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Best 22: The team that brings Sydney straight back into premiership contention in 2018

YOU could hardly believe it if you tried.

Such a successful Sydney team sitting 0-6, seemingly without a hope of making the finals.
Injuries had taken their toll, youngsters were being blooded and the side was struggling to click. Fortunately, key players returned. The Swans won 14 of their last 16 to see September.
Of course, it all fell apart in the finals. But the suggestion was understandably made that they might just be fatigued, having played win-or-die games for the best part of four months.
In 2018, with their strongest team hopefully ready to go for Round 1, the question must be posed — is this a Sydney side capable of challenging for a flag?
Their best players are among the AFL’s elite — as many as eight of their best 22 next season are All-Australians.
They also have some talented youngsters, having blooded six debutants last season.
Lewis Melican, Oliver Florent and Will Hayward were all standouts, while Nic Newman was also impressive across 20 games throughout the campaign.
They will be better for the run, with Swans coach John Longmire likely to find the balance between experience and youth much easier with a fully-fit squad.
THE LOCK
On his day, Lance Franklin is undoubtedly the most influential player in the competition. He kicked 73 goals last season to claim his fourth Coleman Medal, but he didn’t just impact games through his goals. He got high up the ground, got teammates involved as often as possible and always had his say when games were there to be won. There’s not many players in the competition who can do what he can. That’s why he’s one of the AFL’s very best.
THE BUBBLE
It’s an interesting time for Sydney’s experienced duo Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh. Both remain key cogs in this Swans side, but question marks remain over whether they’ll be permanent fixtures in the team. Neither played more than 20 games last season, while they’ll likely be rested next year in order to see them fit and firing come September. Plus, Sydney experimented with youth early last season and may be tempted to do likewise next year. Should they do so, resting one of these veterans might be the way to bring kids through.
THE RISING STAR
Sydney would be delighted with the progress shown from Will Hayward in his maiden campaign last season. The talented teenage forward played 17 games, kicking 22 goals. He had his quiet games, but continued to show glimpses of his talent. He’s just so clean around the ball and he makes things happen around goal. Expect the Pick 21 to take another step forward in his development in his second season with the Swans.
IT’S A BIG YEAR FOR ...
Last season was a disappointing one for Aliir Aliir. Having broken onto the scene in 2016, he managed only three games last year and didn’t feature in the senior team at all after Round 4. He battled a few injury issues throughout the campaign, but saw his form plummet and was overlooked as Lewis Melican secured his spot in the side. He’ll be desperate to once again re-earn his place in the Swans defence — where he has the potential to make a genuine difference — but first must develop some consistency in the NEAFL.
BEST 22
B: Lewis Melican, Heath Grundy, Nick Smith
HB: Jake Lloyd, Dane Rampe, Callum Mills
C: Zak Jones, Dan Hannebery, Isaac Heeney
HF: Oliver Florent, Lance Franklin, Will Hayward
F: Gary Rohan, Sam Reid, Tom Papley
FOLL: Sam Naismith, Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker
I/C: George Hewett, Kieren Jack, Nic Newman, Jarrad McVeigh
EMG: Dean Towers, Callum Sinclair, Aliir Aliir
OTHERS: Darcy Cameron, Harry Cunningham, Jordan Dawson, Jordan Foote, Matthew Ling, Jack Maibaum, Harrison Marsh, Tom McCartin, Dan Robinson, James Rose, Ryley Stoddart, Colin O’Riordan, Kurt Tippett
ROOKIES: Joel Amartey, James Bell, Jake Brown, Robbie Fox, Alex Johnson, Toby Pink, Ben Ronke, Angus Styles

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