Let’s get something straight – Sydney’s 0-4 start to the season is not because of injuries. It’s because of list management and poor form, and let’s not pretend otherwise.
That said, the Swans’ future looks brighter than their fellow perennial contender but now fellow cellar-dweller Hawthorn. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Owen. Owen Four.
Sydney brought in Kurt Tippett at the end of 2012 and Lance Franklin at the end of 2013, and in the ensuing years have had to let go a series of players, in part because of resulting salary cap pressure, that has eroded their depth.
Tippett has missed the past couple, while Sam Naismith didn’t play on the weekend against Sydney. Toby Nankervis sought more opportunity at Richmond at the end of last season, and has proven across the first month that he impacts games more than Callum Sinclair does, despite being far younger and much more inexperienced.
The Swans also lost Shane Mumford and Jesse White in securing Tippett and Buddy. Mumford remains one of the better ruckmen in the competition, and was more valuable at Sydney given his bullocking style and their stoppage-based game-plan. White is a better player than Sinclair in that supporting forward-ruck position.
Gaining Sinclair at the end of 2015, and losing Mumford, Nankervis and White has been a clear cross for the Swans. First year draftee Darcy Cameron is highly rated, so the future may well be bright in this position, but it won’t help them this year.
Sydney are the fourth lowest scoring side so far this season, despite Sam Reid averaging 2.75 goals per game, by far a career high. Support for Buddy is otherwise lacking, even allowing for bright forward showings from youngsters Will Hayward and Oliver Florent.
In fact, Hayward has arguably shown more in three consecutive matches than Rohan has at any time in his career, so Rohan’s absence through injury can’t be any excuse.
There have been no goals from Luke Parker after kicking 90 goals across the last four seasons. He has had to spend more time through the midfield due to Tom Mitchell’s defection to Hawthorn after Sydney offered him ‘unders’ to stay. Mitchell would hit the scoreboard too, an underrated part of his game, with 15 goals last year.
Isaac Heeney was rightly earmarked to take more responsibility in the midfield while still having an impact forward this season, as he did in the finals last year. Unfortunately for football lovers everywhere, he hasn’t played yet due to an untimely bout of glandular fever.
No Heeney and Mitchell means more midfield time for Parker, Josh Kennedy and Dan Hannebery, and these players bearing more load while in there. With Parker and Hannebery out of form, there is no-one left to help carry the load consistently across a game. Mitchell’s absence hurts more badly than was supposed given these circumstances.
Tim Membrey left Sydney for more opportunity at St Kilda at the end of 2014, after Adam Goodes was given one more year in his high half-forward position.
Membrey kicked 44 goals from 17 matches at the Saints last year, and is leading the club for inside 50’s this season. How handy he would be between the arcs and up forward for the Swans right now. There’s a fair case to say he could have been the difference in a low-scoring grand final last year too. Certainly he would have offered more than Xavier Richards.
Thinking of the grand final, Shane Biggs played every game on his way to becoming a premiership Bulldog last year, as a rebounding outside defender. Sydney have been weak in this area so far in 2017, thanks in part to Dane Rampe’s absence through a post-Round 1 injury.
Nick Malceski left the club at the same time as Biggs, but played awful football at Gold Coast. Lewis Jetta has similarly disappointed at West Coast since his departure, but again we see a lack of depth in that outside running area, especially with Dan Hannebery out of form to start the year.
Zak Jones has lifted well to try and fill that gap, and Nic Newman is also looking a handy prospect in his few games, but they are not as composed or consistent as those that came before them, but nor can that be expected of them at this stage.
Michael Talia was ostensibly brought in to learn from Ted Richards with the view to replacing him, but that hasn’t worked as he’s played the princely sum of one game since his arrival. The club that set the standard in re-working players from other clubs has fallen by the wayside.
As mentioned previously, Luke Parker and Dan Hannebery are down on previous outputs, but they have plenty of friends at this stage of the season.
Jake Lloyd has continued on his rich accumulating and distributing form from the second half of last year. Josh Kennedy and Lance Franklin continue to maintain high standards. Zac Jones has improved. Apart from those four, it’s hard to find another Swan that has improved on last season’s output, or is playing to their best.
Sydney were well handled at home by Port in Round 1 with Rampe, Tippett and Naismith in the team. The Swans could only find five goal-kickers against the Dogs, with Franklin and Reid turning in supreme performances to no avail. It’s arguable that even with those players plus a slowing Jarrad McVeigh, they would still be 1-3 thanks to the under-performance of the team across the board.
Younger players, regardless of talent, struggle for impact across four quarters. Fans are looking for signs they have the ability to ultimately make it, but understand those moments are likely to be fleeting in the initial stages of their career. That’s where the Swans are at with the likes of Hayward, Newman, Oliver Florent, Robbie Fox and Jordan Foote.
Sydney are yet to see Heeney and McVeigh suit up so far this year. Rampe has played one game and Tippett two. It’s hardly a side being crippled by injury, which has been the story some are trying to spin.
Adelaide has had Brad Crouch and Scott Thompson not play yet. Kyle Cheney played every game last year, had an injury-interrupted pre-season and hasn’t been seen. Josh Jenkins has played one full game, and Mitch McGovern is out for 2-3 months. Yet, the Crows are flying high undefeated second on the ladder.
GWS are in a similar situation. Stephen Coniglio, Brett Deledio and Lachie Whitfield haven’t played at all, and aren’t close to doing so. Ryan Griffen is out long term. Jonathon Patton has missed a couple. But, the Giants have peeled off three in a row and are sitting in the top four.
Sydney, Adelaide and GWS were all finalists last year, expected to feature again this year, and have had similar injury concerns.
No. Injuries are simply no excuse for Sydney. Their form is down, and their depth is lacking. We all thought the Swans would be in premiership contention this season, but perhaps a year in transition is coming instead. This isn’t a bad thing, but expectations now have to be managed.
We know Sydney will be back. They may even scrape into finals this year, albeit to win the flag they would have to win four finals in a row away from the SCG, and at least three interstate.
But they can use 2017 to learn more about the undeveloped talent on their list, and make a full and frank assessment of where they can improve it going into 2018. There may be some short term pain, but the medium terms signs look good.