Briggs Hoping History Will Repeat Itself
This article was originally published at gwsgiants.com.au
By Tilly Werner
History is on track to repeat itself for Kieren Briggs, the GIANTS’ ‘man for big moments’.
A standout performer for the GIANTS in their late charge to, and through, the finals, Briggs looks to have developed a habit of stepping up when the circumstances demand it.
The 23-year-old has established himself as Adam Kingsley’s preferred ruck after the GIANTS’ 65-point loss to Collingwood in round 10, the club’s biggest defeat in 2023.
His selection prompted a climb up the ladder, reversing the GIANTS’ 3-7 record to a 9-3 run into seventh, and Briggs’ first taste of September football.
At 201cm and 108kg, his frame has become central to Kingsley’s rebuild and his leap into consistent senior footy has surprised many.
The turn has evoked queries over where the form has come from but for Briggs’ old clubmates at the Pennant Hills Demons there are no surprises, just an eerie feeling of familiarity.
In an almost symmetrical path to the GIANTS’ 2023 season, Briggs was called into the Demons’ Premiers side in 2017 as they mounted a seven-game winning charge to the 2017 AFL Sydney final, becoming the first side in the competition’s history to win it from fifth.
“2017 holds a special place in my heart,” Briggs said.
Briggs came into the team when the club was struggling to get a foothold on the season. Previously used as a key-position utility, Chris Yard – Pennant Hills senior coach at the time – threw him into the ruck.
“He was playing for the GIANTS Academy and had a sprinkle of NEAFL games, but we bought him in, and he was nominated as a rising star almost immediately,” Yard recalled.
“We finished fifth that year and then we won seven straight, including the Grand Final.”
In an era where the Demons looked as much like an AFL talent production line than a suburban Sydney club, Yard and his head of selection Michael Cousens could sense the big spirit driving a growing Briggs.
“That era, there was Brandon Jack, Braeden Campbell, Marc Sheather, Peaty (GIANTS’ James Peatling) it was an incredible time for the club,” Yard said.
“When I first laid eyes on Briggsy he was running laps around Mike Kenny Oval and I thought ‘who is this lumbering Giant. He was a pup then but he is an absolute machine now’.
“He just became a big man for big moments.”
From a season that spawned a reel of highlights as ‘Penno’ climbed from the bottom half to finals contenders, one moment in the 2017 Grand Final stands out for Cousens.
“There were some monumental moments in that match against Sydney Uni where I was thinking ‘geez, this guy’s going to serve us well’,” he said.
Yard and Cousens both recall a game-changing speccy, in a momentum-shifting final-quarter moment that kept Sydney Uni at bay and allowing the Dees to level, before a Briggs clearance gave them the last shot of the game and a 66-60 win.
“He takes those big marks and even back then as an 18-year-old, there was a clutch moment in the last quarter, he took this big defensive mark in a pack with a game on the line and it really stands out for me,” Yard said.
“There were a lot of moments where he stood up like that.”
While Briggs still spends spare time back around Mike Kenny Oval, the GIANTS’ prelim berth has seen support from the Demons for their flag-winner hit an all-time high.
“Yardy called me this week I was thinking, ‘we’re in a prelim, he wants to relive some memories’,” Briggs said.
“I grew up around the club and from about 14, 15 I was always watching the prem boys play and was driving to play prems and eventually get a flag and those boys that I did it with are lifelong friends now.”
Bonds back then were formed by the siloed community of footy fans in northwest Sydney – a far cry from the community support that has swelled up around the GIANTS this September.
“Seeing kids here today from western Sydney who are really enjoying and engaging with AFL is exciting,” Briggs said.
“When I was growing up here it wasn’t that much of a figure in Sydney so now to see so many kids enjoying coming down and watching training and the way it’s progressing is really cool to see, hopefully they stay fans after this week!”
Friday’s preliminary final marks the first time Briggs will face off against Collingwood and the Demons travelers, a 30-strong group of supporters, will be a band of orange that Briggs seeks out against a black-and-white backdrop.
“The Pies are going to play big; they have that 19th man with that massive crowd but we have always had crowds against us, and it’s never bothered us. We’re a tight group and that shows on the field,” Briggs said.
“I think Collingwood would be a little scared of the Orange Tsunami.”
Just like the growing wave, Briggs is finding his best form at the right time.
Winning the hitout contest 28-18 against one of the game’s best in St Kilda’s Rowan Marshall was a significant boost in confidence.
Yet for Briggs, his key role in the side does not lie in the ruck battle.
“Teams feed off big guys that have presence and I guess that’s what they’ve asked me to do,” he said.
“Just coming up with that presence and challenge and if I feel like I’m walking taller it seems to make others walk taller as well.”