Sydney Is A Genuine AFL Premiership Threat

The Sydney Swans have well and truly entered the 2022 AFL premiership conversation, yet are still an underrated commodity in the football world.

Now a 17.9% chance according to the Stats Insider AFL Premiership Predictor, Sydney have simply done what other clubs around them haven’t been able to do in the last month – tick the boxes you’re expected to.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Swans, post-bye losses to Port Adelaide and Essendon were far from ideal, but this consistent unit under coach John Longmire is firing on all cylinders heading into the final stages of the season and are playing the type of football befitting of a champion.

Sydney Swans 2022 Futures Odds

Stage of AFL seasonProbabilityFair Odds
Best Odds
Bookie
Win the Premiership17.9%$5.59
$7
Sportsbet
Make the Grand Final40.6%$2.46
$3.50Pointsbet
Finish Top Four83.8%$1.19
$115
TopSport
Make the Finals100%$1.00
N/AN/A

The Sydney Swans Style

By now, we know that the way Sydney approach the game is significantly different to even two seasons ago.

They’re aggressive with their ball movement, they look to put huge scores on the board and defensive accountability is led by a varied defence as good in the air as it is on the ground.

The Swans are the fourth-highest scoring team in the AFL after 20 rounds and have conceded the fourth-fewest points too.

In the seven games since the bye, Sydney have kept their opponents to less than 70 points on four occasions, while breaking the triple-figure mark on the offensive end thrice.

It’s a definitive style that isn’t fluky and is completely adaptable to the in-game challenges that may present themselves.

The Swans average the second-most scoring shots per game (25.6), which comes from just the seventh-most inside 50s per game (55.6). Scoring in 46.04% of entries into the forward arc is second only to Geelong, highlighting the offensive efficiency Sydney is operating with.

This comes from having such great rotational depth on the field. 

The Swans have at least 12 goals for the season and 20 disposals per game from Luke Parker, Chad Warner and Errol Gulden. The latter two occupy top three spots for the Swans in goal assists too, while Callum Mills has a combined 21 direct goal involvements as one of the best defensive midfielders in the game.

Mills himself is the perfect leader for a team whose defensive work is purely built on application and mindset.

RELATED: Callum Mills is the Most Well-Rounded Midfielder in the AFL

The Swans concede the fourth-fewest inside 50s and concede a score 42.42% of the time, a significant difference from their own attacking game.

They concede the second-fewest goal assists, which combined with their second-ranked 62.7 tackles per game, indicates that the pressure applied higher up the ground prevents easy entries inside 50 and forces the opposition to get creative.

As a result, the Swans defend very few one-on-ones compared to other teams – only the McCartin brothers are involved in more than two one-out contests a game, with the opposition’s varied entries allowing for help defence to get involved.

When they need to go it alone, Paddy McCartin (17.8% loss rate), Nick Blakey (11.8%) and Dane Rampe (22.9%) are rated above league average.

MORE: AFL Round 21 2022 Tips

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Winning the Big Games

Met with stiff opposition in difficult circumstances, the Swans have stood up to the occasion throughout 2022.

They currently sit 4th on the AFL ladder with the third-best percentage, but have got themselves into the position by performing on the big stage.

Among the opponents in the 13 wins they’ve notched up so far this season are Geelong, Richmond, Melbourne and Fremantle.

They massacred fringe finalists St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs and their worst loss of the season was by just four goals against the Lions.

RELATED: AFL Finals Probabilities 

The adaptability of Sydney’s style is what separates them from other clubs seeking to be contenders in 2022 and why we should be accepting of the hiccups that can present themselves in front of the team.

Against Fremantle, the Swans played a keepings-off brand. They played a completely uncontested style and took 138 marks, frustrating the home team and manipulating their defensive structure.

When playing the reigning premiers, they were only in front for 23 minutes of the game, but never allowed Melbourne to flex their general midfield dominance and assertiveness. 

The Swans won 45.48% of their possessions in a contested manner, well up from their 39.74% season average, while they laid 75 tackles and put Melbourne under all sorts of pressure.

Both these games were won away from home and inaccuracy prevented them from being blowouts.

Against Richmond, the Swans committed to a shootout and pure offensive firepower proved to be too much.

Such versatility within a playing group is incredibly important come September, where unpredictability proves to be such an advantage.

Why Can't Sydney Win The 2022 AFL Premiership?

The way they’re playing, Sydney can certainly win the 2022 Premiership.

Rightfully, they rate behind Geelong and Melbourne, who have deeper squads and a winning pedigree that this relatively youthful Swans team don’t necessarily rely on.

The other two clubs play with a similar ethos and it has certainly allowed the Swans to open up some space on Fremantle as the third contender in line.

Strangely enough, the Achilles’ heel of all three clubs comes from teams that play direct football without fear of being caught.

The Suns are the best exponent of this and beat the Swans and nearly knocked off the Demons – they loom as the Cats’ biggest danger game coming up.

RELATED: Geelong are the 2022 AFL Flag Favourites

Bursts from the Bulldogs, the Lions and the Tigers offer similar threats, and that’s largely due to the fact that the defensive structures of these teams are reliant on the commitment of midfielders and high half-forwards to apply pressure and run backwards to cover space.

The Swans struggled against the Suns and Bombers in particular, playing this way. Those lesser teams avoided being completely smothered by pressure by kicking over the top of the press. 

It means that the Sydney defence was a little more exposed and gave opportunities to towering key forwards, to outmark an undersized defence.

The flip side to this is that offensively, the Swans are on the back foot, as they try to counteract direct footy by sitting deeper. It means they have more ground to make up when attacking and completely shifts the structure.

By and large though, there aren’t many teams in the league that can maintain directness for an entire game, which is a testament to the pressure and overwhelming numbers the best teams can get around the ball.

Sydney has a fluid rotation of players that can play in attack, through the midfield and off half-back. Having mobile ruckmen in Tom Hickey, Peter Ladhams or Sam Reid means that the ball can always be moving, and these skilled big men can be used in ball movement chains.

As has been shown throughout 2022, when the situation becomes more pressurised and the heat is turned up, Sydney’s tackling rises to the occasion.

Unpredictability and handling pressure are two key traits that successful teams tend to own in the final moments of the AFL season.

They’ve been building steadily with a couple of hiccups along the way, but the Swans have found their rhythm and are playing Premiership football in 2022.

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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