Geelong the premiership favourites, Melbourne the reigning premiers and Collingwood the AFL world champions this year.
But Sydney have all the energy, tools and youthful exuberance to take down those three premiership hopefuls.
John Longmire’s troops are clearly well placed for success beyond this season. Western Bulldogs legend Brad Johnson believes Sydney has the best group of 18 to 23-year-old players in the AFL “by a long way”.
Watch every match before the AFL Grand Final live and ad-break free in-game on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
But these Swans, driven by a host of young guns, look primed for success this year.
“They’ve been lurking for September, but they’re not waiting,” St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt told Fox Footy. On the sofa.
“They certainly have enough weapons in their arsenal to strike.”
Under the radar
Among the top four teams, the Swans went into this year’s finals with the smallest fan base despite an impressive performance.
The Cats have won 13 straight and the Magpies 12 of their last 13 games – almost all heart-stopping matches impossible to ignore. The Demons, by contrast, have won six of their last 12, sparking a rollercoaster media narrative in which doubters had plenty of shots to claim their back-to-back credentials before impressive wins over Brisbane (twice) and Fremantle.
After Round 13, the Swans have won eight of their last nine matches, including seven at home. But there was a somewhat lower run until September.
They beat 14th-placed Adelaide (33 points), 16th-placed Giants (73) and wooden spoon North Melbourne (38) in a trio of ‘high-profile’ victories. He then had an impressive 27-point win over Collingwood.
Foxfooty.com.au Last month he surveyed a number of Fox Footy pundits and asked where the Swans ranked in the AFL Premiership power rankings. While excited about their future flag chances, they all said Geelong and Melbourne in 2022 were sitting on top of them.
“Melbourne and Geelong are locked into the top flight and I think Sydney are half a step behind because they’re still a young team,” triple premiership Lion Alastair Lynch said. foxfooty.com.au.
They’re showing some great progress, but I don’t think we’ve seen it consistently against the top teams. They beat Melbourne at the MCG and are at their best there, but only because they got past their young stars, that’s why I have half a question mark.
Triple All-Australian Nick Dal Santo added: “I think Melbourne and Geelong are the same below – and that’s probably more off the evidence than anything else.” You can look at the Cats and make the case of ‘hey, I believe in this team’ over the years – and we can say that about the Dees on the back of last year.
All the numbers, though, suggest the Swans could be hurt this season.
no. 1 Premiership profile
Double premiership Kangaroo David King often points to the ‘core four’ – four statistical categories that determine how well a team is positioned to compete for the flag: clearance difference, contested possession difference after clearance, ball movement and ball movement defence.
And, as foxfooty.com.au As outlined in this week’s finals form guide, the Swans go into the finals with the No.1 Premier League profile. Better than Geelong. Better than Melbourne.
In an era where passing football is as crucial as ever, this year the Swans are the best team in ball movement and the second best team in defense of ball movement.
King pointed to Revelations the last time the Swans played Melbourne in round 12 on Wednesday night and how disciplined they were from a defensive structure point of view.
“The way the Swans defend makes it very difficult for Melbourne to move the ball,” King told Fox Footy. AFL 360.
“They are honest swans. It’s like trying to get blood from a stone – or blood from a swan.
“I think Sydney’s defense is undersold and underrated… they’re so loyal it’s scary.”
The biggest concern of the season against the Swans was around their ability at the coalface. But they finished the home-and-away season seventh for finals and fourth in possessions after a clean sheet. Better yet, they were second in opponent possession differential over the last six weeks.
“They’re game for the final,” triple premiership Lions Jonathan Brown told Fox Footy. On the couch.
“In the last six or eight weeks they have been able to sort out their competition issues and their pressing game is fantastic.
If they can bring that high pressure like they do every week, they will be in the game.
A complete mix
The Swans have made no changes to their line-up for Friday night’s clash with Melbourne. Nine of the 22 men on their side are 23 or younger.
They probably have the best spread of youth in their youth roster in the tournament. This includes 23-year-old Will Hayward, 22-year-old Nick Blakey, Justin McInerney and Tom McCarthy, 21-year-olds Dylan Stephenson, Chad Warner and James Rowbottom and 20-year-olds Logan McDonald and Errol Gulden. That list doesn’t include Ollie Florent, Sam Weeks and Brayden Campbell, who just turned 24.
It’s a tough core to build around for the future. But the reality is that they have been key to the Swans’ major breakthrough in 2022.
The likes of Florent, Warner and Rowbottom have been given bigger midfield roles, Blakey and McCarthy are vital cogs in the backline and MacDonald is the center forward shape to eventually replace Lance Franklin.
The fact is that Sydney has been rebuilding on the run and renewing the list for several years. Incredibly, he spent just two seasons outside the top eight in 2019 and 2020 as he gradually integrated more youngsters into the mix and prepared them for bigger roles.
This year, it was clicked.
“We talked about their young mates 18 months ago,” said triple premiership forward Cameron Mooney. foxfooty.com.au.
“I think last year maybe they didn’t all go forward together, which is what happened. But this year, you’re starting to see them all come through again. It’s a perfect example of some great players and some real youngsters coming through – if you can get that mix right, it’s a fun ride.
“It was 2004. We lost in Brisbane by nine points in the preliminaries. But we got Benny Graham and Peter Riccardi, Brenton Sanderson – all these great guys at the club – and then the young brigade. It was the most exciting year I’ve ever played. It was fun.”
Like the ’04 Cats, the ’22 Swans were a lot of fun to watch. But their most exciting time of the year may be in the next four weeks.