Sydney Swans are officially troubled, if not in trouble.
The expensive Lance Franklin experiment remains in its infancy, but has been a spectacular flop so far. The Swans’ loss to Collingwood at Homebush on Saturday night, gives John Longmire’s team two defeats to start a season in which they were once the pre-season premiership favorite.
Franklin kicked two long goals in trademark fashion and was better than round one, but not the dominant force he once was, harangued by the callow Jack Frost with all the feisty intent of the paparazzi at Bondi Beach.
It is not all about Buddy, although he is central to this. With a nine-year contract worth $10 million, he needs to deliver premierships in the short term to make Andrew Ireland’s shuffling of paperwork worthwhile.
Franklin is playing like a man under pressure; the Sydney media has adopted him as a celebrity, meaning there is no place to hide.
At a more fundamental level the Swans traded players to make room for the 27-year-old superstar and their depth has been impacted. Shane Mumford, Jed Lamb, Andrejs Everitt and Jesse White are at other clubs, while Jude Bolton and Martin Mattner retired and Tony Armstrong was delisted. Franklin will have to be good to make up for that lot.
Then there is the matter of fitness. Sydney led the Magpies by almost four goals on Saturday night, just as the Swans seemed to have control of the Greater Western Sydney Giants in round one. Each time, they were overrun. The score is 9.11 to 1.7 in the second halves of those two games; it suggests that in the fine lines that are approached in conditioning, something has gone amiss.
Of course it is guaranteed that once observers write off Sydney it will hit back hard. The Swans have made a habit of embarrassing commentators for a decade, but with Kurt Tippett and Adam Goodes a few weeks away from playing, Longmire’s team travels to Adelaide next weekend under more pressure than any team in the competition and the Franklin deal is under severe scrutiny.
Sydney kicked directly to Collingwood under pressure and Nick Maxwell, in his 200th game, was the primary beneficiary, playing his best game in ages. Moreover, his successor as captain, Scott Pendlebury, was leadership personified.
If the Swans’ issues are a surprise, the shock appearance of St Kilda in the top six, unbeaten in two games, is stunning. Granted, the Saints have had a favorable draw with games against Melbourne and the Giants at home. But Nick Riewoldt’s resurgence is stunning and symbolically, it was a rookie-lister, Eli Templeton, who kicked the sealer at the Docklands.
Alan Richardson’s youth policy is not only regenerating the Saints’ list but it seems to have invigorated the 31-year-old Riewoldt, who kicked five goals in a second straight best-on-ground performance.
North Melbourne’s 35-year-old Brent Harvey is another veteran flourishing, and his match-winning last quarter against the Western Bulldogs at the Docklands came straight from his best playbook.
It also drew a spirited defence from coach Brad Scott, who took exception to media criticism of the former skipper last week. “(He’s played) 364 games of heart and soul effort for the North Melbourne Football Club. I’ve got a choice. I can ignore it – and he certainly ignores it – or I can stand up for him. And while I’m coaching this footy club, if anyone wants to come after Brent Harvey, they can come through me.”
This was a turgid game of football and neither team looked like any sort of contender; they managed four goals between them in the first half in Etihad Stadium’s pristine conditions. But at least the game had indefatigable Harvey, who intervened with a long goal as well as setting up another then adding another of his own when the game was on the line.
The Western Australian teams, Fremantle and West Coast, hold the top two positions again after the Eagles flogged Melbourne by 93 points at the MCG and the Dockers ground down Gold Coast in Perth.
Demons’ coach Paul Roos had never suffered a bigger hiding as a senior coach and he called it an “eye-opening” performance. Roos would have known full well the recovery mission would be slow, but this was a profoundly depressing performance for the Melbourne supporters who may have been lured into the Messiah Complex. Roos is not a miracle worker, let’s be clear.
AFL football has another brilliant venue after Port Adelaide overcame Adelaide Crows at Adelaide Oval, a venue that would have been used for games many years ago had it not been for the trenchant positions taken by football and cricket.
A crowd of 50,000 saw a fast game and a fine football team in Port, which was criminally underrated in pre-season. The Power has a vibrant young list with Hamish Hartlett and Chad Wingard prominent at the weekend, and may yet turn out to be a top-four prospect.
This writer is happy to have kept a spot for Port in his top eight, but West Coast is another matter. The Eagles look superb under new coach Adam Simpson and, with key players like Nic Naitanui and Mark LeCras back, only an, ahem, idiot would have left them out of the top eight.
Hawthorn and Fremantle played off last year and may well do so again. The Hawks had every right to roll over against Essendon on Friday night but they came again late, with Cyril Rioli delivering the winner.
Mark Thompson’s description of the result as an “honorable loss” is fair comment. In fact Essendon’s reputation suffered nothing, although the loss of Patrick Ryder to injury is a worry.
Hawthorn is the benchmark and Al Clarkson’s team is not wanting for hunger, despite the success of last year. Clarkson confronts Ross Lyon and Fremantle this Friday night. It is a tasty little opener for round three.