SYDNEY sits atop the ladder and still most folk don't rate it as a good thing for the premiership.
The Swans will again play finals, in fact for the 14th time in the past 17 seasons, a record no other club can boast. But still, most expect them to be bundled out in the first week or two in September. Why? Because, of their past 13 finals campaigns, there has been only one truly successful one.
The sceptics, however, should realise that under John Longmire we are seeing a different Sydney. A far more attacking one. One that keeps the scoreboard ticking over, yet still maintains a very tight, stingy defence, which is in fact proving to be the best in the AFL.
When the Swans won the flag under Paul Roos in 2005 their average score for and against was 87-75. This year the average score for and against is 104-70. Longmire, in just his second season as head coach, is very much low key but his results are most impressive.
Some keys to the Swans' success in 2012 have been:
Last year the Swans were the 11th-highest scoring team. Only three players kicked more than 20 goals. Geelong, last year's premier, had nine players kick more than 20 goals. This year the Swans have developed a spread of goalkickers. They are on track to have at least seven players, led by Lewis Jetta, Sam Reid and Adam Goodes, crack the 20-goal figure.
Not only that, the Swans have become the most accurate team in front of goal with a conversion rate of 63 per cent, and only four teams have kicked more goals. Really good teams have midfielders average a goal a game, and Jude Bolton, Kieren Jack and Josh Kennedy are doing that.
The current top five teams have the best spines. It's old-fashioned, but true, that you can build a team around quality key position players. The Swans have two key defenders who get the big jobs week in, week out, for the power forwards. Heath Grundy and Ted Richards fly under the radar but they are strong of mind and body, who first and foremost have a defensive mindset. It stands them in good stead. In the centre is Kennedy. He was runner-up in the best and fairest last year and is on track to win the count in 2012.
The two keys up forward are the old Goodes and the young Reid. Goodes was the leading goalkicker last year. He is no longer needed to run all day in the midfield, so now, in the twilight of his career, it's leads, marks and goals that have become the priority.
Closer to goal stands Reid. The 20-year-old is still learning the business but few can contest and hold marks at the angles he launches from.
Is there a midfield that runs as deep as Sydney? The clearance kings are Kennedy, Jack, Bolton, Ryan O'Keefe and Jarrad McVeigh.
The class putting the ball forward is Jetta, Jack, McVeigh and Dan Hannebery. The run-with, lock-down specialists are Craig Bird, Nick Smith and Luke Parker. The ruck combination of Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke continues to evolve.
They have all bases covered. What all the midfielders have in common though is an insatiable appetite to tackle fiercely and push deep into defence to help their backmen out.
The Swans are the most settled team in the competition, having more players play every game of the season than any other club.
They have also introduced the least number of debutants. So things don't change much. That means they are very predictable to each other in what they do. Their back six of Grundy, Richards, Rhyce Shaw, Alex Johnston, Marty Mattner and Nick Malceski have played 85 of a possible 90 games between them.
It makes such a difference as they know each other inside out.
HARD FACTS AND GAME STYLE
The Swans average the least amount of marks of all the teams. They don't chip around with short passes to build a high tally of uncontested marks as Hawthorn and Essendon do.
They average more long kicks than anyone and are prepared to kick long to contests in their forward line.
What they are doing is backing themselves with more handball, run and carry especially out of defence.
They like to get the ball into the hands of Shaw, Mattner and Malceski who make 80-metre plays as they dash and kick long into attack zones. But it's the grunt areas where these Swans excel.
They are ranked second for all the important contested possessions, clearances and tackles, and it's Kennedy, Jack and Bolton, who are as tough as nails, leading the way. ''Slingshot'' footy is also a term that applies to Sydney.
The Swans push all their numbers back to defend, which leaves a very open forward line.
They are prepared to kick long into their open front half and back the speed of Jetta, Jack and Ben McGlynn to lead the race to the ball and goal. It's exciting stuff when it comes off.
So ignore the Swans as premiership contenders at your own peril.
They have always been a strong defensive team. Now they have an attack that matches it with the best.