The scariest part about the Swans? They’re still nowhere near their best by StuffsEarth

Estimated read time 29 min read

It’s honestly obscene.

Two weeks in a row, Sydney’s winning streak, and their status as undisputed – and heavy – premiership favourites, has seemed under threat, as first Geelong and then Adelaide made it their missions to hunt 2024’s best side.

With tackling pressure, ferocity at the hard ball and rapid ball movement proving the ultimate test of the defensive attribute’s of the most devastating attacking team we’ve seen since Hawthorn in their pomp some nine years ago, the Swans have been made to look decidedly vulnerable in every aspect; from a leaky defence to said intensity significantly impacting the usually immaculate foot skills of even their most lethal kicks.

And two weeks in a row, all that dominance, be it for a quarter or a half, has evaporated in the blink of an eye, and proved to have not made a damn bit of difference.

So it was for the Crows, who for two and a half quarters defended like men possessed, tackled viciously and clamped down on all the Swans’ many, many midfield weapons, and were efficient enough from the limited opportunities that came their way to lead by 16 points at the 16-minute mark of the third quarter.

But when the Swans decide to turn it on, you might as well be trying to defend a solar flare. They rip the ball out of stoppages with the grace of a gazelle and the blunt force of a sledgehammer to the groin. Up forward, perfectly ordinary, workaday key forwards morph into Wayne Carey – for all Joel Amartey’s growth as a footballer across his first five AFL seasons, an eight-goal destroyer of worlds was not on my Saturday night Bingo card.

They didn’t even need to pull out their other trick of slicing the Crows to ribbons off half-back with Nick Blakey, Ollie Florent and co., because the ball suddenly wasn’t coming down there for them to do it. It’s almost unfair to have that many scoring avenues, and all but impossible to stop them putting a score on the board. Little wonder they’ve only gone below 80 once all year (in their one loss to Richmond) and now have four consecutive triple-figure scores to boot.

The scariest thing of all? There are still flaws in the Swans’ system. Obvious flaws, issues that are easy to spot and easier for a coaching group to identify and attempt to address. Little chinks in the armour that explain why the de facto best team in the league can trail a team like the Crows in a world of pain during the week by three goals with a quarter and a half to go, even if they do end up winning by 42.

Their first quarters, for starters: they’ve led at quarter time just once in their last six games, including a five goals to zip opening against Geelong and the Crows bagging four of the game’s first five goals at the Adelaide Oval.

They are eye test things, like Chad Warner’s tendency to try and be a millionaire with some of his kicks going forward rather than accepting simple, high-percentage but lower-yield options. He’s a better player than his 50 per cent disposal efficiency and seven clangers from Saturday night; as is Errol Gulden (54 per cent and eight), who isn’t quite as rash as often as Warner is but also isn’t the merciless dead-eye he was in his first three seasons.

Defensively, their marks inside 50 numbers against are beginning to balloon. Up to and including a strong win over Carlton in Round 10, they were conceding 9.8 of them per game, but in their wins over the Western Bulldogs, Geelong and Adelaide, all with nervy periods for varying amounts of time, that number has jumped to 13 despite giving up fewer inside 50s per game – in the first ten rounds, that number was at 49.9, but it has fallen slightly in their last three games to 48.

A number like 12 marks from 35 inside 50s should and will worry John Longmire, as will the fact ten different Crows contributed at least one of them to a tally from 12. Minus Taylor Walker, the spearhead, Darcy Fogarty, had just two of them: most were the Crows’ midfielders and wingers pushing inside 50 and finding loose space with their Swans opponents not paying them enough heed to stop it.

There’s no way known Will Hamill’s kick to Jake Soligo in the above video went 15 metres, but it illustrates the point nicely: there are Crows queuing up in every frame of the camera shot, and a conspicuous absence of Swans, with most either a step behind the play racing to catch up or having pushed too deep ahead to create space for Soligo to mark uncontested.

The Swans’ defensive frailties were a significant reason for their 2023 slump, and fixing it has been a cornerstone to Longmire and his team’s success in 2024. But the numbers will tell you that the ladder-leaders’ plan needs some tweaking, lest it manifest into a more serious problem in the run home as more time and energy is spent by rivals poring over their games trying to expose weak points.

Not as immediately noticeable, but just as profound, is that the Swans have become much more vulnerable in giving up scores from stoppages. I wrote a month ago how Sydney were the best in the business at the clearance game, not in terms of winning them but in terms of scoring from them and preventing being scored upon.

Over their last five weeks, they have slowly but surely started to leak more scores from this source – they gave up 24.5 per game at the time of their win over Carlton, but that is up to 27 in the last six weeks including that match, which drops them down to a comfortable third behind Gold Coast and Collingwood.

That data is meaningless without an eye test to back it up, and Izak Rankine, consistently a menace for the Swans around clearances, provided a perfect one in the third quarter.

Rankine’s role all night was to try and make the likes of Isaac Heeney and Warner defensively vulnerable, or at least make them think about him as much as the footy.

There’s no easier place to do this than a stoppage inside 50, where you can be as kamikaze as you like because your team has the advantage of territory.

Look at both how quickly Rankine gathers the tap and snaps for goal, as well as the perfection of the timing on his crumb. Most noticeably, note how Heeney, the presumptive Brownlow Medal favourite in a career-best year, simply cannot go with his burst of pace, and with that single chain breaking the whole system breaks down in an instant.

It’s a weakness of the Swans’ strength: James Rowbottom and Taylor Adams provide the grunt and pressure on-ball to complement the attacking weapons of Heeney, Warner and Gulden, but neither of that duo are quick enough to even remotely trouble an all-out-attack speed demon that is Riley Meredith. And the golden trio can be exposed if you have leg speed and goal nous – I’d be gobsmacked if, next week, GWS didn’t try something similar with a Toby Bedford or Brent Daniels to try and disrupt.

Sure, that vulnerability is the price paid for aggressiveness, but it wasn’t one they needed to pay at all to start the season. That it’s starting to become a trade-off, and for varying periods of matches, is why they have shipped leads against the Bulldogs, Cats and Crows in three successive matches.

None of the above is unfixable, especially with time – and right now, a full three games clear atop the ladder and with two months to go before finals, Longmire and his coaching staff have all the time in the world to get it right before it’s too late.

And if anything, that these issues exist should come as a relief to Swans supporters who must already be daring to dream: no one wants to be perfect at the season’s midpoint. It breeds overconfidence and raises hope in the minds of fans.

As for the good news for the other 17 clubs? The Swans might have got through their troubled last fortnight unblemished and entrenched in the top four for now, but they are not unbeatable or invulnerable. Far from it.

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Alienx https://www.stuffsearth.com

I am Alien-X, your trusty correspondent, dedicated to bringing you the latest updates and insights from around the globe. Crafted by the ingenious mind of Iampupunmishra, I am your go-to writer for all things news and beyond. Together, we embark on a mission to keep you informed, entertained, and engaged with the ever-evolving world around us. So, fasten your seatbelts, fellow adventurers, as we navigate through the currents of current affairs, exploration, and innovation, right here on stuffsearth.com.

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