Well, over the last couple of weeks, I have slowly been compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews.

And now, we’re finally at the point where I can start putting them together. It was only today that I sat back and looked at the sheer number of questions. These previews are huge. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but you guys know me by now – I don’t shirk it.

The way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team and the rest (between 10 and 15) are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it’s also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, you’ll get it here.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions about the team I enjoyed watching most last season. The Sydney Swans in 2022.

 

DO THE SWANS HAVE THE 22-AND-UNDER PLAYERS WITH THE MOST TO GIVE?

It’s pretty difficult to go past them, isn’t it?

Last season, the young Sydney brigade gave the team an enormous lift early in the season, with players like Braeden Campbell, Errol Gulden and Chad Warner hitting their straps far earlier than anyone hoped for.

The mistake people made from that point on was that they proudly announced that it was the emergence of these players that spearheaded the Sydney drive toward finals. It wasn’t. If you’re a Swans fan, you know. I know it, too. It was a combination of things that contributed to the Swans’ rise up the ladder, but it was largely that group of 23-26-year-olds both finding form and staying injury-free that gave them the boost. Heeney, Papley, Mills, and Florent all finding form simultaneously was the major contributor to the turnaround.

But of course, most took the lazy approach, formed their opinion and allowed that to drive the narrative for the entire year.

The good news is that the Swans DO have a plethora of talent in the 22-and-under age bracket with room to improve.

Justin McInerney was fantastic switching between half-back and the wing.

Sam Wicks looked dangerous in parts and held a place in the side for much for the year.

Tom McCartin continued his development into one of the best young defenders in the game.

Chad Warner gave plenty to get excited about with his run from the wing and ability to get forward.

As a matter of fact, Warner, Campbell, and Gulden all secured Rising Star nominations in the first three rounds of the season! In an eighteen team competition, the Swans kids were dominating the award.

Yes, the Swans do have an amazing array of talent at 22-and-under. Blakey, Rowbottom, and Amartey all slot into that age bracket, as well. If Sydney gets even a slight improvement from players in that bracket in 2022, and combine it with the continued good form of now-established stars, there is simply no telling how good this team can be.

 

HOW MUCH OF A LOSS IS GEORGE HEWETT?

I feel a bit dumb writing this, as I am in no way playing down the ability or impact of George Hewett – I thought he was fantastic in 2021, and has been excellent in the past as well – but no, no he is not a huge loss. And I’ll elaborate as to why.

We’ve sung the praises of the young Swans in the section above, but I didn’t go into huge details in this bloke on purpose – James Rowbottom.

I know a couple of Swans fans that lament every time Rowbottom gets the footy. They’re not believers in his disposal efficiency or his creativity with the footy. That’s fair enough. However, when we’ve got into the nitty-gritty of his game, it is not the silky, lace-out passes across his body that Rowbottom will hang his hat on at the end of the day. Far from it.

It is his defensive work as a midfielder and his ability to run both ways that could see him become part of a successful Swans era. You simply need good two-way mids to be a great team. You have to have a player who takes the responsibility of blocking an opposition gun, or chasing him around the field to ensure he has limited impact. Rowbottom can play that role, and when given the opportunity to do so in the past, he has performed quite well.

But in 2021, George Hewett was back in the team – another very good two-way player – and Rowbottom found his opportunities reduced as a result. However, Rowbottom is a kid – just 21 years old and already with 44 games to his name. He will be making up ground quickly in 2022, and though Longmire likes to delegate some accountability to Josh Kennedy in the middle, deploying Rowbottom into the role full-time could really pay off.

He is a tremendous tackler and has a huge tank, and whilst right now, if you gave me the choice between Hewett and Rowbottom, I’d take the former, I am not sure I would do the same in a couple of seasons’ time. Rowbottom posted career-high disposals-per-game numbers in 2021, despite starting several games as the medical sub (that is a stat-killer) so his development over the last few years has been steady. This coming season looms as the year that he really makes his mark on this team.

 

COULD TOM MCCARTIN BECOME A TOP-FIVE DEFENDER IN THE COMPETITION BY THE END OF THE SEASON?

It genuinely feels as though Tom McCartin has been around forever. Despite turning 22 as I write this – happy birthday, big fella – I have memories of him kicking a winning goal from off the deck against the Pies way back in 2019 when he was the youngest player in the league.

Remember that? He was a forward at that point, trying to find his place in this team.

He’s found it now and is starting to look like the type of player that will underpin a defence for the next eight or nine years.

McCartin was ranked first in intercepts at the club in 2021 and did the double, also ranked number in one-percenters. I hate to say it, as it is probably an unfair comparison… that is Harris Andrews-type stuff. McCartin is a little more mechanical than Andrews, if that makes sense? He seems a little more robotic in his movements, but when deployed solely to kill contests, that can be a real positive aspect of a defender’s game. They become Terminator-like regarding their target. See ball – kill ball.

His 6.7 intercepts per game had him sitting 23rd in the league, whilst his 7.2 one-percenters were good enough to see him 14th. With Jordan Dawson moving on (he was second on the team in total intercepts), more may be asked for McCartin – is it too much of a stretch to see him make the leap in 2022 to average double-figures in one category or the other?

Like it or not, Dane Rampe is no spring chicken. He’ll turn 32 in June and with advancing age comes the inevitable drop in form and more injuries. I don’t want to curse the bloke, but the time for Rampe to pass the torch to McCartin and play a supporting role for him is perfect right now. The Swans have a list that will hold them in great stead over the next few years, and central to their success will be the way McCartin handles the position of number one defender.

So, in answer to my question – can McCartin be a top-five defender by the end of 2022? Hell yes, he can. He’s been well on the way for a couple of seasons, now.

 

HOW DO THE SWANS COVER THE LOSS OF JORDAN DAWSON?

In any other circumstance, this would be a devastating blow. A young man coming into his prime, up and leaving to head to a rival club. It would have hurt, and hurt greatly.

But this is a little different, and the Swans find themselves in a position where replacing the output of Dawson is not only achievable, but they may very well be able to improve on it.

Now hang on… this is no knock on Dawson – long-term readers will remember this time last year I finally got a prediction kind-of, sort-of, partially correct when I said that Dawson would emerge as an AA-calibre half back. Well, he is AA calibre, but whether he plays half back or on the wing at his new club will be something we’ll watch closely. I rate him enormously. It’s just that the Swans have so many options to cover that which he was providing.

OPTION ONE – Justin McInerney and Jordan Dawson basically tagged in and out during the 2021 season. When Dawson headed to the wing, McInerney headed to half-back and was no slouch at all in that role. His pace around the contest and ability to break into space were extremely valuable. He also has a couple of years on Dawson, so if Horse decides to play him back in defence, it could be a net gain for the team in the long term.

You know, it was almost as though Longmire saw the departure of Dawson on the horizon, and started to put things in place to cover it before he departed. That, my friends, is the way to manage a list!

OPTION TWO – The sizzling left foot of Braeden Campbell was on display early in the 2021 season, and though he did not yet have the poise Dawson possessed, 12 months in the system should see him approach the 2022 season like a young man a little more assured of his position in the game.

OPTION THREE – The Lizard. I won’t go into this one too much, as I have a whole section on him coming up, but Nick Blakey off half-back has the potential to be very special.

So, in summary, this is no reason to panic for Sydney. Sure, offer me Jordan Dawson back in this side and I take it in a heartbeat, but if there was ever a time it is okay to lose a talent of his level, now would be it. It’ll be different off half-back, but that does not mean it has to be worse.

 

HAS NICK BLAKEY FINALLY FOUND HIS PLACE IN THIS TEAM?

It seems so, doesn’t it? And it was a damn shame that injury prevented him from playing in the first week of the finals to prove it.

Blakey is a line-breaker – he is a merchant of chaos, sending opposition midfield and defences into a state of panic. Whilst guys like him are few and far between in what has become a risk-averse sport, Blakey dares the opposition to stop him. When he gets the footy and runs, he throws down the challenge to every opposition player within 30-40 metres.

“Catch me if you can!”

The Swans trialled Blakey all over the place in the last few seasons. Up forward, he seemed to lose his confidence – hell, I even saw him beaten in an aerial contest by Caleb Daniel at one stage. On the wing, he tended to go missing and get a little lost running to the wrong spots. However, as a half-back, the game seemed to come to him, and when it did, Blakey would just flat out take off with it!

His speed and, more to the point, his willingness to use that speed sent teams into disarray in 2021 and whilst we have seen teams successfully counter hard run from half-back (watch the way teams come in on the angle to stifle the run of Adam Saad), Blakey caught a heap of them by surprise in last year.

And he needs to repeat the dose.

As mentioned elsewhere in this article, the Swans are not short of options at half-back – Campbell, McInerney, Lloyd, Cunningham, Fox…. they’re all highly capable, but as good as they are, and could be, none of them can do what Blakey does when he grabs the ball and takes off with it.

As Sydney look for ways to climb into the top four, and serious contention, in 2022, Blakey’s role, and how he can manufacture opportunity for his team will be pivotal for the Swans.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 14 questions are for those who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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