It was unfamiliar territory for the Swans, with a bottom-4 finishes ushering in the first rebuild of Sydney’s modern era. Horse Longmire has long shown a disdain for gifting players games, so much of their list regeneration has been through consistency in exposure and versatility in role for the Swans’ young flock.
Which caused a weekly headache in DFS, especially for those poor blokes who create content based on predicting roles. Jordan Dawson was the main migraine, playing both tall and small in both attack and defence at times, as well as stints on the wing. Give me a break. Blakey (wing/forward), Thurlow (defense/wing/high half forward), Hayward (defense/half forward/deep forward), McInerney (defense/wing/half forward), McCartin (key forward/key defender), Ryan Clarke (wing/guts/half forward/tagger), Aliir (defense/attack/ruck) and even Cunningham (wing/half back) were repeat offenders. I’m depressed even writing that all out, triggering memories of trying to peek inside Longmire’s brain each week.
One of the reasons for the constant whirlpool of roles was Sydney’s issues in the forward line. With Buddy’s dodgy hamstrings more closely resembling the elastic in old pyjamas than an elite athlete’s leg muscle, the Swans were forced to make do without him. Heeney playing more as a mid-sized marking forward was the solution early, and it worked… until he picked up a season-ending injury of his own. Sydney never solved that piece of the puzzle from that point on, ultimately kicking the 3rd-least goals and clunking the 4th-least marks inside 50 of all clubs for the season.
As Sydney’s rebuild progresses they’d ideally love to gradually transition veterans in Parker and Kennedy out of the guts, but their woeful clearances numbers suggests that’s still a way off. The Swans conceded the most contested possessions and the 2nd-most clearances last year, recording the 4th-lowest clearance win rate in the league. Florent, Rowbottom and friends are extremely talented youngsters, but they just aren’t quite ready to power an entire club’s engine room just yet.
At least, they weren’t last year. Could the additions of Mills and Blakey to the midfield group help reverse Sydney’s fortunes at the coalface in 2021?
Aliir [trades, free agency]
Thurlow, Stoddart, E Taylor, Foot, Knoll, Maibaum, Reynolds, Rowles [delisted]
The COVID-19 pandemic was particularly frustrating for the Swans list management team, who had to delist 8 players with the reduced list sizes of 2021. It was a brutal off-season for players on the fringe like Thurlow and Stoddart who both saw senior action last season, while Knoll never got the chance to show what he was capable of in the AFL despite constant injuries ahead of him in the ruck.
The glaringly obvious piece missing from Sydney’s midfield puzzle is an AFL-standard ruckman following the latest ACL injury to Naismith, which is where Hickey’s services will come in handy. In a perfect world the Swans would love it if Sinclair couldn’t get a game, as it would imply that Hickey was thriving as a solo ruck and their key forwards were all healthy and performing.
That’s been far from the case to date.
#4 Logan McDonald – F – 61 avg from 9 games in WAFL
Everyone assumed that McDonald would become a North Melbourne player with the 3rd pick following Ben Brown’s departure, which is why their selection of Will Phillips caused the projected draft sequence to immediately unravel on draft night. Sydney were probably expecting to walk away from the draft with Denver Grainger-Barrass to strengthen their shaky key back reserves, but found they simply couldn’t overlook the West Australian key forward. Equally comfortable deep forward with his contested marking as he is roaming up the ground as a leading target with his elite aerobic capacity, McDonald’s draft stocks shot through the roof with a 21-goal season for Perth’s League side in the WAFL.
The Swans have kept the lid on the hype with Logan this pre-season, with Horse declaring that “he’ll play when he’s ready. We won’t force him into it. He’s still building up, it’s unrealistic to consider that an 18-year-old will come in and hold down centre half-forward in his first year or two”, then doubling down on that by restricting him to half a game in the AAMI clash against the Giants. But he didn’t follow the script and had an instant impact as soon as he was activated in that game, with @FantasyFreako revealing that McDonald was the 6th-ranked player on the ground after half-time. With Buddy ruled out for Round 1, it’s hard to see the Swans kicking off the 2021 season without their first pick.
#5 Braeden Campbell – D/M – 91 avg from 4 games in 2019 NAB League
Make that their first two picks. Campbell looks locked for Round 1 off a half-back flank, with his selection lauded as the reason why Mills can finally transition into the midfield. The Swans love his beautiful kicking skills and see him as a player who can help them leverage the new man-on-the-mark rule with his leg speed and decision-making abilities. The NGA product will see plenty of action in 2021 and his junior numbers suggest that Braeden will be fantasy relevant the whole way.
#32 Errol Gulden – M – 107 avg from 3 games in 2019 NAB League
Not content with his second-tier billing from Sydney’s draft crop, Gulden has absolutely smashed his first official pre-season with the Swans to force himself into Round 1 consideration. He would likely have been taken at the tail-end of the first round in an open market, so Sydney gets an absolute bargain here with their NGA access paying dividends once again. Slightly undersized at 175cm, what Gulden lacks in height he makes up for in footy smarts, foot skills and the ability to play whatever role he’s asked. With 3 score assists and a team-high 7 disposals inside 50 in the AAMI (via @FantasyFreako), Gulden looks like kicking off his career with a half-forward role – which is shaping to be sooner rather than later.
Rookie #3 Malachy Carruthers – D – 98 avg from 8 games in SANFL U/18’s
Sturt’s designated distributor off half-back amassed some big numbers in the U/18’s this year and earns his place in the AFL via the Swans’ rookie list. Skillful and intelligent, Carruthers will need a couple of years in the gym for his slight frame to catch up to his footy brain.
The old Bloods mentality has endured during Longmire’s first rebuild at the helm, with the Swans still forcing teams to win the hard ball. The Swans laying the most tackles is hardly surprising given their club DNA, but opposition teams logging the highest CP% and 2nd-lowest DE% rates against them was eyebrow-raising for a team that finished 16th on the ladder.
As a result, the Swans had very few DvP weak spots to target.
Of course, the exception to that is with the RUC’s. They’ve been a bountiful DFS trove for us even since Sinclair stumbled into the number one job, and that’s unlikely to improve much under Hickey’s reign. West Coast’s DvP numbers were the 6th-softest in 2019 where Hickey played 18 games in Naitanui’s absence, and much of that was part of a duo, too. Losing the hitout ledger 10-16 and hitouts to advantage 2-6 last weekend against an untried, 4th-choice, kind-of-ruckman in Briggs was a grim start to his logbook as a Swan.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Callum Mills
Mills: The Midfielder is the cornerstone of the 2nd-phase of Sydney’s rebuild, bringing with it MCU-like blockbuster appeal in DFS. We know he can thrive in that role – his only outing with more than 50% CBA presence last year yielded an adjusted 114 AF, and the other two scores with significant midfield exposure were 100 and 71 – he just needs to be let off his leash.
This midfield role is all we’ve heard about all pre-season following Mills’ BOG performances in match sim and the intraclubs, so it was encouraging to see that it carried over into the AAMI Community Series with 70% CBA presence in his 83% game-time.
Unfortunately, Mills is coming off a delayed concussion from that pre-season game so it might be wise to dial back on his DFS exposures for his Round 1 clash with the stingey Lions. However, dates with the Adelaide, Richmond and Essendon midfields (all ranking in the top 5 for points conceded to Elite MID’s last year) in the weeks following certainly have my undivided attention.
2. Nick Blakey
Blakey is another young gun set for midfield clock this year, as the Swans realise that “tall” doesn’t necessarily equate to “key position player”. The Lizard’s best games last year were up the ground, averaging 72 from his 6 games with midfield time compared to just 52 without – including a massive 113 AF performance against the Giants in Round 12.
I love Blakey as salary relief on slates where Sydney looks like being competitive, especially early on in the season before his price catches up to his new role.
3. Jake Lloyd
Sydney led the comp in rebound 50’s last year and Jake Lloyd’s slutty role in defence was a huge catalyst for that. Often one of the top-priced players on any given DFS slate, knowing when to pay up for Lloyd is more important than knowing he’s good at fantasy footy.
Unfortunately, he’s such a unique beast in Sydney’s system that he doesn’t conform to DvP trends anywhere close to his backline accumulator brethren. For instance: Lloyd’s lowest score for the year of 69 was posted against the easiest side to score against in the competition last year (Adelaide), yet he pumped out totals of 150 (Port) and 123 (Geelong) against the two hardest opponents for General DEF’s in 2020. So, what is it that makes him tick?
As soon as I figure that out, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, Lloyd’s streak of 10 consecutive tons to end 2020 (at an average of 123 AF) should hold you in good stead if you’ve ever got a spare $16k to spend in defence.
4. Tom McCartin
Sydney’s defense actually held up remarkably well last season, especially considering they conceded the most inside 50’s yet were ranked 15th for marks allowed inside 50. Rampe was the main driver behind that trend of course, but McCartin picked up right where he left off after the All-Australian finally succumbed to his recurring hand injury.
His average barely wavered from the 60-point mark regardless of which end he played in 2020, but I’m excited about his potential for an intercepting role this year with a full pre-season studying the craft. Aliir Aliir has packed his bags for good and Mills has gone on a midfield holiday, which removes Sydney’s two best interceptors from the depth chart – leaving McCartin and Dawson to duke out the high balls. The fact that McCartin averaged 1.2 intercept marks to Dawson’s 1.5 or Mills’ 1.7 is absurd considering that he only played a third of his 2020 season in defence.
The early signs in the AAMI Community Series hitout were positive for Tom – he led all comers for intercept possessions with 12 along with his 6 marks. I love the idea of including McCartin as a salary saver in defence this year, especially in DEF-friendly DvP match-ups where he can rack up the marks, both contested and uncontested.
5. Tom Hickey
He might be as reliable as second-hand condoms defensively, but Hickey has shown he can rack up the fantasy points on his day – especially with the solo ruck mantle.
Sid (from Ice Age) scored 80 AF in the only game Naitanui missed last season. That was after averaging 81 without either NicNat or Vardy in 2019. He even ticked along at 79 AF without Marshall in his last year at St Kilda… I’m sensing a theme.
- Where does Dawson and Cunningham fit in fantasy-wise if Lloyd is hogging all the pill and Braeden Campbell is being groomed as a distributor in the same side? It’s a wait and see on this pair but I can envisage Dawson playing a bit taller this year, especially with an interrupted pre-season.
- I’m pretty comfortable going hard on Parker and Kennedy at the right price this year. For what it’s worth, they attended 70% and 55% of CBA’s respectively in the AAMI game. As I said earlier, the Swans still sorely need their help in the contested side of the game, at least early on.
- Florent and Rowbottom were hard to pin down as their inside/outside splits flip-flopped over the course of the year. Pay close attention to their CBA’s early in the year, but Rowbottom would be the clubhouse leader for inside time based on 2020’s conclusion and his 48% vs Florent’s 33% CBA presence in the AAMI clash.
- Heeney is coming off a modified pre-season after last year’s ankle injury, so I think we can get used to this mid-sized marking forward role for the foreseeable future. Will scale on scoreboard impact this year.
- Warner looks to have played himself into a midfield cameo role this pre-season, capped off by a solid 70 AF offering in the AAMI hitout. Don’t be surprised if the field doesn’t pay him any attention early.
- Hewett’s return from a back injury in the off-season was slow and meticulous, so playing the 89% TOG last week was a huge checkpoint in his recovery. Interestingly he didn’t attend a single centre bounce, so it looks like he’ll have to survive on half forward/wing time in fantasy this year. Will be a DFS lock if Sydney sustains a few injuries on the inside at any point.
- Papley was another Swan to have an interrupted off-season but it doesn’t look like he’ll be too affected in his small forward role this year. Plug-and-play as a high variance forward option.
- Wicks pulled out a random 109 AF in the AAMI but needed 8 marks and 9 tackles to get there. Don’t overreact and consider toning down your exposures to him in Round 1 as he’ll likely be over-owned with everyone focusing on this single pre-season score.
- The key forward shortage could hurt Hickey if Sinclair is activated as a marking target, so look for his name on the Teamsheets. McLean is a far more attractive as an option who would solely chop out without encroaching on the ruck stuff.
- Bell, Clarke and Stephens all sit on the fringe for that half-forward/wing role. Bell looks the most likely after a strong pre-season where he’s been roaming outside the F50 far more than he did last season.
- Ling has the junior numbers but Campbell has already leapfrogged him in the depth chart and his output last year was mud.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.