nick Haynes' injury. Despite suffering with cramp at times during his debut, which is understandable considering the nerves he would have been feeling and the pressure of such a big game, Stein looked right at home in this GWS backline. The 25-year old racked up eight tackles and eight 'one percenters' as part of a defence that kept North to just three second-half goals. While he may find himself back on the sidelines soon, should head coach Leon Cameron decide to gradually introduce Stein into the starting line-up rather than throw him in at the deep end, the defender has shown he belongs in the AFL.
For the Giants, having another option in the backline as the finals approach could be a big plus. Having failed to progress beyond the semi-final stage in the past three seasons, there is some belief this may be the year where the Giants challenge for a spot in that last Saturday in September at the MCG.