The Big Questions – 2024 Sydney Swans Season Preview

Things did not play out as the Swans hoped in 2023.

After a stellar run into the 2022 Grand Final, Sydney’s season lasted about an hour and a half too long. They ran into a buzzsaw in Geelong, and were left as runners-up.

Entering 2023, they were faced not only with lofty expectations based on their previous season, but the spectre of those who had recently suffered Grand Final beltings hovering over them. The Swans boasted some exceptional young talent, and were bringing back a legend for one last tilt at a flag with his second club, but it wasn’t to be. Not for Buddy, and not for Sydney.

An atrocious first half of the season had the doomsayers nodding their heads. “I told you those who copped hammerings in the Grand Final are left scarred.”

Yes, we heard you.

But as the season moved closer to the business end, Sydney started to play with conviction. With Lance Franklin on the shelf and announcing his retirement after Round 20, the Swans rattled off three-straight wins to secure a spot in September… one of them a highly-controversial win over the Crows, before falling to the Dees in the final round.

They bowed out in the first week of the finals, with the Blues proving a goal too good, but those who predicted the demise of Sydney were a fair way off the mark.

Still, their run proved to be too little, too late.

Heading into 2024, the Swans can now invest in their young forward line. Without Buddy, they have a new look and will have a new system inside 50. They have recruited well – Taylor Adams, Brodie Grundy, and James Jordon headline their acquisitions – and are looking to once again be right at the pointy end when the pretenders and contenders are separated in September.


It’s that time of year, already.

The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2024, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.

This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2024.

We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel Punt. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.

The way it works is as follows.

Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about the upcoming season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.

Isn’t it a bit early for a season preview? Well, I suppose, but do you know how long it takes to write seven thousand words? That’s 18 x 7,000… gets out the calculator… that’s 126,000 words. The average novel is about 85,000 words, so buckle the hell up with these previews.

Also, if there are any issues that arise after the publication of the preview, they will be covered in standalone articles to act as additions to this preview.

You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it. This is where we start the run to the new season and believe me – nobody does it better than The Mongrel.




Whoa… HB… the first season preview of the year and you are lumping Grundy and Ladhams together to kick things off? Don’t you know the Swans may very well just use Hayden McLean in the ruck because Ladhams has proven to be a bit of a dunce?

Well, yeah, he has been a dunce, but I am thinking positively here, and in my mind, there is a huge upside to Ladhams that Sydney have not had the benefit of to this point. Having him and Grundy functioning as a unit… it is like getting two new rucks instead of one!

Also, I am not forgetting Lachlan McAndrew here, but if the Swans are to contend in 2024, it won’t be with the young fella playing a significant role in the ruck. His time will come, but it is not here, just yet.

The recruitment of Brodie Grundy provides one of the more interesting sub-stories to the 2024 Sydney season. This is a man who has fallen from grace over the last couple of seasons. He is looking at this year as the chance to rectify things and reclaim his standing as one of the best big men in the game.

In 2022, an injured Grundy was forced to sit by and watch as Darcy Cameron’s play made the two-time All-Australian seem expendable. After signing such a huge deal with Collingwood, suddenly he was on the outer and by the time trade period rolled around, he was looking for a new home. He was salary cap collateral damage. And he wasn’t the first at Collingwood.

After a trade to Melbourne, which proved to be more a halfway house than a home, the dream combination with Max Gawn quickly turned into a nightmare. Grundy was relegated to the VFL to learn how to play better as a forward, which was never going to happen, whilst the Dees opted to use Josh Schache as their sub in the finals (and they didn’t even allow him to step foot on the ground). Meanwhile, the prize recruit sat in the grandstand wondering where it all went wrong.

He had to get out of there.

This is Grundy’s shot at redemption, but if you think he can do it alone, you’d better think again.

Peter Ladhams was recruited to Sydney a couple of years back with the view that his versatility and marking prowess inside 50 would make him an ideal backup ruck to Tom Hickey.

Welllll, things didn’t quite play out that way. Clubs make plans and the footy gods laugh, I guess?

Ladhams, himself, was often the root of his own problems, falling somewhere into a category where he was either playing with no aggression or playing with too much aggression. At least he wasn’t doingthingsby halves. From there, he moved on to not playing at all. Suffice to say, he has not delivered anywhere near what was promised.

Not yet, anyway.

Call me stupid (I know some of you do, for a variety of reasons) but I am still a Peter Ladhams believer. If he gets his head on straight, he could emerge as a key component to the Sydney season. He has a great pair of hands, can get across the ground well for a big man, and is not spooked by being shifted forward as a marking target.

As mentioned, Grundy will not be able to carry the load by himself – this is not 2019 and we will not get the 2019 version of Grundy in 2024. However, what the Swans could get from Grundy is a big man who prides himself on second efforts and a skill set that had many describing his play as though Collingwood had “an extra midfielder”.

However, he will need rests – not Nic Nat level of rests, but the days of Grundy working tirelessly all over the park are likely gone. And this is where Ladhams needs to stand up.

Love him or hate him, Ladhams is an x-factor this season and teams need them. He is the combustible element that could either light a fire under the Swans… or burn them to the ground. His contested marking inside 50 and ability to move into the ruck and not be completely outclassed will provide the Swans with an impressive two-headed monster in the middle. Throw in Hayden McLean, who is highly capable of taking the odd contest here and there, and Sydney look to have turned an apparent weakness into a strength.

Reader, Jaydyn Benzie asked “Is Grundy the missing Premiership piece for Sydney?”

It’s tough to place that level of expectation on anyone, particularly someone who is attempting to recapture form that has escaped him for several seasons, but by bringing Grundy in, the Swans are addressing what was an apparent need – they have given themselves more of a chance than they’d have without him

On a personal note, I am pulling for Grundy. I loved his work from 2018-20 and with some really stiff competition, I rated him as the best overall ruck in the game during that period. His last couple of years have left a lot to be desired, but if he is serious, and reports out of Swans training indicate he is deadly serious, then Sydney are doing their mids a tremendous service by providing them with the chance of getting first use.

And I have already penciled in myself to cover the first round clash between the Swans and Dees. I reckon we get to see just how good Grundy can be against Max Gawn, first up. Bring it on.



To me, it kind of changes the perception of him, even just a little bit. I was shocked when I heard it was Mills that was injured in this fashion. It just seemed so… unlike him.

When I think of Mills, it is the reliable, level-headed leader who dutifully did his time in defence, learning and refining his craft to become one of the better two-way mids in the game. To hear he’d torn his rotator-cuff whilst wrestling on Mad Monday… you expect that type of thing from… well,  an idiot.

Not to say Cal is an idiot – not by a long stretch, but it is these types of actions I’d normally associate with someone like… I don’t know… maybe Jaidyn Stephenson than the captain of a club. Nice drive-by on Steveo, I know. Pew pew!

I understand it’s a freak injury and all that – but it is a very costly one to the team, inasmuch as it is removing one of their prime movers and leaders from the equation for an extended period. The last time a club captain did something like this, he packed up his water skis and packed in the captaincy of Port Adelaide. Stuff like this, accident or not, is never viewed well.

He’ll be back at some point in the second half of the year and he will owe the club, big time. I expect him to come out firing.

In the meantime, however, it just so happens that the Swans made a move that could cover the absence of Mills quite nicely. At least in terms of getting hands on the footy.

Taylor Adams was the number one clearance mid at Collingwood in 2022. Yet, he was relegated to a half-forward role in 2023, forced to split time with Tom Mitchell – there is no shame in that; Mitchell is a star. However, Adams thought he had more to offer than to spend large amounts of time as a middling,  fill-in forward.

He had his disposals fall from over 22 per game in 2022 to 18.4 last season, and his clearances – his strength – fell from 5.3 to 3.7. Both are career-low numbers.

In addition, his body failed him right at the point Collingwood needed him most in 2022, and perhaps right when he needed it to hold up most in 2023. As a result, he missed the Prelim in 2022 and the Premiership in 2023. That type of stuff is a heartbreaker. It would hurt to look across the room and see your teammates – premiership teammates – while you wonder what could have been. Hell, imagine sitting there looking across at Billy Frampton – a premiership player. He’d been at Collingwood ten minutes, and then there’s you, ten years at the club and you’ve missed the biggest day of them all.

He decided he needed a new start and knew that in order to play a pivotal role on a contender, he’d need to pack up and get out of Collingwood.

Sydney provides a unique opportunity.

Adams watched the Swans get over the top of his team in that 2022 Prelim. Collingwood were relentless in 2022 – refusing to lay down and admit defeat, but even with their never-say-die attitude, the Swans were the team that stopped them. The Pies ran over so many, but the Swans had enough left to stand up and halt them.

Adams knows what Sydney is capable of. And he knows he wants to be a part of it. He will be in the guts at his new club, and he’ll relish every moment.

Mills attended only 37% of Sydney’s centre bounces in 2023, deferring to players like Chad Warner, James Rowbottom, and Luke Parker. He actually lined up on the wing a bit more than I expected, too. What the addition of Adams, does is permit Luke Parker to sneak forward more often to become the weapon he has been able to be in the past.

Really, Adams’ recruitment allows Parker to become the player Collingwood actually wanted Adams to be!

I rate Parker highly when it comes to becoming a forward threat. Scratch that – I rate him highly wherever he plays, but with Mills out, Adams into the guts, and Parker splitting time between the middle and the forward line, the Swans have a combination in the middle that may cause some real issues.

Yes, Mills will be greatly missed – he is a steady hand when the Swans need it – a good driver in heavy traffic – but his absence opens up opportunity, several of which will be discussed later in this article (Buy a membership, mate. You’re only getting five of fhe 15 quesrions for free).

I’d love to have him out there for the whole season, but how the Swans work around the hole he leaves may actually hold them in better stead for when he returns.



With about six or seven rounds to go in the Brownlow, all the mongrel writers were having a bit of a chinwag about what was going to happen from that point. One sage, and extremely attractive member of the team said that Gulden was going to come home like a train and predicted he’d finish top five from there.

Turns out that guy was right. Did I mention how good looking he is? Knows his footy, as well…

Anyway, Errol Gulden took the step in 2023 you love to see from young players. Going from exciting young prospect to genuine star of the game, Gulden’s work as his switched between the wing and the middle was scintillating.

He tore games apart.

39 disposals and two goals against Freo,

32 disposals and three goals against the Eagles.

32 and two again, this time against the Giants.

And 42 disposals and two goals against the Dees.

Performances like that punctuated what was a breakout season for the young man, carrying him to the Bob Skilton Medal as Sydney’s best and fairest. It was well-deserved, but the question was almost immediately raised – how good can this kid be?

How long is a piece of string?

When you look at what some of the current stars were up to in year three, you start to get a real appreciation for what Gukden accomplished last season. You also sense what could be possible.

Christian Petracca averaged 20.25 touches and 0.79 goals per game in his third season.

Dustin Martin was at 22.35 and 1.15

Patrick Dangerfield was at 15.69 and 1.37

Errol Gulden is right up there with them. His 26.79 disposals and 0.92 goals per game indicate that he is tracking beautifully as he builds into what the Swans expect to be something special.

So, what can that ‘special’ be?

A lot will depend n how he handles adversity. It’s coming – he needs to be prepared.

Gulden has not yet really felt the effect of having someone run with him with the intent to prevent, or limit his influence on a regular basis. The only real time that occurred in the back half of 2023 was when Touk Miller took up the challenge and held the youngster to 19 touches. It was effective as anyone had been opposite him all season and held him to his lowest total in the 12-game run home.

I expect he’ll see a lot more of that type of company in 2024 – he is simply too damaging to allow free rein and he burnt too many teams in 2023 to be allowed to do as he pleases.

The challenge for Gulden will be how he handles this attention, and how he overcomes it.

That Brownlow finish alerted everyone to his prowess, though coaches were already all too aware. It will largely define him as a player as to how he combats the attention that will come his way, particularly as he transitions from the wing into a permanent midfielder.

And will he make that transition this season?

He was almost there at the end of 2023. After a lull in the middle of the season, he attended over half the centre bounces from Round 18 onwards. I am sure he’ll play wing as well, perhaps even a bit of half-forward to switch things up and to perhaps break a tag here or there. With him, Chad Warner, Luke Parker, James Rowbottom, and Taylor Adams in the middle, the Swans have a damaging group to rotate through the guts.

The key to Gulden’s ongoing ascension may come in the work of those other players. Despite the skill and flair of Gulden, there is not much to him, physically – he is still just 21 years old. He is nimble and quick, but if a team decided to exert physical pressure on him, how the Swans’ midfield unit reacts as a collective will be important. Parker and Rowbottom take no shit. When it comes to Gulden, there should be a zero tolerance policy.

Is 30 touches per game a possibility in 2024?

I’d love to say yes, but any team permitting him to run around unimpeded should have their coach flogged. A repeat of 2023 would be a great result, eespeciallyas I expect it would come under duress, as it will open up possibilities for Warner and Adams to do their work with less attention.

If the Swans get 2023 Gulden again in 2024, I am not sure anyone is complaining. That said, from a personal point of view, I’d love to see a bit more.

Oh, and also, he deserved more than one vote for that 42 and two game. He was best-on in that one.



There were periods of 2023 when Nick Blakey assumed far more responsibility in the Sydney defence than John Longmire would have preferred.

With both McCartins hurt, Dane Rampe on the sidelines, and Lewis Melican unavailable, the Sydney defence leaned heavily on Aaron Francis, Robbie Fox, and Nick Blakey. It was a long way from having their best defence on the park, and the results were less than ideal, with the Swans struggling through the first half of the year..

However, in the silver lining to that poor period, Nick Blakey starred for the club. Often drifting back to block up the hole inside 50, or assigned one of the heavy hitters of the opposition forward line, it was as though he was forced to grow up a little while waiting for Rampe and Tom McCartin to return to the team.

And he stood tall as the pressure was on.

The Swans sat at 3-6 after nine games and finals appeared to be off the table – another year where the Grand Final vanquished fell away. After a win in Round 10 over the struggling Kangaroos, it was the clash against Carlton that emphasised just how good Blakey was becoming. With 26 disposals, nine rebound 50s, and ten intercepts, Blakey picked up two Brownlow votes as he cut the Blues’ atttack off at the knees.

When it comes to Blakey, his mad dashes off half-back have always been the talking pint – he sows the seeds of chaos and panic in the opposition whenever he tucks the footy under his arm and takes off – but he added more strings to his bow in 2023 and is now a more complete defender.

That All-Australian blazer appears to be in his future.

With players like Tom Stewart, Jack Sinclair, Dan Houston, and Adam Saad all picking up AA nods in recent seasons, Blakey would be eyeing off the possibility of ding the same in 2024. With over 20 touches per game for the first time last season, he has done the prep-work – it is time to take the next step.

The Swans have long relied on the rebound 50 efforts of Jake Lloyd, but there was a noticeable drop off in the way they went to him. He was still able to lead the team in that stat (a testament to his ongoing professionalism), as he has for the past seven years, but there is no question that Blakey’s run from half-back is more damaging than Lloyd’s disposals, and is the preferred method of turning defence into attack. I expect the Lizard to move past him this season.

And if he does?

Well, at the very least, we’ll see some exciting football.

The majority of half-back players find the footy, assess, and take their time. Blakey is more akin to a teenage boy in the bedroom (I used to be one, you know…). There is a sense of urgency about him that is instinctive. He wants to take the game on and looks for every opportunity to do so. Hell, I want him to take the game on, too and given he has the green light to do it, I reckon John Longmire enjoys when he does, as well.

2024 could be the year Nick Blakey takes that footy, tucks it under his wing, and runs himself all the way into AA contention. He made the squad in 2023 – they’re paying attention. Now is the time to take it up a notch.

And allow the chaos and panic to ensue…



I rate Jordon. I liked what he provided at Melbourne, particularly when he was played on the wing, but with the arrival of Lachie Hunter, his time in the role, and the team overall seemed to diminish.

Despite playing 18 games in 2023, he was either subbed into the game or out of the game on eight occasions. I don’t know about you, but I hate the sub rule. I reckon Jordon might just hate it even more. Remember, he was the bloke who earned a premiership medal in 2021 despite not setting foot on the park. He was sub in all three of the Dees’ finals, that year. He played once, for nine touches. He will be hungry to cement himself as a permanent fixture in the best-22 and earn a premiership medal the old fashioned way.

Screw this sub business. He has the chance to legitimately obtain one with the Swans.

But where does he best fit?

He left the Dees because he was stuck behind Hunter and Ed Langdon, but he has landed at Sydney, who have Errol Gulden spending time on the wing. He also has to contend with Justin McInerney, who is an underrated defensive wing, and Braeden Campbell, who started to push up into the role in late 2023. Hell, Cal Mills started on the wing quite a bit, as well in 2023, but he won’t be troubling Jordon until after the bye rounds, at least.

Can Jordon force his way into one of those wing spots?

I reckon it is the versatility of the Swans that may allow him to. I like McInerney as a half-back, as well. Back in the days of Jordan Dawson, McInerney used to switch with him – sometimes on the wing, sometimes on the flank. It gave the Swans versatility and helped them prepare for the impending departure of the man who now captains Adelaide. Gulden will skip over into the middle whenever the mod takes him. Let’s face it – Errol goes where Errol wants. And Campbell will likely split time between wing and defence, as well. That could mean that the wing is right there for the taking for Jordon…

… if he’s good enough.

And is he?

He could be. I reckon all the substitute business sapped a bit of his confidence over the last few years. It would have to play on your mind – sitting on the periphery of the best-22 without making genuine inroads into it.  It is tough to work your way into the game when you come in cold. Some players take a bit of time to adjust. I got the feeling Jordon may have been one of those players. If he gets himself fit, strings a few games together early in the year, we might be talking about what a bargain he was by the halfway point of the year.


This concludes the free section of our preview. The next two-thirds are for our members.


As mentioned above, the first five questions are free – the next 10-12 are for our members. I believe my work is worth twenty-five cents per day. If you don’t, that’s fine. You’re welcome to join and keep reading