It’s a good time to be at the Sydney Swans right now, with the city on a high after last Friday’s crowd celebration at the SCG where Lance Franklin kicked his 1,000th career goal.
The Swans are third on the ladder on percentages after starting 2-0, with wins over GWS and Geelong — and they have a good chance to remain unbeaten when they face the winless Western Bulldogs at Docklands tomorrow night.
Despite the positions on the ladder, the Bulldogs go into round three as narrow favourites in betting markets.
While this may seem counter-intuitive, a closer look at the first couple of weeks show why it’s not just a case of home-ground advantage — and why the Swans are in danger if they have a “Buddy hangover”.
The Bulldogs have had a tough entree to 2022. They faced the defending premiers in the spotlight of the MCG on a Wednesday night and — depending on which view you take — the game showed that the Demons were confirmed as the best team in football, or the Dogs showed there was a decent gap between the two sides, or both.
And the following week they came a cropper against a Carlton side rejuvenated under new coach Michael Voss.
Plenty of questions were being asked, particularly of the much-vaunted midfield of the sons of the west.
For as much improvement as the Bulldogs showed they needed in their first two rounds, the Swans made as big a positive impression in beating GWS and Geelong to kick off their 2022.
Winning the derby was almost as big an agenda item for the Swans as the grand final rematch was for the Bulldogs, since Sydney’s 2021 finals series ended with a bitter loss to the Giants in Canberra.
Obviously, the win on Friday night against Geelong was overshadowed by a certain milestone goal for Franklin. On paper, it was another impressive win, but it’s fair to say the Cats had their chances.
Geelong won the centre clearances 18-11, and the Cats dominated forward 50 entries, going in 65 times compared to 47 for the Swans.
Unfortunately for the visitors, they only had a return of 10.17, while the Swans nailed their assignment, kicking 17.5.
That made two weeks running that Sydney had been cleaned up at centre clearances, but escaped with the win.
Against the Giants, the Swans edged forward 50s by 49-48, and they won the stoppage clearances, but in the centre GWS — led by Tom Green — had the clear advantage over Sydney.
The Swans’ get-out clauses were a big lead in intercept marks in the second half, and the fact that, when it counted in the final quarter, Sydney was virtually flawless in front of goal. Luke Parker was freed from midfield to boot five, while Isaac Heeney chimed in with three for the match.
Against the Blues, the Dogs broke even at centre clearances, and had 49 inside 50s to Carlton’s 51.
They kicked 13.12 for the day — the Bulldogs had an even spread of clearances between Josh Dunkley, Tim English, Adam Treloar and Jack Macrae.
But in round one against Melbourne, they won clearances overall 40-30, and centre clearances by 18-9. The Bulldogs showed that they were capable of producing bursts of damaging play through the corridor.
While Sydney has a solid mix of veterans and young guns in the middle, including speed from players such as Ollie Florent and James Rowbottom, on paper, the Bulldogs would seem to have the overall advantage.
If they can repeat their effort from the game against the Demons — and avoiding damaging bursts of goals going the other way — they will fancy their chances.
There is an injury cloud over Naughton, and it will make things much more difficult if he cannot play. But if he can, and players such as Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Mitch Hannan and Adam Treloar can give Naughton a chop-out and keep the Swans defence honest, it will help a lot.
Since the 2016 grand final — where the Bulldogs broke their 61-year premiership drought against Sydney — matches between the two sides have been split 3-3.
Sydney had lost to the Dogs twice in a row before their last meeting at Docklands in round 17.
Despite the fact they were a team that would miss the finals — and the Bulldogs would go on to make the grand final — Sydney prevailed by 17 points. The Swans were stronger in the air, winning contested marks 20-8, including four to Franklin and three to Jordan Dawson.
With Franklin kicking just one goal, it was left to Dawson — now at the Crows — to lead the way with three majors, and two to Will Hayward.
The other two times Sydney won during this stretch of games, Franklin kicked three in both outings.
If Franklin can continue where he left off against Geelong, and the Swans can count on solid contributions from Heeney and/or Parker, the visitors will be hard to stop.
But the other element to consider is the possibility of a post-Buddy let-down for Sydney. They will need to bring the same intensity as the first couple of weeks, and maintain their conversion rate in goal-kicking: nearly 65 per cent.
If the energy drops after the emotional high of the SCG, then this could easily be a problem game for the Swans.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC