A DOUBLE hit to their ruck division is the factor threatening to scuttle Sydney's hopes of a first flag in six seasons.
The retirement of Kurt Tippett in January, followed by the season-ending knee injury to Sam Naismith, has seriously reduced the Swans' ruck resources, leaving a big question mark against the perennial contenders.
The Swans have made the finals in each of the last eight years, but have won just one flag in that time - in 2012.
Regular backup Callum Sinclair and Darcy Cameron, who has yet to play a senior game, are the rucks left standing, with Dean Towers and possibly Aliir Aliir giving them a different look.
Prior to their ruck troubles, Sydney were considered by some as favourites in 2018 after their astonishing fightback last year.
They showed remarkable fortitude to recover from a 0-6 start, winning 15 of their next 17 games before running out of steam in a semi-final loss to Geelong.
Off-field stability has been a key factor in the consistency which has turned Sydney into a 21st century AFL juggernaut.
Rodney Eade, Paul Roos and John Longmire have coached the club to 19 of the last 22 finals series with widely-admired CEO Andrew Ireland finishing up later this year.
Stung by last season's start, Sydney have carefully monitored the pre-season workloads and physical condition of their players to try and ensure the club is faster out of the blocks.
"The players have been fantastic," Longmire said.
"They have really kept themselves in good condition in regards to making sure that if they had any niggle they reported it during that time.
"The health of the squad, making sure that's as good as it can be, but also understanding that a hard-pressure game has to be delivered from Round 1."
Longmire is buoyed by the flexibility and versatility of his deep and well-balanced squad.
There's a strong core of senior stars headed by Jarrad McVeigh, (300 games), Lance Franklin (271), Heath Grundy, Kieren Jack, Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Nick Smith, Luke Parker, Sam Reid and Dane Rampe.
But the Swans are anything but old, with the emergence over the past two years of a new wave of talented youngsters already making an impact.
Callum Mills, Tom Papley, Lewis Melican, Nic Newman and George Hewett have joined the slightly more experienced Isaac Heeney, Jake Lloyd and Zak Jones as integral members of the team.
"We're thrilled at some of the younger players coming through and the type of players we think they could end up being, both in the short and long term," Longmire said.
"If our older players keep delivering and being consistent, I'm sure that those younger players will keep driving the standards that we need to be successful."
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