Only six of the other 17 club captains believe the Swans will make the finals for a 10th straight year with none predicting them to make the grand final. They’re coin toss odds with the bookies to make the eight.
Punters and pundits do not always get it right, of course. Who seriously tipped the Western Bulldogs, Richmond and West Coast to win their flags?
So why the low expectations? The Swans bowed out ingloriously last year, thumped by their cross-town rivals on their own turf. It capped a trying 4-6 run after the bye, which included a shock loss to Gold Coast.
The reliance on Lance Franklin came back to bite as their young forwards tired. Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker could not carry a once-powerful midfield now in need of ball winners, speed and fresh blood. Dan Hannebery is gone. Franklin, Kennedy, Kieren Jack, Nick Smith, Jarrad McVeigh, Heath Grundy are all in their 30s.
The trade period did not yield a big fish to provide an instant remedy, though the arrival of boom youngster Nick Blakey is a cause for optimism.
There is, however, a quiet confidence at the SCG – not unusual for any football club in March – based on what they achieved last year under duress.
Unlike many of his media colleagues, former Swans premiership coach Paul Roos has taken the glass-half-full approach with his former team.
“Leading into this year there’s more question marks than perhaps there has been before,” Roos says. “That’s a correct statement, but I would still take the positive view rather than the negative view.”
The draft system is designed to bring the top clubs down, but the Swans, who do not believe in bottoming out to mine high draft picks, have defied gravity.
This is due, Roos says, to the academy system, a source of consternation to many south of the Murray. It’s delivered them Isaac Heeney (pick 18), Callum Mills (pick three using draft points) and now Blakey (pick 10) at a bargain price. Whether this is fair is a debate for another day.
“Because they’re academy kids, we don’t get the perspective of where they are in the draft,” Roos says. “The Swans have actually picked up three top-five picks in the last five years.
“Yes, they are losing top-end talent, but because of how well they’ve done with the academy, they’re actually replacing them with top-end talent.”
So much rides on Mills and Heeney, the dynamic duo now in their fourth and fifth seasons respectively.
If they can become driving forces in the engine room then the Swans midfield can again be a force. Malthouse has a grim prognosis if they don’t.
“They’re bottom four; I have no fear of saying that. Whether they finish there or not is another thing,” Malthouse told ABC Grandstand.
“They’re going to rely very heavily, the way I see it, on blokes like Heeney and Mills to grow very quickly and become semi-dominant type midfielders.”
When they last missed the finals in 2009, the Swans had reached the end of the road with several of their 2005 flag heroes at a time when their next generation was not ready.
They are arguably much better placed now for generational change having pumped games into Heeney, Mills, Zak Jones, George Hewett, Aliir Aliir, Will Hayward, Ollie Florent, Tom Papley and Lewis Melican. All are aged 24 or under so should have scope to improve on last year.
The return of Reid, who like Melican and Mills missed much of 2018 through injury, is another plus. If he can stay fit – and it’s a big if given his history – the high-marking forward will take plenty of pressure off Franklin. A fit Sam Naismith in the ruck after a knee reconstruction will further boost the Swans’ big-man stocks. The unknown is again injury.
“They’re more reliant on Buddy than they’ve ever been, depending on how well Sam Reid goes,” Roos says. “Two years ago we saw it when they were 0-6. They had some pretty good players in that period of time out of the team.
“When I look at them at the start of the season, you’re always looking at pure talent, best 22s. Their best 22 is in the top eight for me, no problems at all, [but] they don’t have the margin for error of a Richmond, Melbourne, Giants, Adelaide Crows and the other top teams.
“I can see both sides of the debate that says they’re due to miss out, but I think you can absolutely make a case for them to be a contender again.”
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald