The GIANTS added two dual best and fairest winners to their list this off-season, but defender Curtly Hampton believes it is the core group of fourth-year players that will drive the team to the top.

After recovering from a serious shoulder injury to return for the GIANTS’ final game of 2014, Hampton has hit the ground running this pre-season and said he and his fellow young leaders have taken ownership of the club’s improvement.

“We’ve had a few good additions again - Joel Patfull and Ryan Griffen - but personally for us fourth-year players, I think we now know what it really takes to be a good AFL club,” Hampton told GIANTS TV.

“We’ve sort of come together and said this is our year to really step it up and ever since the start of pre-season the intensity has just been another 20 per cent from all the fourth-year players and everyone else.

“I reckon we’ve really driven the standards this year and this pre-season.

“All the fourth-year players, there’s a lot of us in the Emerging Leaders group, and we sat down and said we want to put the onus on us this year to drive the standards.

“Obviously there’s the Shane Mumfords and Callan Wards and Heath Shaws but we really think that we can be up there with them and drive the standards with the club and really stick together and move forward.”

Hampton was one of a handful of key GIANTS players who missed a large part of the 2014 season, with the 21-year-old defender suffering the first serious injury of his career in the Round 12 match against Essendon.

He pushed to return for the final game of the season, playing in the GIANTS’ thrilling win over the Western Bulldogs.

“It was pretty unfortunate, my first ever major injury and I missed 10 games,” Hampton said.

“It was pretty hard, it happened so quick and it felt like I was out for a whole year and then I finally came back in Round 23.

“I had to train really hard, I had a choice to either sit out the rest of the year or try to get back for the last game and I thought ‘why not’, I don’t really want to miss too many games.

“I worked pretty hard, mainly on strengthening my shoulder up so I came into Round 23 pretty unfit. It felt like it was my first game in two years but it was good to just get the win and all the boys really got up for it and it was really good.

“Another reason why we really pushed my rehab to get back was that so that when I got back after the off-season I could get straight into pre-season and didn’t have any lapses with my shoulder and could just get straight into everything contact-wise as well.”

With 46 AFL games now under his belt, the smooth-moving defender relished a move to the backline last season and is set to reach the important 50-game milestone in 2015.

With under five weeks until the GIANTS’ NAB Challenge campaign kicks off at Blacktown against the Gold Coast Suns, Hampton said they just can’t wait to get out on the field again.

“After Christmas it’s always exciting, everyone sort of gets that little kick of energy because we know the games are just around the corner,” he said.

“It’s been really tough, by far the hardest pre-season we’ve done. But everyone’s really stepped up another gear and we know what it takes.

“Obviously we want to get in the top eight, if not better so we’ve just been driving the standards every training session.

“It’s hard but the boys are so excited about the season that it makes it a bit easier as well.”

Hampton will also head to Perth with five of his teammates for the AFL’s Indigenous Camp later this month.

The GIANTS begin the NAB Challenge series against the Gold Coast Suns at Blacktown International Sportspark on March 7 before playing Essendon at Spotless Stadium and the Swans at StarTrack Oval in Canberra.

GIANTS members get free entry to all of the club’s NAB Challenge matches as well as free train travel to Spotless Stadium and many more benefits. Become a GIANTS member today by calling 1300 442 687 or visiting