2016 season preview: Sydney

Last season 

Embed from Getty Images

Despite finishing in the top four, it was a season to forget for the Swans.

Sydney was bounced out of the finals in straight sets, lost stars Lance Franklin and Luke Parker to mental health issues and a broken ankle on the eve of finals, and the club had to manage the racial booing controversy surrounding Adam Goodes.

It was a strange year for Sydney. They won 16 games and seemingly had all the tools to mount a premiership tilt, but apart from a six-game winning streak before the bye (including victory over Hawthorn at the MCG), there was an aura of inevitability about how their campaign would finish up.

Teams traveling to Sydney no longer felt like it was Mission Impossible; the Swans dropped four home games, including the semi final against the Kangaroos that ended their season.

Midfielders Dan Hannebery and Josh Kennedy has excellent seasons, the former winning All-Australian honours, while the development of Isaac Heeney, Harry Cunningham and Jake Lloyd into regular senior players holds the club in good stead for the future.

Comings and goings

Embed from Getty Images

No blockbuster signings this season – the big names were on the way out rather than in. The Swans saw three premiership players in Adam Goodes, Rhyce Shaw and Mike Pyke retire, while Lewis Jetta and Craig Bird were traded to West Coast and Essendon respectively.

Those trades helped Sydney earn enough points to convert four later picks into the number three pick required to secure local academy product Callum Mills, who looks like an exciting midfield prospect, but could learn the ropes in defence during his debut season.

Former Bulldog defender Michael Talia joined Sydney fresh from an information leaking claim investigation instigated by his old club, while Callum Sinclair arrived from West Coast and will be relied upon to lead the lean ruck division – an opportunity he never had at the Eagles.

Strengths

Embed from Getty Images

Both the Paul Roos and John Longmire premiership editions of the Swans were built on the foundation of a strong, disciplined midfield. While changes are afoot in Sydney, the core midfield group remains one of the most hardened and effective in the league.

Dan Hannebery is one of the competition’s best on-ballers. He is supported by Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack, Tom Mitchell and Luke Parker – all able to win their own ball or apply immense defensive pressure at a contest.

With the likes of Isaac Heeney, Harry Cunningham, Daniel Robinson and Callum Mills all coming through, there is no danger of that midfield group getting stale.

While the Swans are in a bit of a transitional stage (by their standards, at least), there is still a lot of experience at the club – much of it premiership experience. As more kids will likely get an opportunity in 2016, it’s an ideal situation that they’re being blooded while bona fide senior players are still around, and still good enough to keep Sydney a finals threat.

Weaknesses 

Embed from Getty Images

While rebounding from the backline is not a worry, the actual defending part of Sydney’s defence is. Ted Richards and Heath Grundy both showed signs they are past their best last season, which is why Michael Talia was brought to the club. But he couldn’t break into the Bulldogs’ best team at the end of last season, so they’ll be relying on his development – particularly if injury hits.

The Swans rely on speed of movement, a lot of handballs and a relatively open forward line to hit up one of Lance Franklin or Kurt Tippett. But if you can slow them down, their ball use can be rather sloppy. While Sydney doesn’t lack ball winners, they do want for reliable kickers under pressure. This hurt them in September last year, and is not something easily or quickly rectified.

What to expect in 2016  

There will be new names, but expect the same Sydney style of play. Even if – at least on paper – the Swans appear weaker than last season, the elite midfield and potent forward options will mean more wins than losses.

Even with the arrival of Callum Sinclair, Kurt Tippett is likely to see more action in the ruck, leaving Lance Franklin to roam up forward. Don’t believe the hype about Buddy becoming a midfielder; he’s too valuable for the Swans in the front half.

In a move that pissed off Collingwood, all Sydney home games will be at the SCG, which should give them a little more of a home ground advantage.

Best 22

B: Zac Jones – Ted Richards – Nick Smith
HB: Jarrad McVeigh – Heath Grundy – Dane Rampe
C: Luke Parker – Josh Kennedy – Harry Cunningham
HF: Tom Mitchell– Lance Franklin – Isaac Heeney
F: Sam Reid – Kurt Tippett – Jake Lloyd
FOLL: Callum Sinclair – Dan Hannebery – Kieren Jack
INT: Callum Mills – Dean Towers – Jeremy Laidler – Ben McGlynn

The verdict 

This team doesn’t do bottoming out, and they certainly won’t this season. But the there is a new wave of talent in red and white, which means 2016 might be a struggle by Sydney standards.

Already the Swans are dealing with a swathe of senior players either not fit for round one or coming out of an interrupted pre-season. There might be some talented youngsters in the squad, but there is a particularly soft underbelly to Sydney once more than a couple of injuries take hold.

A team relying on a great midfield and Lance Franklin inside forward 50 can only get so far, though that could be as far as a sneaky top four finish. More than likely, however, it will be a position in the bottom reaches of the eight.

We have Sydney finishing eighth.