Season preview: Sydney Swans

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The Swans and Cats are both in the hunt for a top four finish in 2014. AAP Images

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They’ve landed one of the biggest names in the game and this is what will make the Sydney Swans one of the favourites for this year’s premiership.

The Swans caused the biggest stir of the off-season when it was announced that they had lured Lance Franklin to the club to a nine year deal which will exceed almost $10 million, just when it was thought that a deal with GWS seemed all but a formality.

But the lure of another premiership was what enticed Franklin to instead don the red-and-white, and so far he has not disappointed on the training field as the Swans prepare for a possible second flag in three years.

Let’s now take a look at the Sydney Swans’ chances for season 2014.

Sydney Swans
Last season: Preliminary finalists
Most recent premiership: 2012

Notable arrivals: Lance Franklin (Hawthorn), Jeremy Laidler (Carlton)
Notable departures: Jed Lamb, Shane Mumford (GWS), Jesse White (Collingwood), Jude Bolton, Martin Mattner, Mitch Morton (retired)

Leading goal-kicker: Kurt Tippett (35)
All-Australians: Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack, Daniel Hannebery
Best-and-fairest: Jarrad McVeigh

After injuries sabotaged their 2013 premiership defence, which ended with a loss to Fremantle in the preliminary final, the Sydney Swans will enter a new year with a clean list and with a rejuvenated playing list shaken up by the arrival of Lance Franklin on a nine-year, multi-million dollar contract.

Buddy’s arrival will give the Swans the most-feared forward line in the competition, where he is expected to compliment last season’s leading goal-kicker, Kurt Tippett, who despite his delayed start to 2013 due to his role in Adelaide’s salary cap tampering scandal still managed to boot 35 goals last year.

As a result of the Swans landing the best full-forward in the game today, there were some notable casualties; namely, Shane Mumford and Jed Lamb, who have headed out west to GWS, and Jesse White, who will head south to Collingwood in search of more top-level opportunities.

Jude Bolton, Martin Mattner and Mitch Morton have also announced their retirements, and it will be Bolton’s loss who is felt the most at Sydney.

But even so, Sydney’s premiership window is expected to remain wide open for at least the next five or so years, as Buddy begins to enter the prime of his career at a different club.

His partnership with Kurt Tippett in the forward line, as well as the hard working midfield of Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack, Daniel Hannebery and Adam Goodes will make the Sydney Swans a very hard side to beat in 2014.

Not to mention, Goodes will return after injury cruelled the second half of his 2013 season, but given that this is likely to be his final year before he retires, we may have already seen what life will be like at the Swans without him when they stayed in the top four in his absence.

Matches to watch in 2014
1. The Battle of the Bridge, rounds one and fifteen

As is in all local AFL derbies, the Sydney Swans will get two shots at the GWS Giants in 2014, but while in the past this has guaranteed eight premiership points, they won’t come easier this time around.

The Swans will still have the more experienced team but this year the Giants will field a good blend of young talent and experience from other clubs, as they launch their bid to finally climb off the bottom of the ladder in 2014.

From the Giants, new recruit Heath Shaw will have his hands full trying to handle the intimidating figure that is Lance Franklin, who will also be keen to show the Giants just what they’re missing, after snubbing them in favour of the Swans during the off-season.

And thus, expect the Swans to be finally challenged in this painfully lopsided rivalry – even if they end up winning by only a kick or two. Even that will finally close the widening gap on the two Sydney sides.

2. Melbourne versus Sydney, Round 6
The acquisition of Paul Roos as Melbourne’s head coach will make the Swans’ Round 6 showdown against their former coach a must-watch.

The Dees hired the 2005 premiership coach in a desperate attempt to finally overturn seven horror years on the field, which had seen two coaches tried and failed, as well as board management issues and the tanking scandal cloud the club.

And so, this match will pit Roos up against the man who replaced him as part of a succession plan initiated in 2010 – John Longmire, and such is the interest in this match-up that this match has been given free-to-air exposure on the Saturday night following ANZAC Day.

What a grudge match this will be, even if the final result proves to be painfully one-sided, as their last few meetings have proven to be.

3. Sydney versus Hawthorn, Rounds 8 and 18
Of the entire Sydney Swans line-up, probably the man who will be most interested about their Round 8 showdown will be Lance Franklin.

On Friday, May 9, Buddy will oppose his 2013 premiership teammates for the first time since his well-documented departure from Glenferrie Oval last year, and with the first match to be played at ANZ Stadium, he can expect Swans fans to be on his side as he prepares to deliver the last laugh on last season’s premiers.

But that won’t be their only meeting – the 2012 grand finalists will go head-to-head again in Round 18, but this time in Melbourne, where Franklin will be the target of angry Hawthorn supporters, most of whom still have his departure fresh in their minds.

Sydney fans will fly down to Melbourne in droves for the second edition, in an effort to quell the loud booing that will be expected from the pro-Hawthorn crowd on the last Saturday night of July.

4. Sydney versus Geelong, Round 11
The Sydney Swans will feature on the Thursday night stage for the second time in as many seasons when they face up to the Geelong Cats in the prelude to the final round before winter well and truly kicks in.

It will feature two of the best midfields in the competition, with the Swans arsenal of Kieren Jack, Adam Goodes, Jarrad McVeigh and Dan Hannebery to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Jimmy Bartel, James Kelly, Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan and Josh Caddy.

Geelong have had the wood on Sydney in recent years so this is something the Swans will be keen to reverse this year.

This will be their only meeting in 2014, so the Swans must make the most of it as both teams will not meet again until at least the finals series, where both teams are expected to feature.

The verdict
With the acquisition of the best full-forward in the game, all the pressure will be on the Sydney Swans to deliver and perform in 2014.

But they have relished in the circumstances before, such that they started becoming the powerhouse they are now when Tony Lockett, and later Barry Hall, served the club graciously.

The forward line of Franklin and Tippett, and a midfield featuring three All-Australians in Kieren Jack, Jarrad McVeigh and Dan Hannebery will make this side hard to beat in 2014.

Challenging for the premiership will be easy, but with Hawthorn once again the premiership favourites, the Swans will have to make do being the second favourites.

Prediction
Second

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