When the Sydney Swans selected Tom Papley with their first selection in the 2016 Rookie Draft, not many people would have dreamed the apprentice plumber becoming one of the Swans most influential players so early in his career. But that's exactly what the former Gippsland Power prospect has become.
The well documented grandson of former South Melbourne players Max Papley and Jeff Bray, the 19-year-old made his AFL debut against Collingwood in Round one 2016.
Following strong performances in the pre-season against Greater Western Sydney and Carlton, the diminutive forward was fantastic in his first game, kicking three goals and catching plenty of peoples attention. His ferocious attack on the ball and player was a particular highlight, drawing immediate comparisons to fellow forward Ben McGlynn.
The small forward followed up his impressive senior debut with a string of handy games, including an impressive performance against the Eagles in round five. Along with 20 disposals, six inside 50s and a couple of goals, we was nominated for the Round 5 NAB AFL Rising Star. The young Swan was well on his way to cementing his spot in one of the best teams in the AFL.
Papley continued to impress throughout his debut season, playing 20 games, averaging 13 touches, 4 tackles and 1.5 goals a game. With his forward pressure, attack on the ball and player becoming a hallmark of his game, he lead his fellow rookies for tackles inside forward 50.
Fast forward to 2017, he went into the new season firmly entrenched in the Sydney Swans starting 22. Following a strong first season, the 21-year-old goal sneak was expected to take the next step by the Swans faithful, and he didn't disappoint.
Despite missing the first round through injury, he kicked on with his career-best season. His best two games came against the Demons in Round 15, collecting 25 disposals and the Bulldogs in Round 12 with 21 disposals, 8 tackles, 7 inside 50s and a couple of goals.
His high work rate and penchant for tackling, was again highlighted in the Swans' Round 22 nail biting win over the ladder leading Crows. His career best 9 tackles went a long way to helping the Swans win at the Adelaide Oval.
Papley also developed a bit of an "antagonistic" reputation in football circles, with his abrasive demeanour and constant niggling of opponents, often attracting the spotlight of the mainstream media. This boded well for the Swans giving them a bit of mongrel that had been sorely lacking in seasons prior.
With two full seasons under his belt, the former apprentice plumber has well and truly cemented his spot in the team, and remains a crucial part of the Swans structure.
His stints through the midfield, coupled with his forward 50 pressure acts, will keep him in good stead as he becomes a vital cog in the Swans juggernaut for the better part of the next decade. Not a bad first 2 years in the AFL system and sure as hell beats digging holes and unclogging drains for a living.
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