Season preview: Can the Swans do it again?

Fourteen finals in 15 years, with two premierships, a platinum performance from a sporting club by anyone’s standard.

This is the Sydney Swans’ blessing and its curse.

Every year, in Australia’s toughest football market, the Swans need a formula for success, otherwise they could wilt under the heat of NSW’s rampant rugby league domination and the increasingly hot breath of little brother GWS.

With a sound administration, excellent recruiting and a culture of success, Sydney has been remarkably resilient in the last decade and attracted many more fans and paying members. Those fans want more!

As season 2018 gets underway, the Swans again bear the considerable load of supporters’ finals expectations.

In addition, the pressure to perform well in the first few weeks has significantly increased following last year’s dire 0-6 start, which ultimately wrecked Sydney’s chances of going all the way to the grand final.

Into this mix of self-imposed and external demand for success comes the bad news – the club’s senior ruckman Sam Naismith has suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury.

This is a serious problem, because replacements are thin on the ground. Callum Sinclair has a willing attitude but has not, so far, set the rucking world on fire and talented Darcy Cameron is still an unknown quantity. Potentially, athletic Aliir Aliir and Dean Towers can pinch hit, however, it leaves Sydney somewhat exposed against teams with a dominant ruckman like Paddy Ryder at Port Adelaide or, gulp, Nic Naitanui at West Coast.

The Swans’ midfielders will no doubt have to shark a few more opposition taps to get their hands on the ball, which shouldn’t bother the hard nuts like Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney, but can add to the pressure in a close match.

On the positive side, Sydney may end up being a more mobile and fleet-of-foot side this season and certainly with speedsters like Tom Papley, Will Hayward and Gary Rohan, the forward line has massive potential. We all have our fingers crossed Sam Reid stays fit, and then of course, there’s Buddy.

Lance Franklin has been in pretty good nick in the pre-season, a tremendous effort given he had several lots of knee clean-up surgery after the finals last year. He’s fit and raring to go for round one and a Coleman Medal chance again, but let’s all hope he’s not the only target up front. Opposition sides figured that one out years ago…

The Swans’ dependable backline will once again be marshalled by former captain Jarrad McVeigh, alongside ever reliable Nick Smith, Dane “the Robe” Rampe and veteran Heath Grundy. We’re looking forward to seeing what magic Nic Newman can weave with his laser-like left foot running out of halfback.

Much interest also lies with Callum Mills and Zak Jones, who have done most of their best work down back so far, but are being groomed for midfield roles. Mills is courageous and takes a lovely mark – is he quick enough and accurate enough with his handballing under pressure as a mid? And will dashing Jones reduce his clanger count?

Senior coach John Longmire, with his new-look coaching staff (including recruits Dean Cox and Steve Johnson), seems willing to test out new line-ups to accommodate senior players such as Kieren Jack and Dan Hannebery and inject life into the midfield, which is encouraging. Horse also looks set to continue blooding new Bloods, with rookies such as Ryley Stoddart tipped to debut at some stage early in the season.

The Swans don’t have a bad draw in regards to travel, with just one trip to WA and none at all to SA. They have to play West Coast, Geelong, the Giants and Hawthorn twice and win at least 15 or 16 matches to make the all-important top 4.

Pluses: Lance Franklin and the Swans’ talented forward line – has the potential to kick some big scores; JPK – he’s a winner in every respect; Nic Newman – I love the way he plays; the club’s professionalism – it will take them a long way this season; passionate Swans fans – turn up to all the games and cheer for your team!

Minuses: The ruck; backline will be tested if there are further injuries to senior players; the Dustin Martin factor – who is going to star every week for the Swans and generate the same confidence the Tigers gained from Brownlow-winning Dusty in 2017?

Question marks: Aliir Aliir – we want to see him shine; Callum Mills in the midfield – show us what you’ve got; Gary Rohan – a dynamic player and fan favourite who has not (yet) shone in finals.

The verdict: 4th

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Heather Quinlan

Communications specialist; former SMH journalist. Views my own. Loves: family, Sydney Swans, good food, sport and exercise, no particular order

Snowy Mountains, NSW

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