Rookies powering Swans in AFL finals

Astute use of the AFL’s rookie list continues to set Sydney apart from rivals.

The Swans have made a mockery of the notion a club must bottom out, with this September representing their seventh consecutive finals series.

With the exception of a 12th-place finish in 2009 they have contested at least one final for 14 straight years.

It is a staggering record that is a result of their club culture, clever trading and a smooth coaching transition from Paul Roos to John Longmire.

It is also a credit to their knack of recruiting talent that other clubs spurned.

Small forward Tom Papley, ruckman Sam Naismith and key forward Xavier Richards are the latest examples of Swans to rise off the rookie list and into the best 22.

They are not outliers, rather a handful of recruiting guru Kinnear Beatson’s rookie-list success stories.

Gun defenders Dane Rampe, Nick Smith and Heath Grundy all started as rookies at the SCG, as did Jake Lloyd. Former skipper Brett Kirk and current co-captain Kieren Jack were also signed as rookies.

“The Swans are just so thorough,” AFL national talent manager Kevin Sheehan told AAP.

“Some clubs say ‘there’s nothing left at the end, it’s a shallow draft’, whereas others find a gem that nobody wanted.

“History proves there are players every year who slip through.”

Papley for instance has played 18 games this year after being elevated to the Swans’ senior list for a round-one clash with Collingwood.

The 20-year-old was overlooked in last year’s national draft before the Swans pounced with pick No.14 in the rookie draft.

“Everyone had a chance to take him and now here he is – first season in and he’s had a terrific year and just played a big role in the Swans winning last weekend’s semi-final,” Sheehan said.

“People were looking at the fact he was small and not that quick .. he did state-level testing, wasn’t in the main combine.

“The Swans’ approach is to leave no stone unturned and look in detail at the back end of the draft. “The other part of it is their development system is obviously quite good.”

Richards, who like Papley and Naismith is in the midst of his maiden finals series, suggested Jack and the club’s other leaders deserve a lot of credit for helping raw rookies reach the highest level.

“We’ve got some bloody good leaders and they drive some pretty high standards at training and in terms of professionalism,” Richards said.

“We’ve got some absolute guns, a lot of guys who are the best in the league in their respective area.

“So when rookies are hanging around and training with those guys, a lot of it rubs off.”

The rookie list is expected to be abolished as part of the AFL’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

It will bring greater recognition and pay to those players picked on potential, with more spots up for grabs on clubs’ main list.

But don’t expect it to change the approach of Sydney.

“It’d just mean more choices at the national draft so you have to prepare for picks over 100 … clubs will have to be super thorough and the Swans are,” Sheehan said.

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