With only sixteen players from their Grand Final squad taking to the field on Friday, the Swans were well beaten by an experienced Lions outfit. Sydney was only two points behind at the main break before Brisbane turned up the pressure and eased their way to a seven-goal victory.
A variety of injuries and load management kept Sydney’s stars on the sideline, however, it gave a chance for their new wave of youth to have their chance against AFL opposition. Assistant coach Dean Cox took charge of the Swans for the day and had glowing reviews for the young players that stood up against the Lions.
Tom Hickey will miss the start of the season with a calf issue, while Pete Ladhams was rested as he recovers from tendinitis in his knee. That left Sydney’s ruck duties to uncapped duo Lachlan McAndrew and Will Edwards.
McAndrew was taken in the 2021 mid-season draft as a project ruckman and played 12 games in Sydney’s VFL campaign last year. Hall of fame ruckman Dean Cox was more than pleased to see the 22-year-old’s hard work come to fruition against Brisbane.
“He battled well,” Cox told reporters after the match.
“When you’re playing against two rucks that have played a lot of footy, it was a massive learning curve for him.
“He’s come a long way in such a short period of time, and today he got to test himself against some quality opposition which was really pleasing.”
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Edwards comes from the Swans’ academy and was selected as a category B rookie following the 2022 draft. Playing predominantly as a defender in the youth systems, he played ahead of the ball against Brisbane and looked more than comfortable against AFL-level bodies.
The highlight of his game was a strong mark going back with the flight in the final quarter. Cox was impressed by his impact after a short time in the system.
“[Will] was probably the same as Lachlan, he was told on Tuesday or Wednesday that he was going to have a crack playing in the ruck. That’s something he hasn’t trained the whole preseason,” Cox said when asked about his thoughts on Edwards’ performance.
“He’s a first-year player, he’s come in and training well. That’s what you want to see, you want excitement from that youth and to give them an opportunity and they can only learn from it.
“It will be good vision to review with his coach. He’ll be pretty excited about having that opportunity to play.”
Third-year player Errol Gulden was close to Sydney’s best on the day, making a transition to the midfield. He attended 70.4 per cent of the centre-bounces, tied with Luke Parker for the Swans most, and consistently found the ball all over the ground.
Cox wasn’t surprised with Gulden’s performance, and believes the young star is in for another big year in 2023.
“The good thing about Errol is he understands every role he’s playing. He’s a real pleasure to coach,” he said.
“His attention to detail is spot on and he works really hard on his game, that’s why you’ve seen him have such a big impact in his first few years and he’ll continue to do so.”
Due to the absence of backline distributors Nick Blakey and Robbie Fox, 19-year-old Matt Roberts was deployed in a new role off the half-back line. A midfielder who racked up possessions for South Adelaide before being drafted, Roberts was calm in possession on Friday and used frequently as the distribution kick from the backline.
Cox happily spoke about his progression over the off-season, and the benefits that he’ll bring to the team in 2023.
“Hopefully he improves on the one game he had last year. I think the thing with Matt is the fact he’s very composed under pressure, he can find targets when he needs to, and he can identify what mode of the game is needed,” Cox said.
“He’s got a mature head for a young kid, hopefully he can start to play some consistent football for us.”
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