One of the lesser spoken young guns of the Sydney Swans, James Rowbottom is just glad to be playing with limited interruptions.
The 21-year-old missed six games throughout 2021 with both injury and form concerns.
Since round 21 last year, however, Rowbottom has only missed one game and is glad for the clean bill of health so far.
“So far so good, compared to last year, which was a bit interrupted, but this year has been relatively injury-free, which has been nice,” he told The Inner Sanctum.
With a clean run at it, Rowbottom has grown as a defensive mid, a role partially vacated by George Hewett’s move to Carlton.
Hewett, a key cog in the Swans unexpected finals return of 2021, left big shoes to fill, but Rowbottom feels natural taking the reins.
“I wouldn’t say it was a challenge necessarily, I was always this type of player, just pressure, tackling, and in and under sort of stuff,” he said.
“There hasn’t necessarily been a great shift in the way that I’ve played, just more the opportunity I’ve been given has changed more significantly I guess.”
Rowbottom achieved a personal best 13 tackles against GWS in Round 20 and has led the Swans in that statistic in five matches across 2022.
Averaging 6.56 tackles across the year so far, the most of the Swans, Rowbottom doesn’t need inspiration to be hungry at the contest.
“I don’t know, I think it’s more just instilled in the way that the club wants me to go about my footy,” he said.
“It’s very highly valued, within the team, and if that is what I have to do to play my role, then it’s just what it is, and I’ll keep doing it, I’m not sure if it’s [inspiration] needed when it’s my job.”
Age is no concern
Against GWS this past week, Rowbottom, along with nine other Swans, were aged under 25 when they took to the field against the Giants.
But Rowbottom doesn’t buy into the ‘young’ tag the Swans have been branded with in the past, citing their extensive experience of playing alongside one another.
“I think we touched on it more last year, but it’s not much a battle of age for us anymore, because a lot of us have come through together through the last two or three seasons, and played a lot of footy together,” he said.
“Like Parksy [Luke Parker] and Millsy [Callum Mills], Chad Warner, and Errol [Gulden] we would have played near to 50 games together now, so you get to know each other.
“Age isn’t really an excuse when you’ve played that length of footy together.”
The likes of Gulden and Warner are garnering plenty of attention while continuing to build on outstanding debut seasons in 2022.
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In contrast, Rowbottom enjoys relative anonymity in his role, although external noise is not discussed anyway in the four walls of the Swans, as Rowbottom explains.
“What happens outside the club, doesn’t really get touched on or spoken about by the team, within our club, within our four walls,” he said.
“Being in Sydney helps in that regard as well, obviously not being an AFL first state/city, it’s good to be able to fly under the radar.”
Individually, the Swans have been able to fly under the radar, but as a team, they have found themselves as a dark horse going into the finals series, sitting fourth on the ladder going into round 21.
Rowbottom opened up on what the Swans have tinkered with the most to get themselves into a good position going into the final month of the season.
“Probably just our commitment and focus on doing the basics over and over again for as long as possible,” he said.
“I think it’s been evident in the last month with our tackling and pressure and stoppage work, just doing the basic stuff really well, and the result’s been able to take care of itself.
“That’s just got to be our focus no matter who we play.”
On the outer
Swans veteran Josh Kennedy, one of the most important players for the club over more than a decade has found himself struggling to get back into the team after ten weeks out with a hamstring injury.
Rowbottom expects he’ll find his way back sooner rather than later, however.
“Absolutely, I think Joey’s played a whole season, plus a few games, worth of finals in his career,” he said.
“He’s unmatched, and you can’t put a price on what he has to offer, even just around the club, in meetings, and his experience and knowledge is priceless.”
During the upcoming AFLW season, Rowbottom will get a chance to sit back and watch younger sister Charlie Rowbottom hopefully build on her outstanding debut season in AFLW with Gold Coast.
Despite C. Rowbottom’s early success that saw her named Best First-Year player by her peers, and come runner up in the AFLW Rising Star, Rowbottom says there’s no sibling rivalry between the two.
“I’m not sure there’s a rivalry as such, we just chat about footy and stuff together,” he said.
“The AFLW game’s still emerging and she’s trying to make her own path, and continue to go really well in that regard, she has her first practice game tonight [last Thursday] so hopefully she goes alright.
“But in terms of a rivalry, I don’t think there’s any sort of sibling rivalry.”
One Club, two leagues
With the Swans building towards their own AFLW debut, Rowbottom spoke about the men’s side getting involved with the women’s team ahead of their debut game at the end of August.
“It’s been great. The club’s been really big on making it a one-club environment, and everyone just welcomed the girls in seamlessly,” he said.
“It’ll probably be more evident next season when we move into our new facilities, and we all share the same area, there’ll be a lot more frequent interaction, whereas, at the moment, it’s a bit disjointed with their pre-season training and our in-season training.
“So, hopefully, next year we’ll be on a much more regimented schedule and be able to interact more freely.”
As for Sydney AFL right now, Rowbottom is daring to dream, if only a little bit.
“I’d be silly to say we’re not a sniff to go all the way,” he said.
“But we’ve got to focus on every week, and as I said, we’ve got to focus on the process, and take each week as it comes, as cliché as that sounds. But it’s the reality in football.
“You’ve got to beat who’s in front of you, and we’ll just focus on our basics and hopefully we can go deep into September.”
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