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Swans with plenty of reasons to expect bounce back in 2017Thursday, March 9, 2017 - 4:32 PM - by Chris Pike

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SWAN Districts could have had hardly had a worse 2016, but coach Greg Harding has welcomed back some local products and focused on working hard over summer to get things back on track in 2017.

Swans had lost the likes of Ryan Davis, Tim Geappen and Nathan Broad going into 2016, and things really began to take a tough turn when Ryan Crowley departed to join Essendon and ruckman Nathan Blakely went down in the very first bounce of the season with a knee injury.

Star recruit Murray Newman then lasted just one game and Jarrad Blight, Jake Nuich and Kirk Ugle were among a host of players who could never really get going throughout the season because of injury and health concerns.

The end result was a disastrous two-win season, a wooden spoon finish and twice did Swan Districts record the lowest score in the club's history.

That's the bad news. The good news that's all behind the black-and-whites now with plenty of reason for everyone at Steel Blue Oval to expect a significant turnaround in 2017.

Much of that excitement surrounds a host of Swan Districts products who will return to the club in 2017 following their time in the AFL.

David Ellard (Carlton), Corey Gault (Collingwood), Jamie Bennell (Melbourne, West Coast) and Clancee Pearce (Fremantle) are all back with the black-and-whites. Although unfortunately Pearce's season is already over having undergone a knee reconstruction.

The good news doesn’t end there with Crowley honouring his commitment to Swans and returning after his one year with Essendon as a top-up player. 

On top of that, Xavier Ellis will not only be coaching the colts at Swans but the Hawthorn premiership player and former Eagle has elected to continue his playing career in the WAFL as well.

The additions of big man Gault to play in the ruck or as a marking target in attack along with quality small men Ellard and Bennell, along with Crowley who will slot into the midfield and Ellis who can float across half-back, and it is a vastly improved Swan Districts' team.

To top that off with the young brigade that received chances last year including Jesse Turner, Jacob Coniglio, Brandon Erceg, Jack Watson and Brayden Hackett, and it shouldn’t take long for more than the two wins to eventuate.

It all adds up to Harding feeling optimistic coming into his seventh season as coach.

"Our pre-season has been good. Obviously after last year was a bit of a disaster when we never got going and won two games, it has turned positive pretty quick," Harding told Sportsday WA.

"We've got those four guys back from the AFL that are our own kids. Unfortunately we've lost Pearce with that knee but along the way Crowls has come off Essendon's list and he's back, we've got Xavier Ellis coaching our colts and he's got itchy feet and has decided to play.

"We've got Jesse Manton back too who played for us in the 2014 elimination final. With our kids coming up and the strength of that leadership coming in, we are pretty excited at this point of time."

As for the approach Swans have taken over pre-season, Harding wasn’t looking to try anything outlandish out of the box to try and get results from his group.

He very simply wanted to have his players work hard to be as fit and strong as possible for Round 1 when they take on Perth at Steel Blue Oval on Saturday March 18.

"We've done it in the past when you get the SAS people out and all that stuff, and we've had some good success out of that program and sometimes we don’t get a lot out of it to be honest," he said.

"We have just stuck with our program to get the boys really fit and a young guy Pete Harrison has taken over our strength and conditioning, and we are really happy with where the boys are at.

"But to be honest we're just ready to play some footy and to get Crowls out in the black-and-white and create a bit of excitement around the joint after a dark and dingy 2016."

Harding is excited to have Crowley at Bassendean 12 months after he originally thought he would.

It's not every day a player becomes available with 196 games of AFL experience and especially one who has played on all the best midfielders in the game over the past decade.

Harding might still use Crowley in run-with roles at times, but he is looking forward to unleashing him to see how much of the ball he can rack up and how many goals he can kick which he did show he was capable of when playing with Subiaco previously on occasion. 

"No one in the history of the game has played on the quality of player that this bloke's played on, but I'd like to see Ryan Crowley play some footy," he said.

"He can be a goalkicker and an accumulator, and I'm sure there will be times in games of footy when guys get away from us and he might sit on his hip, and do a great job, but at 31 years of age I think he just wants to play footy.

"I want him to enjoy his footy and if Ryan Crowley comes to Swans and enjoys his footy for a couple of years he will be a pretty handy midfielder."

The only disappointment coming into the season for Swans is the knee injury to Pearce. But the dual WAFL premiership player who played 100 games in the AFL with the Dockers will still be around in 2017 and is already looking forward to 2018. 

"He will certainly come on board with us. He's got a hell of a lot of experience to offer us," Harding said.

"He is still in really good spirits and he's going to take some time off, but once the season starts he will have a significant role with some of our younger players. He has expressed to me already that he is excited about getting back to footy next year, which is always positive.

"We've lost him this year and there's nothing we can do about that unfortunately. It's devastating for him and us, but we are looking at Clancee coming in for 2018 and having an immediate impact."