Sydney expect Lance Franklin to bring added leadership as he returns to AFL action amid a youthful Swans side in Saturday’s opening round SCG clash with Collingwood.
The 29-year-old forward goes into his 12th season in great physical condition, but more importantly in a good frame of mind after he missed the 2015 finals because of a mental health issue.
Swans coaching staff have no doubt the three-time Coleman Medallist and five-time All-Australian can get his game back to previous high levels.
They also believe he’s ready to take more responsibility in a team getting its biggest dose of new blood in 26 years, with three players making their senior debut and two recruits notching their first AFL game in Sydney colours.
“He (Franklin) has taken his leadership to a new level this year,” assistant coach Stuart Dew told AAP.
With Adam Goodes retired, Sam Reid injured and Kurt Tippett earmarked for time in the ruck, Franklin spearheads a forward line also featuring 19-year-old debutant Tom Papley and second season player Isaac Heeney.
The other debutants are highly-rated teenage half back-midfielder Callum Mills and 20-year-old midfielder George Hewett while former Bulldogs key defender Michael Talia and ex-Eagles ruckman Callum Sinclair are other newcomers.
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley stressed no single player would have the job of curtailing Franklin, who will occasionally be given licence by coach John Longmire to roam outside the Swans’ attacking 50.
“I would have thought that nearly all of our defenders and potentially our wingers would find themselves in a contest with Buddy Franklin at some stage of the game,” Buckley said.
In stark contrast to Sydney, Collingwood will field just one new player, a quality addition in former Giants ball magnet Adam Treloar.
The Pies appear to have more key forward options this season, with Alex Fasolo, Corey Gault and Darcy Moore seemingly sufficiently developed to give established spearhead Travis Cloke improved support.
“Their forward line is pretty dynamic,” Swans’ ruckman Callum Sinclair said.
“They’ve got a few guys there who are hitting the scoreboard. That’s a sign of a good side, if your forward line spreads the goalkickers around.”
Buckley isn’t buying into talk that Sydney could be on the slide this year after losing five players with almost 1000 games of experience.
“They’re a very proud club, a very competitive side with a whole heap of talent spread across the field,” Buckley said.
“We know that we’re in for a fight.”
HOW BUDDY FRANKLIN’S NUMBERS STACK UP
*Career games: 221
*Career goals: 706 (21st all-time, 1st among current players).
*Games for Hawthorn: 182
*Goals for Hawthorn: 580
*Games for Sydney: 39
*Goals for Sydney: 126
*Most goals in a season: 113 (2008)
*100 or more goals in a season: once
*50 or more goals in a season: eight times