We have reached the top eight, and start with a team that has consistently been around the mark over the last few years and should see September action yet again.
The Sydney Swans do very little wrong year in, year out, and their top-end talent ensures they won’t slip too far, despite the top four looking beyond them.
Sydney Swans – eighth
B: Nick Smith, Ted Richards, Michael Talia
HB: Dane Rampe, Heath Grundy, Jarrad McVeigh
C: Tom Mitchell, Luke Parker, Kieran Jack
HF: Gary Rohan, Kurt Tippett, Isaac Heeney
F: Brandon Jack, Lance Franklin, Jake Lloyd
FOLL: Callum Sinclair, Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery
I/C: Sam Reid, Harry Cunningham, Callum Mills, Ben McGlynn
Lance Franklin faced a number of personal issues in 2015 and took some time away, but looks refreshed and reinvigorated as he enters the third year of his outlandish ten-year contract.
When physically and mentally fit he remains among the very best players in the league, and the Swans will be hoping Kurt Tippett finds the consistency that his career has lacked. Tippett looks set to play a key role as the second tall forward and backup ruckman, but may just as easily be called upon to be the first choice in either position.
Isaac Heeney was a revelation in his debut season, ranking among the league leaders for the rookies in almost every statistical category. More impressive than that was his ability to seize the moment and look far more assured than his 19 years. He faced an interrupted pre-season with knee issues and may have to bide his time before breaking into the powerful Swans midfield, but figures to be a significant and dangerous asset up forward.
It figures to be a huge year for Gary Rohan, the injury-prone former first-round draft pick who has yet to deliver on his considerable potential. Having passed 20 disposals just once in his career is a damning statistic, and he will be hoping to develop from flashy outside runner to something more substantial in 2016.
Forward line – 6/10
The backline remains among the most miserly in the competition, with relative no-names at every turn. Conceding the fourth-least points per game, the fifth-least inside 50s conceded and second-least marks inside 50 they rely on a tight defensive formation to provide the likes of Dane Rampe with the ability to generate attack from the backline. Rampe had a fantastic 2015, rating sixth in the AFL in rebounds 50s and will be looking to improve even more in his fourth season.
Jarrad McVeigh provides poise from half-back and thrived when given space to operate; he ranked 16th in uncontested possessions and was an unquestionable barometer for the Swans in 2015. Case in point – he averaged 20.1 possessions in Sydney losses, with a high total of 23 possessions; contrast that to the 16 Sydney wins McVeigh averaged 23.3 possessions and exceeded 25 possession on eight occasions.
Backline rating – 7/10
The top-end talent is elite. Josh Kennedy is an absolute bull, dominating on the inside second in contested possessions per game and fifth in clearances per game, while also ranking highly in tackles and effective disposals per game. At 28, Kennedy figures to still be in his prime and is the perfect complement to Dan Hannebery. The soon-to-be 25-year-old had a breakout 2015, ranking in the top ten in uncontested possessions and disposals per game; his game is predicated on more than just volume though as he ranked fourth in the AFL in effective disposals per game.
Beyond the two stars there is still plenty of quality. The injury Luke Parker suffered late in 2015 was a telling blow to the Swans’ flags hopes, as he had exploded in stellar fashion, ranking in the top 20 for both contested possessions and total possessions per game. Meanwhile, Kieran Jack’s tough, relentless style and ability to play both in the midfield and as a small forward saw him rate 10th in tackles per game and 14th in goal assists per game.
Add ball magnet Tom Mitchell to the mix and you have a mix of quality midfielders capable of going toe-to-toe with any handful in the league.
The quality drops away beyond this group, and the decision to sign career backup Callum Sinclair to replace premiership ruckman Mike Pyke looks risky.
Midfield rating – 7/10
Double-ups against North Melbourne, Hawthorn and Richmond feature in a reasonable fixture, but the Swans will be happy with only having to travel to Perth once, and having three of the four games following their bye in the comfort of the SCG.
South Melbourne fans will be thrilled to be able to see ‘The Bloods’ in action on six occasions, while the Swans get a reasonable deal in regards to the number of six-day breaks. They have six of them, including three in consecutive weeks from Rounds 15-17, as they take on the Bulldogs, Cats and Hawks.
Fixture rating – 6/10
John Longmire is a premiership coach whose career record stacks up favourably against most other coaches. The Swans have made the finals in every year under his tutelage, and have advanced to at least the second week each time.
His ability to maintain a strong, effective backline and generally be successful in dictating a tempo and style of play that suits the Swans has been a strength. Sydney have gone from 13th to second in uncontested possessions from 2013 to 2015; they slipped to sixth in contested possessions in 2015 having ranked first in this categories from 2012-2014.
He is faced with having lost over 900 games of experience as Adam Goodes, Rhyce Shaw, Mike Pyke and Lewis Jetta walked out the door, and he needs to inject youth into the team post haste.
Coaching rating – 7/10
While Sydney haven’t always won in the most aesthetically pleasing manner, they are effective with a strong defensive focus; while they have moved towards a more attacking style that ranked sixth in the league in scoring in 2016 and can lean on Franklin.
Selecting Sydney to finish eighth is not controversial, however the teams ranked above them seem more likely to push for the 15-plus wins needed to feature in the top four.
If the likes of Heeney, Rampe, Brandon Jack and Mills take the opportunity and continue to develop then the top four is definitely attainable, but the midfield depth is questionable should they face an injury similar to those suffered by Parker or K. Jack late in 2015.
Predicted finish – eighth