Ahead of Lance ‘Buddy’ Frankin’s 300th game against St Kilda at the weekend, I’ve been thinking about his decision in the 2013 trade period to sign with the Sydney Swans.
Franklin had played with Hawthorn between 2005 and 2013, where he experienced a multitude of success and developed into one of the best forwards, if not the best forward, in the competition. During his nine seasons with the Hawks Buddy played a total of 182 games, kicked 580 goals, won two Coleman medals and claimed two premierships in 2008 and 2013. His final game for Hawthorn was their 2013 premiership victory over Fremantle.
However, much of 2013 was filled with speculation about where Franklin would play in 2014 as he held off any contract talks until the end of the season. He was easily one of the top-five players, if not higher, and his free agency was big news. Rumours circulated that if he did not return to Hawthorn, Franklin would end up at AFL newcomer Greater Western Sydney.
However, on 1 October 2013 GWS withdrew their offer as they believed Franklin would sign with their cross-town rivals, which eventuated on 8 October, when Buddy inked a nine-year, $10 million deal with the Sydney Swans.
It is interesting to look back at how different the AFL could have been had Franklin chosen to sign with the Giants, who have a brighter-looking present and foreseeable future than the current Swans team. Franklin’s deal with the Giants was supposed to be a six-year, $1.1 million per year deal, which would have seen his contract expire at the end of this season.
The question at this point is whether Franklin chose the right Sydney team. He’s had a solid career with the Swans, playing 117 games for the team, including two grand final appearances in 2014 and 2016, when Sydney lost to Hawthorn and the Bulldogs respectively. Franklin has also kicked a further 360 goals while with the Swans, scoring himself a further two Coleman medals. He’s now placed seventh on the all-time goal kicking list.
The Swans have been successful during their time with Franklin, scoring two minor premierships. However, since their 2016 loss to the Bulldogs, the Bloods have been on a slow decline while the Giants have been a consistent finals presence and premiership contender.
The 2016 season was when this trend began. The two teams faced off in the first game of the finals, providing the Giants with a 36-point victory in their first-ever finals match.
The 2017 season also had the Giants finish higher on the ladder, ending the year fourth while the Swans were sixth. The 2018 season was the only difference, when Sydney finished sixth while the Giants finished seventh, resulting in another GWS-Sydney finals game from which the Giants again emerged victorious.
This season has also shown up a vast difference between the two teams, with Sydney sitting 15th on the ladder with one round remaining, while the Giants are sixth and heading to a fourth-straight finals appearance.
Sydney’s decline – sure to continue after losing Jarrad McVeigh and Kieren Jack to retirement – makes it interesting to ponder what would have happened had Franklin started the 2014 season in orange. While the Giants struggled that year, they’ve steadily improved since to become a consistent finals contender and premiership threat, had it not been for the injuries they’ve faced.
The addition of Franklin to a forward line already comprising constant Coleman contender Jeremy Cameron would’ve been deadly. Buddy would’ve provided him with veteran leadership while making it difficult to stop a high-scoring Giants outfit. It would have been interesting in 2016 to see a forward line-up of Steve Johnson, Jeremy Cameron and Lance Franklin, three players who would have provided trouble for any opposing defences.
This forward line-up, barring Johnson’s suspension that kept him from playing in the 2016 preliminary final, could have taken the team gone all the way during a year the Giants were dominant. Many saw the 2016 and 2017 seasons as their main premiership opportunities.
While we as fans can only speculate why Franklin chose the Swans over the Giants – likely it was Sydney’s form in the 2013 season – we can only really imagine what would have been. It’s terrifying to think of what a Giants outfit featuring Lance Franklin could have delivered and fascinating to wonder whether Buddy would have had been able to add another one or two premierships to his already impressive resume.
All I know is Franklin would have been just as good in any coloured guernsey, and it will be a treat to see him run through the banner for his 300th game at the weekend.