At first glance, the arrivals of Ryan Clarke and Jackson Thurlow from North Melbourne and Geelong may just appear as a depth move for the Sydney Swans.
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At the halfway point of the 2018 AFL season the Sydney Swans have quietly made their way to 9-3 and are sitting in third.
This weekend they’re coming up against the top-of-the-table West Coast Eagles, who have lost only one game all year – which was in Round 1 to the Swans at Optus Stadium. This makes for an intriguing contest and could be the best Friday night game this season.
Much of the attention this season has been on the dominance of West Coast and Richmond and also surprise packets of Melbourne, Collingwood and North Melbourne. A lot of focus has also been placed on the disappointing Adelaide, Gold Coast and St Kilda sides.
The Swans, on the other hand, have gone relatively unnoticed this season, grinding out some good victories but still by some experts not considered real premiership contenders.
While some of the senior boys have been out of form at times or out injured, the Swans youngsters have really improved and stepped up. Players like Oliver Florent, Ben Ronke, Tom McCartin and Will Hayward have shown that the Swans have a bright future ahead. Florent and Ronke have both earned themselves Rising Star nominations already this season.
Florent earnt the Round 11 nomination with 20 disposals, five score involvements, five intercept possessions and four inside 50s in a win over Carlton. Ronke had a record-breaking night in only his third AFL game, with 11 disposals and becoming the first player in AFL history to kick seven goals and have ten tackles in a game.
Hayward, who was only a late inclusion for Round 1, hasn’t missed a beat since, playing all 12 games and kicking 21 goals to have him 14th on the AFL goal-kicking list, which is amazing for a second-year player. He was the highlight for the Swans for the three weeks Lance Franklin was out injured. He’s only 186 centimetres but he was taking big, high-flying marks playing as a key forward, kicking nine goals in those three weeks.
One player who doesn’t get the credit he deserves is Jake Lloyd. The Swans running defender is having a standout season, leading Sydney in disposals and rebound 50s this season with an 80 per cent disposal efficiency. He has only had one game under 20 disposals, with his best effort being 41 disposals, 15 marks, nine rebound 50s and a goal against the Dockers in Round 8. He should be in All Australian contention in the back pocket or off the half-back line without a doubt.
It was last Saturday night that the Swans showed that they can really put a team to the sword, be it only against a deplorable Saints team up 55-7 at quarter time before eventually running out 71-point winners. They have multiple avenues to goal – Franklin, Hayward, Ronke – and have a midfield that hit the scoreboard hard as well, including Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney. Even Ruckman Callum Sinclair is kicking goals.
Sinclair himself has taken his own game to a new level this season. He was thrust into the number one ruck role in the preseason when number one ruckman Sam Naismith went down with a ruptured ACL. It was thought the ruck department would be a major weakness for Sydney, but Sinclair has played every game this season averaging 15 disposals and 31 hit-outs and leads all ruckmen with ten goals this season.
Right now is the best time to play West Coast – probably at their most vulnerable, away from home and missing in-form star forward Jack Darling. The Swans are on a roll, winning their last five matches, and they’d be hoping the Eagles are slow starters coming off their bye last week.
The ruck duel will be an important one between the Eagles duo Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett against Sinclair to see which midfield gets first use. The other interesting match-up will be who plays on Franklin, who in Round 1 against the Eagles was at his devastating best, with 21 disposals, nine marks and eight goals.
This Friday night, if the Swans can knock off West Coast at home, the AFL will start to take notice. They will no longer be that under-the-radar team they’ve been this season; they should start being real premiership threats up there with Richmond.
On a roll with a bigger, stronger midfield featuring Kennedy, Parker and Heeney and with Franklin coming back into some real form after a few weeks off with injury will lead to a Swans win. At the SCG with West Coast maybe being a bit slow to start coming off the bye, the Swans can win a close but thrilling contest.