After the most controversial pre-season in living memory, the 2013 home and away season is finally up and running.
With this of course follows early calls and predictions. Fans and experts alike are having their say as to which teams will challenge for the premiership cup.
However, there seems to be something missing. Each year, without any exceptions, the premier from the previous season is a popular choice to repeat the dose. Sometimes justified, other times not, the reigning premier is usually favourite or very close to it.
After all, they’ve just proven to the footy world that they’re capable.
This year is different. There is no love for Sydney. The premiers are on the third or fourth line of betting with most agencies, and the collective expert opinion is that not many expect the Swans to win the flag.
Take the host free-to-air broadcaster for example. Channel Seven have listed predictions from their top ten experts, and not a single one believed Sydney to be the side most likely. Eight of the ten expect them to miss the grand final altogether.
This is not a blip on the radar, rather the commonly held belief across the industry.
Straight off the bat, it must be acknowledged that Hawthorn is a very talented side that is every chance to finish the regular season on top of the ladder. There’s also plenty of logic to suggest West Coast will improve.
Adelaide and Collingwood have plenty to offer, and many feel Fremantle will give a grand final appearance a nudge.
The Swans however are clearly best placed to win the lot. It’s easy to forget at this time of year just how brutal September footy can be.
The physicality, the ultra quick reaction time of each possession required in the clinches, the necessity to win contest after contest in the face of exhaustion…these are aspects of September that Sydney thrive on more than any other.
It should come as no surprise that the Swans last year were number one in the competition for one percenters, contested possessions, and first for tackles with a whopping 73.1 per game. One percenters, contested possessions, and tackles….it’s like opening up a cook book and finding the perfect recipe for September football.
No side can claim to be better drilled for September.
Almost as importantly, they are simply a better all round side than any of their competition. Take the forward line for example.
Rarely talked about yet packed with talent, this forward set up provides greater variety and flexibility than any forward group in the AFL. The Swans had an impressive seven forwards and resting midfielders kick 25 or more goals last season, with Mike Pyke and Shane Mumford also chipping in for 20 between them as resting ruckmen.
There’s plenty of high marking ability for the long bomb, lead up options, crumbing players capable of hitting the scoreboard, and of course Lewis Jetta kicked 45 goals largely from situations in which the forward line sucked the defenders high and created a foot race inside forward 50.
Add to this Kurt Tippett. An $800,000 a year, 202cm, 104kg forward, who almost dragged Adelaide to an unlikely grand final birth last year.
The best part? He doesn’t need to kick a swag of goals to further improve this premiership forward line.
Tippett has shown he is capable of kicking over 50 goals in a side with an inferior midfield to Sydney’s current batch.
Due to the salary cap infringements the Swans won’t see him until mid year, and of course he’ll take some time to adjust to the pace of the game. One thing is for certain, if he can regain any sort of form whatsoever, Tippett will command the opposition’s best defender each week, thus releasing Reid to the second best and Goodes to the third tall defender.
Good luck finding someone to watch the resting ruckman.
The midfield is similarly under rated. Again Sydney can boast depth and flexibility that exceeds all other contenders. Josh Kennedy is a gun.
Kieran Jack also qualifies as elite, even though many in outside of Sydney are slow to catch on.
Daniel Hannebery has well and truly arrived and showed he is more than capable of delivering on the big stage. Goodes is still part of the rotation, Jetta impossible to catch, Jarrad McVeigh is rarely beaten, Jude Bolton and Ryan O’Keefe are champions of their club, Craig Bird one of the hardest taggers to shake….this midfield runs deep.
Speaking of under rated, is there a backline harder to score against than Sydney’s?
Again, not known for big names, this defence allowed fewer points than any other in the competition last year. In fact every side other than Fremantle conceded at least 100 points more last year.
Ted Richards and Heath Grundy will likely welcome Lewis Roberts-Thomson once Tippett is eligible to play, and those three are as stingy as backmen come.
Nick Malceski and Rhyce Shaw provide plenty of run, while Nick Smith was fantastic shutting out Cyril Rioli in the grand final. What more could a defensive coach ask for?
Add to all this an elite ruckman in Mumford, who has plenty of support from Pyke and Roberts-Thompson.
The scary part for the other 17 teams? Had you put it to Alistair Clarkson that he could personally choose four Sydney players to be significantly impacted by injury on the big day, there’s not too much doubt he’d have nominated Goodes, Mumford, Richards and Kennedy.
As it turned out Goodes, Mumford, Richards and Bolton played all, or most of the game, with rather limited capacities…and the Swans still won.