Chad Warner will play his 50th career game in Round 11 against Carlton (Image: afl.com.au/Design: Will Cuckson)

Chad Warner has already played in a Grand Final, finished second in a Best and Fairest, and been touted as one of the best young players in the competition. Now, in his fourth season, he’s preparing to play just his 50th game in the red and white.

After being selected at pick 39 of the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, Warner has become a mainstay of the Sydney midfield that made the 2022 Grand Final. His burst from stoppages and line-breaking ability have made him one of the most widely loved young stars.

Ahead of his 50th game, Warner sat down with The Inner Sanctum to talk about the milestone and what this journey means to him.

“Yeah, its certainly special, and I’m hoping I can have a few more,” Warner told The Inner Sanctum.

“It’s gone pretty quick to be honest, which I think everyone would say. But I’ve had a lot of fun along the way and hopefully I can keep improving.”

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Warner admits it was an awkward start to his career in the 2020 season heavily affected by COVID-19. But his first year with the team gave him a number of benefits he would take with him over the journey.

He made his debut with a pair of games in the Queensland hub. His first experience of AFL was playing Richmond at the Gabba in front of three thousand fans.

Although unorthodox, it’s a memory that he wouldn’t change for the world.

“It’s pretty hard to remember now, but it was pretty weird,” he said.

“Playing Richmond in Brisbane is weird enough in itself, and then I think there were a few fans in there. But obviously a lot less than what we usually play in front of now.”

After registering just the two games in his first year, Warner burst onto the scene in 2021 as the young Swans registered a shock upset to 2019 runner-up Brisbane away from home.

Alongside a host of new draftees in Errol Gulden, Logan McDonald and Braeden Campbell, Warner found his footing and was able to kick start his 2021 season.

He had 20 disposals and two goals against both Adelaide and Richmond in rounds two and three, with the latter earning him a Rising Star nomination and the attention of the competition. He says the first few weeks of that season were when he was able to feel like he belonged.

“In that first game [of 2021] against Brisbane was really when I realised I was capable at AFL level,” Warner said.

“Then we had Richmond in round three, that was when I noticed I could do some pretty good things and really build some confidence in my own game and hopefully continue to be valuable part of the team.”

Warner solidified his spot in the side and quickly became an important member of the Swans’ outfit that was unexpectedly surging up the ladder. Before being undone by a stress fracture that caused him to miss the last third of the home and away season.

As someone who hadn’t dealt with too many injuries over the journey, Warner says it was something he tried to work through. But unfortunately, with it affecting his ability to perform, he had to spend time on the sideline.

“It was pretty annoying to be honest.” He said.

“It was a little stress fracture in the bottom of my left fibula. I played with it for a while, it was just slowly getting bigger and we just decided that we needed to call it quits for a while.

“So that lasted about two months that rehab process, we had to keep working it until it was pain free. I managed to make it back just in time for the final that year, but I remember being really frustrated about it.”

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Off the back of a devastating one-point loss to cross-town rivals GWS in the 2021 elimination final, Warner led from the front as the Swans stormed into finals. He missed the first game with COVID before playing all 24 games on the run into the Grand Final.

His 2022 season was the competition’s first glimpse at what Warner looks like over the course of a full season.

He finished with a host of memorable moments such as delivering the ball for Buddy’s 1000th goal, being the Swan’s best player on Grand Final day, and finishing second in the Bob Skilton medal.

Though, if he had to pick one thing that he learnt from last season, it’s the shock of how long a full season is.

“The main thing I realised is just how long a full year is, playing every game except that first one,” he said.

“I really needed a lot of those rest days.

“Other than that. I think I just had a lot of fun, so did a lot of the boys. I think last year we were all really tight coming off of the hubs in 2020. Obviously the Grand Final was a bad result, but I enjoyed every minute of last year.

“I think we’re starting to build some form now this season, so hopefully we can continue that.”

With the Swans’ point of difference lying in their strong youth contingent, Warner says their similarities in age have helped them develop a strong on-field connection. While also revealing he hopes to keep the group together for a good period of time.

“We’re young but we’re starting to get a good amount of experience under out belts now as well,” Warner said.

“We’re really close off the field too, I think it’s great to have boys around your age because you can relate to them a lot more.

“It makes it a lot easier to work together on field because of that connection, hopefully we can continue to do that for years to come.”

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Warner has been lucky enough to work under two of the best midfielders over the last ten years in Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker. With their guidance and inspiration lifting the squad to new heights.

After Kennedy’s retirement in 2022, Warner says he was lucky to be able to pick the brain of one of the club’s greatest players for as long as he did. While Parker’s influence on the club is still evident and Warner says he’s an inspiration for everyone playing alongside him.

“It’s been huge,” he said.

“To have Luke [Parker] still here has been massive for us. Josh Kennedy was one of the main [mentors] for me as I was coming through.

“While he was at the club I learnt so much off him, even just watching him motivates me a lot.

“Luke Parker as well, he just steps up and cracks in, always seems to end up with big cuts on his head or bleeding. He inspires the team and himself so much, just his desire to win, but also his craft as a midfielder.”

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As he prepares for the first milestone of his hopefully long career, Warner isn’t putting any limits on what his career may look like. He’s happy with what he’s been able to do so far, but believes there’s still a lot that he’s capable of.

He’s got a few direct things that he’s working on, one of those being his game to game consistency.

“I guess I’m pretty much where I want to be at the moment,” Warner said.

“I’ve still got a lot of improvement to do. Something I’ve been honing in on at the moment is my consistency.

“I think my best is where I want it to be, but just bridging the gap between and the worst games is the thing for me. Also just staying engaged in the moments during the entirety of the four quarters, and that should hold me in good stead.”

As he lines up against Carlton to celebrate game 50, Swans fans will be hoping it’s just the beginning of Warner’s career for the Bloods.

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