Derby looms as Swans’ Giant nightmare

 

Highlights: Eagles v Swans

Highlights: Eagles v Swans

Dan Hannebery and Steve Johnson tussle. Picture: Toby Zerna

EVEN Swans dual premiership great Jude Bolton can sense the AFL tide is turning in Sydney.

“The Giants will certainly look at this as a chance to get right on top of the Swans,” Bolton said.

“It is a true rivalry now because it doesn’t matter where they are on the ladder, these games are big now.”

And they don’t get any bigger than Saturday night’s first derby of the year between the Swans (0-4) and Giants (3-1) at the SCG.

For most of their 35-year history, the Swans have been the only AFL show in town.

But after Sydney’s horror start to the year their cross-town rivals are now threatening the status quo in a big way.

Jude Bolton is tackled by Will Hoskin-Elliott in 2012.

Jude Bolton is tackled by Will Hoskin-Elliott in 2012.Source:News Limited

“Previously there has been a sense of sinking the slipper into the Giants by the Swans,’’ said

Bolton, who played four games against GWS with an average winning margin of 79 points before retiring in 2013. “But it’s longer the case.”

The “slipper” is now on the other foot.

Just five weeks into the season, GWS find themselves in a position to deliver the knockout blow to the Swans’ season.

No team has ever lost its first four games and made the finals since the top-eight system was introduced in 1994, and the last team to start 0-4 and finish in the playoffs was North Melbourne in 1975.

If the Swans find themselves 0-5 after Saturday night, history says it’s impossible for them to make their 19th finals series in the past 22 seasons.

The Giants’ rise was entirely predictable but few saw Sydney’s demise coming.

Sydney are traditionally slow starters but to be winless after four rounds when they played in last year’s Grand Final is astounding.

Sydney lost to GWS in last year’s historic qualifying final. Picture: Toby Zerna

Sydney lost to GWS in last year’s historic qualifying final. Picture: Toby ZernaSource:News Corp Australia

Bolton has seen some clear reasons for his old team’s fall from grace and one of them is in an area he knows better than most, contested footy.

“The Swans aren’t winning as many one-on-ones and 50-50 balls,” Bolton said.

“They are the ones they would normally snap up and get that momentum and drive out of the middle. They’ve fallen down around the contest. Their prime movers are down in that area a little bit.”

The prime movers Bolton speaks of are their 2016 All Australians Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker and Dan Hannebery. Contested possession has been their trademark but they’ve been breaking even or coming out on the wrong side in the opening rounds.

Their biggest problem has been coughing the ball up. The Swans gave away 10 goals through turnovers against the Eagles alone.

Bolton believes the absence of regular defenders Dane Rampe and Jarrad McVeigh has been pivotal.

“They are also butchering the footy, which means it comes back with interest,” Bolton said.

“It has been a rock-solid defence for so long. Not having Rampe as that support player has left them one out on a lot of occasions.

Jon Patton celebrates a goal with Giants teammates.

Jon Patton celebrates a goal with Giants teammates.Source:AAP

“Jarrad McVeigh has been a big loss. He rarely wastes the ball and gives the team a springboard out of defence.

“Rampe drives it 50m out of the backline and Macca can hit those chip kicks through the middle.”

By continually turning the ball over, the Swans backline has been under constant attack.

“They’ve lost that element of being able to move the ball and relieve the pressure,” Bolton said.

“When you’ve got new guys in the team you need to relieve that pressure. It’s part and parcel of what you need to do.

“The turnover of players has taken away the stability they usually have at half-back. That settled defence allowed them to bring in players like Callum Mills last year.”

A more subtle challenge the Swans have faced in the opening rounds has been the rule change surrounding deliberate out of bounds.

Bolton believes defending towards the boundary line has presented difficulties Sydney are still coming to terms with.

Giant final quarter saves GWS2:34

AFL: The GWS Giants exploded in the final quarter to cruise to victory over the Port Adelaide Power.

“The deliberate out-of-bounds rule change has meant they are going more central out of defence,” Bolton said.

“In the past, the Swans have often moved the ball wide and now they are bringing the ball back into more dangerous situations.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Swans on Saturday because the Giants have their fair share of injury concerns themselves with the loss of Ryan Griffen, Steve Coniglio and Brett Deledio.

“Having Taranto and Hopper up against some of the bigger-bodied Swans blokes in the middle, it will be interesting to see how they go,” Bolton said.

“Dylan Shiel also had an issue with his shoulder against Port Adelaide, so there are a couple of things which could be a factor for GWS.”

SOURCE: newsnow sport