Sydney nail big Cox to go with little Johnson

The birds have scattered in the Sydney Swans’ coaching box – but it is certainly not crap that has landed.

On Monday, the West Coast Eagles announced favourite son Dean Cox would depart for Sydney to take up an assistant coaching role with the Swans.

One of the greatest of all-time in his position, the big ruckman played 290 games over 14 seasons in the AFL, and has been an assistant with West Coast since 2014.

The Adelaide Crows and Geelong Cats – the first and second-place finishers in the home and away season – also expressed interest in Cox’s services.

However, with an exodus of assistants at the Bloods, Cox’s best opportunity for personal development was with the red and white.

This may seem an innocuous part of the traditional offseason shuffle, but au contraire. Cox will fit in as a massive part of the coach’s box next season.

Ruck was a position of struggle for Sydney last year. Kurt Tippett’s battle with form was well documented, while neither Sam Naismith nor Callum Sinclair convincingly made the position their own, despite coming close.

Naismith’s piece de resistance came in the Elimination Final against the Essendon Bombers, where he comprehensively beat an experienced ruckman in Tom Bellchambers, paving the way for his side’s convincing win.

Other positional wins in his 15 games this season came against Jordan Roughead (Rounds 1 and 12), Max Gawn (15) and Shane Mumford (17).

His worst nights out generally came against the better ruckmen in the competition, where he struggled to compete both physically and tactically around the ground – he was one of many to go missing in the semi final.

On the other hand, Sinclair missed only four games, but seemed to play his best football up forward. He certainly hit higher highs than Naismith, but showed less as a tap ruckman, and also disappeared against Geelong.

Will Cox fix these contrasting problems immediately? No, but he will contribute to doing so, as the Swans attempt to mould a clear-cut first-choice ruckman which the club has been missing for too long.

They seemingly lost one to the Richmond Tigers this time last year, when Toby Nankervis requested a trade for the 2017 premiers. For Bloods fans watching the Grand Final, it was bittersweet viewing.

The way Nankervis worked his way into the match and dominated his opposite number Sam Jacobs, both in the ruck and around the ground, was play we knew he was always capable of, and would produce sooner or later.

The way ‘Nank’ frequently dropped back in defence to out mark a murder of Crows was reminiscent of what Cox used to do, and did frequently in our two Grand Finals against the Eagles in 2005 and 2006.

It is a quality in ruckmen becoming almost as important as the tap work itself. Richmond has unearthed a good’un, where Adelaide did not, and it was one of many decisive matchups on the day.

Mumford and Zac Smith are also capable of solid around-the-ground play, and happen to belong to two teams among the final four in this year’s competition.

If Cox can help Naismith and Sinclair work on their weaknesses, he will be worth his 110+ kilograms in gold.

However, the big Eagle has not been the only addition made to Sydney’s coaching ranks so far, although this man has a lot less distance to travel to make it to his new post than Cox.

Retiring Greater Western Sydney Giants forward Steve Johnson will make the trip across town to join the Swans as a forwards coach, mentoring an attack that produced the fifth-most points this year.

Johnson was known for exciting the fans with the Cats and GWS during his 16-year playing career, during which he played 293 games and kicked 516 goals.

So sought-after were Stevie J’s services, he held multiple interviews in Melbourne from Victorian clubs for his services, in addition to hearing a pitch from the Giants.

Johnson completed the Next Coach Program years ago, under coaching expert David Wheadon, and was one of the most coveted footy minds coming onto the market for the 2018 season.

We established to not expect immediate dividends from Cox, but Hall of Fame coach David Parkin says we should believe the contrary with Johnson.

“I've spent enough time with him now to know that's a commitment he made two or three years ago when playing football was still his major focus," Parkin told AFL.com.au.

"He got his head into that space and was doing something about it.

"I've had a bit to do with him, because he came and did the Level Two coaching course and we started to share a bit of coaching information.

"We've shared a number of conversations and a number of articles and books and things that he's been fascinated to follow up."

It’s safe to say our former cross-town rival is going to be a huge addition to John Longmire’s staff.

Johnson’s ability to fit into a premiership-calibre side such as the Giants, whose average age will have significantly decreased with his retirement, shows how truly pioneering of the forward position he was, and still is.

The modern way of producing goals in not something the Bloods have been ignorant of.

Despite $10 million of Lance Franklin in the forwardline, goals from the midfield have always been an m.o. for the team, starting when Paul Roos initiated “slingshot footy”.

However, such is the nature of the League, Sydney now need to work harder to find more goals from the small-to-medium forwards occupying the forward 50.

In this role, players who will fall under Johnson’s responsibility will be Tom Papley, Gary Rohan, Dean Towers, Harry Cunningham and Will Hayward.

Dan Robinson and Jordan Dawson will also be looked to for more, in important years for the duo. James Rose, who kicked over 50 goals this year in the NEAFL, will also be keen for a big 2018.

One of the keys to a successful 2018 will be getting just a small few of those names to further their development enough to provide another genuine threat in the o-zone.

If we’re again cross-comparing with this year’s premiers, the Tigers, it’d be great to unearth another Daniel Rioli, but players with his skillset seldom come along.

Rioli is much from the same cloth as Dustin Martin, in which he is not a possession-clogger, but manages to involve himself in a score with almost each of his 11 disposals per game.

Can we dream of a small forward with a similar sort of effectivity? We can sure dream, but with Johnson leading around the forwardline, the 34 year-old imparting his genius onto one of ours becomes far more likely.

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Myles Stedman

@rugbycomau writer and @neaflofficial media team | Contributor at @SBNation, @FanSided, @ItheunbalancedI , @zerotackle, @LastWordonPuck

Sydney, New South Wales

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