Buddy's backing band powering Swans

Sep 14, 2017 - 2:27 AM Sydney have long boasted the AFL's stingiest defence but their rejigged forward line has been just as pivotal in a belated premiership push.

Of the Swans' 22 that lost last year's grand final, forwards Ben McGlynn and Xavier Richards have both left the club while high-profile recruit Kurt Tippett appears likely to watch this September from the stands.

Lance Franklin remains Sydney's goal-kicking extraordinaire. A rock star capable of perplexing opponents, booting bags and consistently making the unbelievably brilliant look remarkably easy.

The four-time Coleman medallist has improved his field kicking and pressure acts but his genius is what brings people through the gate.

Franklin creates headlines when he does almost anything. Few corked muscles have attracted as much intrigue as the 'Buddy bruise', few pieces of exercise equipment have been discussed as much as the 'Buddy bike'.

The 30-year-old will top the club's goal-kicking list for the fourth year in a row but his backing band has generally been on song, as Geelong coach Chris Scott knows as well as anyone.

Many elements of the Cats' 46-point loss to Sydney in round 20 would have infuriated Scott but Franklin wasn't one of them. The excitement machine, well held by Tom Lonergan, produced one of his poorest games of the year.

Instead Sam Reid, Tom Papley and Gary Rohan combined for seven goals to extend Sydney's recent run of dominance against Scott's side.

In a last-start mauling of Essendon it was Rohan, Isaac Heeney, Callum Sinclair and Dean Towers who dobbed a combined 10 goals. A hobbled Franklin booted four majors in the second quarter but otherwise failed to fire a shot.

Papley feels the strength of his forward line is their selflessness.

"Forward pressure is key to us, we pride ourselves on it, and the unselfishness is really important," Papley told AAP.

"We had that unselfishness last year but we've gone to another level this year, always trying to get each other into better spots to kick goals."

Having a mentor like Franklin also helps.

"We've got a pretty young group down there, so he's pretty key to the forward line," Papley said.

"Everyone gets a spray now and then - he'll talk you through it at training. He's all about learning, he teaches us running patterns and the little tricks he uses to get that extra metre of space on his opponent."

Papley made the transition from apprentice plumber to pressure forward with aplomb last year and has since developed further, spending more minutes in the midfield.

The 21-year-old kicked the match-winner away to Adelaide a month ago - the only game in which the Swans have failed to score 100-plus points since their most recent loss.

Papley noted the return of Reid, who missed the entire 2016 season because of a series of injury setbacks, has made a big difference.

Reid is, to adopt the analogy Ian Healy used for dependable hands behind the wicket, the drummer of the red-and-white ensemble.

Reid is rarely noticed but keeps the beat at both ends of the ground. No Swan has clutched more contested marks than him this season.

He will start forward on Friday night but is likely to drift into defence at some point in the MCG semi-final, whenever coach John Longmire wants to halt the hosts' momentum.

"That'll probably continue throughout my career, a bit like LRT," Reid said earlier this year, referencing the deeds of club favourite and former teammate Lewis Roberts-Thomson.

"Having a bit of flexibility is a handy thing."

Sinclair, whose strong form continues to keep Tippett out of the team, is proof of that.

The ruckman was one of Sydney's best in their elimination final at the SCG, where he was deployed as a defensive forward on Michael Hurley but still kicked three goals and clutched a game-high four contested marks.

Source: AAP

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