Why they won’t
Age has caught up with the Swans, who have lost a host of premiership heroes. The best teams are strong in the 24-to-28 age bracket, a demographic in which the Swans are light on. Their best are either at the start or finish of their careers. There must be serious doubt over the availability of Franklin, who will miss the opening weeks of the season. Who will kick the goals? The midfield is also an issue, due to the reliance on Kennedy and Parker. The Swans’ defence is in rebuild mode after the retirements of Heath Grundy and Nick Smith.
After their long run of success, it is shaping as another lean season for the red and the white. Franklin can win matches off his own boot, but how many games will he play? Their kids show promise, but many are still a season or two away from being ready to drive the side in the manner of McVeigh, Jack, Hannebery and co. Games against Adelaide, Gold Coast and Carlton in the opening four rounds will gauge how far the Swans tumble.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Last year: 2nd (16 wins, 10 losses)
Why they can challenge
The Giants overcame a horror run with injuries to qualify for their first grand final. Hit hard for much of the year, they regained most of their best players for September and showed what they were capable of. There should be further improvements with Stephen Coniglio back after missing the finals series and inspirational veteran Callan Ward to return after the first month. The likes of Jeremy Cameron, Lachie Whitfield, Nick Haynes, Toby Greene and Josh Kelly are all in their prime. Their midfield is elite, their defence is stoic and, in Cameron, Harry Himmelberg and Jeremy Finlayson, they have high-class tall timber in attack. For the first time in a while, they have not lost top-end talent so should find organic improvement from that alone.
Why they won’t
Watch the pressure rise on coach Leon Cameron if the Giants have a bad run with injury and drop games they shouldn’t. Though discussions are ongoing, the Giants are yet to re-sign Cameron, but all the sounds coming out of the club point to a contract extension. More injuries to senior players will also test them, but it would take a particularly bad run to miss the finals. Another unknown is the impact of such a heavy grand final defeat. It might not be until they get to the big stage of September that the full effect becomes apparent.
This is the Giants’ time. Nine seasons in, GWS have a list the envy of many of their rivals. They have All Australian potential in every third of the field, including one of the best midfields in the league. Improvement will come from having a fit list, while youngsters such as Lachie Ash, Tom Green and Jye Caldwell are capable of making an impact this year. As a non-Victorian team, the Giants will need a top-two finish to give themselves the best chance in the finals. Anything less than the top four will be a disappointment.
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald