The footy season is on our doorstep again, and not a minute too soon!
AFL pre-season is long and arduous, no matter who you are or where you play.
Wen started at the Swans in early November and put ourselves through a veryn difficult slog over the summer, but the silver lining is here now and nwe're all really looking forward to playing for premiership points nagainst the Giants.
Fortunately, I got through the pre-season nwithout any problems, which was very important for me after a stop-startn run with an ankle problem last season.
I took some time off nduring September-October to get myself right and have trained as hard asn possible in the months since, completing every session, which has got nmy fitness back to where it needs to be.
The NAB Cup has also enabled me to generate momentum and get some form under my belt, which is a big plus.
Theren has been a lot of media talk since the inception of Greater Western nSydney was announced, but for me, it's been a great move by the AFL.
Kidsn growing up in Sydney now have two teams to choose from, but most nimportantly, more options in terms of career development, with nhigh-level developmental programs and academies being established at nboth clubs.
As players, we can start developing the same kind of ninner-city rivalry that you see in Victoria, South Australia and Westernn Australia - contests of incredible intensity that have been the envy ofn many of us not lucky enough to be involved.
Over the past two nyears I have seen real growth in the game across New South Wales, and nparticularly Sydney, through my role as a Play AFL ambassador. It's an nexciting time to be an AFL player and supporter.
Bothn teams in Sydney should feel very privileged to be able to kick-start nthe 2012 season with a standalone fixture this Saturday night at ANZ nStadium.
All eyes will be on us around the country, which is a ngreat reward for the work we have put in over the pre-season, but also nfor GWS, who have faced enormous obstacles to get to this point in a nshort period of time.
A big crowd is expected out at ANZ, and I nhope to see the majority of those fans wearing red and white when we runn out for the warm up!
Kevin Sheedy has been busy promoting GWS in nwestern Sydney, but I like to think we have built up a tight grip on then Sydney market over the past 30 years - one we are not willing to give nup.
A lot of work has been put in at the Swans to consolidate our nposition in Sydney, and we'll be looking to maintain that stranglehold nover GWS in the years to come.
FACING THE GIANTS
It's difficult to know what to expect on Saturday, with so many of the GWS team being first-year players.
Ourn coaching staff are always spot-on with our preparation, pulling ntogether information and game footage dissecting opposition players in nthe lead-up to games, but without much history at their end, we haven't nhad a lot of content at our disposal.
They are missing a few of ntheir more experienced players in Dean Brogan, Setanta O'hAilpin and Tomn Scully, which will hurt them, but one thing we have seen already in then NAB Cup is that their team is hungry and will come ready to play.
Closen losses to Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs, plus a win over a ncompetitive Gold Coast side, suggests they will not be the easy beats nthat people expect them to be.
I'm not nbig on making predictions at the beginning of the year, but I am nconfident we have made strides on where we finished last year.
Joshn Kennedy, Lewis Jetta and Dan Hannebery are developing into top-class nmidfielders, and with Jude Bolton and Adam Goodes leading from the nfront, we have a great mix of youth and experience.
Success at AFLn level is more about maintaining consistency over an extended period, nwhich is the benchmark we are striving for this year - if you are 5 npercent off you can be beaten by any team in the competition.
RIP JIM STYNES
While I never had the privilege of meeting Jim in person, his story was one that very much inspired me.
He was a man who left an indelible mark on people, not just throughout the AFL but around the world - it is a devastating loss.
Wishing his family and friends the very best during this very difficult time.Cheers, Kieren