Watching the Sydney Swans in this year’s JLT Community Series was like watching a a team that has learned a valuable lesson and is determined not to repeat their mistakes. Yes, it’s ONLY the preseason, and yes, these are games with few consequences, but habits are easy to form, and hard to break. The Swans have started 2018 the right way. They’re winning.
In 2017, we were beaten over the head with the fact that the Swans started the season winless after the first six games. With every win after that we’d hear it. “Can you believe that this team was winless in the first six games?” Yes, we could believe it because you wouldn’t shut up about it. The remainder of the 2017 season was spectacular for Sydney. Losing only to Hawthorn, they steamrolled opposition sides en route to securing a finals berth few thought they were capable of at the conclusion of Round Six.
There was never any doubting the Swans’ ability. The team is stacked with quality, have a plethora of hard-nosed midfielders who I’d back to get first touch at any stoppage, and coming out of the goal square they possess the biggest offensive weapon in the league, and the best forward of his generation, Lance Franklin.
To watch Franklin playing this preseason has been a joy. Sydney could have chosen to be conservative with their star, but he trotted out for both JLT matches, and looked impressive in both. He kicked four goals in the Swans JLT1 win over the Lions at Moreton Bay. In the opinion of many, he was the most influential player on the ground when it mattered.
He backed that up with two goals and 19 kicks (no handballs - Kevin Bartlett-esque) against the Giants in the second week. While two goals is nothing to write home about, it was the point in the game his two goals came that made me take notice. With the game in the balance, and after a great contest all game with Phil Davis, Franklin stepped up and slotted the final two goals of the match. In a contest decided by 11 points, you don’t need me telling you that those goals came at very important stages, or at least as important as JLT games get.
As we creep ever closer to the beginning of the 2018 season, it is worth noting that Franklin is entering his fifth year in Sydney. Despite his addition being an enormous success for the club overall, his move to the Harbour City is yet to deliver the ultimate reward. Two Grand Final losses, to Hawthorn in 2014 and the Western Bulldogs in 2016, are as close as the Swans have got since Buddy made the move. With the team they have in place, and the abundance of talent they’ve cultivated, being unable to achieve a premiership in this window has to be viewed as a failure.
Franklin left Hawthorn at the conclusion of the 2013 season to join the Swans. In a move mired in controversy, Franklin said that his driver was to play in premierships, and believed that Sydney was best positioned to challenge over the coming years. He wasn’t too far wrong – they were set to challenge, and have been around the mark every year since. Unfortunately for Franklin, his old mob weren’t quite finished with a little premiership run of their own, and both the Bulldogs and Tigers have come from the clouds to secure premierships of tgeir own. Whilst Buddy was forced to settle for a couple of runner-up medallions, his former teammates added two more flags in his absence. It would have to sting a little, and Franklin’s actions at the beginning of 2018 are those of a man who has been stung into action. He is now on the wrong side of thirty, and though he shows no signs of slowing down, the clock is undoubtedly ticking. Buddy knows that the Swans must win a flag, and win one soon. A team with continued on-field success since his arrival requires a premiership to make it all stitch together nicely.
Other ‘superstars’ in the game have sat out games in the lead up to the 2018 season, and rightfully so. An injury or suspension at this point would be disastrous to the chance of team success. Though some fans will be convinced of their club’s chances before the season even starts by way of their JLT performances, many teams use the series as a little more than a time to tinker and play with their set ups. They may conduct an experiment or two in order to make adjustments for the real thing in two weeks’ time.
The Swans, and Franklin, haven’t held back. They’ve looked determined to make every post a winner in the preseason this year. Whilst they may not have been putting their bodies on the line 100% of the time, as they would during the home and away season, when the game went up a notch, so to did Sydney.
As the clock ticked down in JLT2, and the Swans needed someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck, Lance Franklin stepped to the fore, and Lance Franklin got them over the line.
The chances of Sydney being 0-6 as we enter Round 7 seem very remote this year. Then again, they seemed remote last year, too. If winning is habitual, this year the Swans have made a very wise decision to set the tone early in 2018. Luke Parker looks set for a big year, Isaac Heeney has shaken off an early injury scare, and Josh Kennedy continues to win the hard ball when it needs to be won. Combine that with names like Papley causing havoc at ground level, Rampe running off half back and a fit and firing Sam Reid clunking contested marks, and the Swans look like one of the legitimate threats to contend for the flag again.
Sydney have made the finals for the last eight years. Since 2003, they have missed the finals only once – in 2009. They are a team that has grown accustomed to success – they have a genuine collective hunger for it, and whilst they’ve been able to sustain it over a long period with multiple finals appearances, only standing on the dais on that last day in September is enough to truly sate them.
Yes, it is still only the preseason. Yes, the JLT series doesn’t mean much to a lot of people, but if you’re looking for a sign from the Swans as to whether they’re ready for 2018, it would be difficult for it to be any louder and clearer than it has been over the past two weeks.
Sydney means business, even at this early stage. They look sharp, they look hungry, and they look ready to put the mistakes of 2017 behind them.
Those who fail to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. It will be interesting to judge the Swans after Round Six.