Last year was a mixed bag for the New South Wales teams – Greater Western Sydney made their first grand final, after three years of strong contention, while Sydney missed the finals for the first time in John Longmire’s nine seasons as senior coach.
Will the Giants back it up after being humiliated on grand final day, and will the Swans bounce back into the top eight?
The Giants played finals for the fourth year in a row in 2019, and while their premiership points tally of 52 was the lowest in that run, they were able to convert a sixth-placed finish on the ladder into a decider appearance with a series of strong September victories.
More renowned for their finesse and silky skill, they put in some gritty performances under the duress of several injuries to key players, but it all came unstuck on the biggest stage.
GWS best 25
B Sam Reid Sam Taylor Heath Shaw
HB Zac Williams Phil Davis Nick Haynes
Foll Sam Jacobs Tim Taranto Callan Ward
C Lachie Whitfield Stephen Coniglio Josh Kelly
HF Toby Greene Jeremy Cameron Jeremy Finlayson
F Brent Daniels Harry Himmelberg Daniel Lloyd
Int Jacob Hopper Matt de Boer Adam Kennedy Harry Perryman
Em Shane Mumford Ian Hill Aiden Corr
Of the regulars from previous seasons, Brett Deledio retired, Jon Patton was traded to Hawthorn, while Adam Tomlinson defected to Melbourne.
In comes Sam Jacobs, ostensibly to take the number one ruck spot from Shane Mumford, who is still on the list.
While the Giants do have stars in every part of the ground, their midfield is absolutely jam-packed. Who the best player is out of Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Lachie Whitfield will be answered later in the week in The Roar top 50, but we can all acknowledged they are three superb assets to be in the one side.
Callan Ward will be welcomed back from a knee at some point, and his hardness at the contest is always required. Tim Taranto won the best and fairest last season, no mean feat in a side that makes a grand final, but will not be seen until June or July. Jacob Hopper provides excellent depth, and newcomer Tom Green impressed through the Marsh series and will get chances.
Up forward, Jeremy Cameron leads the attack coming off his first Coleman Medal. Jeremy Finlayson was a revelation in support in 2019 but needs to respond from a horrible decider performance. Harry Himmelberg does everything well, and Brent Daniels and Daniel Lloyd provide small support with Zac Langdon also looking for a spot.
Toby Greene is of course the x-factor, capable of 30 touches through the middle or five goals up forward.
Phil Davis and Nick Haynes can be impenetrable in the air down back, Sam Taylor shows promise in following suit, and Zac Williams has one of the most lethal right feet in the competition.
There’s really no weaknesses and they play a brand of football that has stood up in finals for a number of years. They are tough at the ball and man, strong at stoppages, and move the ball with skill and flair when called for.
Assuming the Giants are able overcome the mental demons of grand final day – and early indications are that they have – it’s impossible to see them not contending again.
Predicted finish: second
The Swans only kicked four goals in their 2018 elimination final against GWS, and it was a sign of things to come in 2019.
They stumbled out of the gates last year, losing six of their first seven games, and while they did claw their way back into the season to be semi-competitive, six losses in a row from Round 16 put paid to their year.
A couple of preseason losses in the Marsh series don’t give a great deal of hope that a revival is going to happen.
Sydney best 25
B Lewis Melican Dane Rampe Harry Cunningham
HB Callum Mills Aliir Aliir Jake Lloyd
Foll Callum Sinclair George Hewett Luke Parker
C Jordan Dawson Josh Kennedy Ollie Florent
HF Isaac Heeney Lance Franklin Tom Papley
F Sam Gray Sam Reid Nick Blakey
Int Tom McCartin Will Hayward Lewis Taylor James Rowbottom
Em Colin O’Riordan Ryan Clarke Ben Ronke
The Swans turned over their list in something of a changing of the guard – out go retired long time servants Jarrad McVeigh (325 games for Sydney), Kieren Jack (256), Heath Grundy (256) and Nick Smith (211), as well as Zak Jones (90) to St Kilda.
As is their traditional way, Sydney have cherry-picked a few undervalued players from other clubs, Kaiden Brand from Hawthorn to provide key position depth down back, and Lewis Taylor and Sam Gray to play mid-forward and add some speed and bite around goal.
Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker still carry a huge load in the middle of the ground, with George Hewett as third banana. Now, Hewett’s a solid player, but compare him to the line-up from GWS above, when their third-best mid is still a top-20 player in the comp.
The Swans finished 15th last year, but did have the tenth best defence.
Dane Rampe is coming off what was close to his best season, bolting in the best and fairest. Jake Lloyd is a precise kick out of half-back and his teammates use him at every opportunity. Callum Mills has underwhelmed overall compared to his academy hype, but this might be the year he goes to another level – he certainly didn’t look out of place in the recent All Stars game.
Sydney do look exciting up forward, but the question is how much are we going to see Lance Franklin after only ten games last season and a constant injury cloud over him in recent years.
Isaac Heeney has more talent than most in the AFL, but is still goes missing for too long. Nick Blakey has poise and class, and could get more of a run up the field. Tom Papley is a pure footballer that just gets better and better, and was another that mixed it with the big boys in that charity game.
The Swans come into 2020 with a list ranked 16th in both age and experience. The rebuild is on, and all eyes will be on the likes of Jordan Dawson to continue to his improvement, Ollie Florent to see if he is ready to shape games, and Will Hayward to deliver more consistently.
It’s hard to think finals football is going to be on the agenda at the SCG this season, but the Swans do have a reasonably soft opening four weeks to get a foothold. If they can’t be 2-2 at the minimum, it’s going to be a long year.
Predicted finish: 15th
1. West Coast
5. Western Bulldogs
9. North Melbourne
10. St Kilda
11. Port Adelaide
18. Gold Coast