SWAN Districts have qualified for the WAFL finals for the first time since 2017 and for the first time with Adam Pickering as coach, and the black-and-whites will now be looking to make the most of the opportunity ahead of them.
Swans do have their work cut out to make something of this return to finals action having finished in fifth position meaning they will face cut-throat games away from home for as long as they are alive, but you wouldn’t want to underestimate this Swan Districts team of 2021.
While the black-and-whites enter the finals on the back of losses to South Fremantle and Claremont, they did push both fellow finalists while having also beaten Subiaco throughout 2021.
Now Swans will be desperate to get ruckman Corey Gault back from a battle with concussion, but whether or not that happens they have an outstanding midfield made up of Sam Fisher, Frank Anderson, Jesse Turner and Josh Cipro.
The back-line does appear to be the great strength of Swan Districts led by veterans Tony Notte and Alex Howard while Chris Jones and Brandon Erceg have had outstanding seasons with support from Jackson Beck and Anthony Stephens.
Goals haven’t come easy for Swans this season with their attack ranked just seventh in the competition but they do have some handy options up forward including Jesse Palmer, Brayden Noble, Aidan Clarke and potentially veterans Lewis Jetta and Matt Riggio.
It's a tough road ahead, but last time Swans were in the finals they eliminated West Perth in the opening week. If they can do the same again this Sunday then who knows just how far they could go.
THE SEASON SO FAR
Swan Districts lost in Round 1 but there were encouraging signs in a high-scoring battle with Claremont before they had three impressive wins against Perth, West Coast and East Perth.
Their three-game winning streak ended against West Perth in Round 6 heading into the State Game break before afterwards it was an eight-point defeat to Subiaco, but again plenty to like in the performance.
Swans then strung a couple of wins together against East Fremantle and Peel before a disappointing 46-point defeat at the hands of West Perth – their biggest loss of 2021.
The black-and-whites bounced back in the best possible way to beat Subiaco by a point in Round 12 before beating West Coast by two points a week later.
It was then a loss to South Fremantle, win over Perth, loss to East Fremantle and a 52-point victory against Peel Thunder – the biggest victory of 2021.
Swans backed it up with an impressive 41-point win over East Perth but then lost their last two games of the season on the road South Fremantle by five points and Claremont by 22 points.
KEY WINS OF THE YEAR
Swan Districts first sent a message of their improvement in 2021 with those three wins in-a-row after a first up loss to Claremont, but ultimately they were against non-finals teams.
Their first five wins were all against teams that finished out of the finals but Swans made a real statement beating Subiaco in Round 12 by a point at Leederville Oval.
Subiaco had enjoyed a great dominance over Swan Districts in recent years having won 12 straight matches, including seven in-a-row on their home turf at Leederville Oval.
But this was a different Swan Districts outfit who ended up controlling most of the contest and then withstood the Lions fightback that was always going to come to hold on for the thrilling 7.12 (54) to 8.5 (53) victory.
It is a first win for Swan Districts against Subiaco since Round 20, 2015 and their first against the Lions at Leederville Oval since Round 7, 2014.
It's the first win for Swan Districts against Subiaco under coaching of recently re-signed coach Adam Pickering as well.
Aidan Clarke and Jiah Reidy kicked two goals apiece for Swan Districts but Jesse Palmer threatened to have a match-winning day. He had seven shots on goal from 13 kicks and eight marks, but only ended up kicking 1.6 for the afternoon.
Jesse Turner also racked up 28 possessions for Swans, Josh Cipro 22, Sam Fisher 20, Frank Anderson 19, Brandon Erceg 19 and Lewis Jetta 18. Mitchell Bain came into the team too and battled hard for 13 disposals, six marks and six tackles.
Because of the opponent, that was the best win of the season for Swan Districts and as it turned out, the only victory they've had against a team that's reached the finals.
MATCH UP WITH FELLOW FINALISTS
From eight match ups in 2021 against Subiaco, South Fremantle, Claremont and West Perth, Swan Districts only took out one victory but they were competitive enough to give them confidence about facing each opponent again during the finals.
Starting with the opponent that Swan Districts are guaranteed of playing, West Perth in Sunday's elimination final at Joondalup, Swans haven’t enjoyed things against the Falcons for quite a while now although they have dominated them over history in finals.
West Perth beat Swans in the two meetings this year by nine and 46 points with the Falcons having won the pat four meetings between the two clubs.
Their last final match up was the 2017 elimination final when Swan Districts won by 15 points at Steel Blue Oval. They also won the 2009 first semi-final and 2008 preliminary final, the latter of which was at Joondalup.
Swan Districts also beat West Perth in the first semi finals of 1943 and 1985 with the Falcons' only win in finals over Swans coming in the second semi-final of 1975.
Should Swans beat West Perth, they will take on either Claremont or South Fremantle in a first semi-final.
Claremont beat Swans twice this season, by 24 and 22 points to have now won nine straight matches against the black-and-whites. The last win for Swan Districts was Round 7, 2017.
The last time the two teams played in finals was the 2012 second semi-final where Claremont won by 32 points on the way to back-to-back premierships.
Swan Districts won one of the all-time great Grand Finals over the Tiges in 2010 a couple of weeks after a 50-point second semi-final win for Claremont.
Overall in 14 finals meetings, they are tied at seven apiece dating back to 1965.
Then there is South Fremantle who has beaten Swan Districts in the last nine meetings including twice in 2021.
In terms of finals, the Bulldogs ended Swans' last finals appearance with an 80-point first semi-final win in 2017. Prior to that, Swan Districts won in first semi finals of 2008 and 2004, but the Bulldogs did win the qualifying final of 1992.
South Fremantle actually won the first five finals the two teams played but Swans have won four of the last six.
Then there is Subiaco who Swan Districts did beat back in Round 12 by a point after losing to them by eight points in Round 7. That win ended a run of 12 straight losses against the Lions.
In terms of finals, they last did battle in the preliminary final of 2009 where Subiaco won by 19 points after winning the previous year's Grand Final by 57 points. Swans won the first three finals against Subiaco but the Lions have won the last seven.
PLAYERS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT
Jesse Palmer – The former Port Adelaide listed player who played three AFL games back in 2016 has proved to be an exciting addition to the Swan Districts' forward-line. He has provided them a strong target in attack and has threatened to tear a game apart throughout 2021. He was able to kick 31 goals but if he catches fire during the finals, Swans will be tough to stop.
Aidan Clarke – He has been one of the breakout stars of 2021 for Swan Districts that has seen them take a leap to become finalists. He has turned himself into a definite game changer whether playing at half-forward or with time in the middle. He has a ferocious attack on the ball and contest, loves the physicality and can find the ball and finish well. He's the type of all-round package who can be a match-winner in finals.
Tony Notte – He might be 263 games into his remarkable dual fairest and best winning career, but he remains as crucial as ever to the fortunes of Swan Districts. He has plenty of help in the back-line with Chris Jones, Brandon Erceg and Alex Howard also strong aerially, but when he is able to read the ball and take intercept marks in the defensive 50, Swans become remarkably tough score against.
KEYS TO WINNING
The Swan Districts' back-line is their great strength and is ranked third in the competition for points conceded at just 67.2. A big part of that is the work done in the air by Tony Notte, Brandon Erceg, Chris Jones and Alex Howard while Anthony Stephens has done some impressive jobs on the smaller and mid-size forwards.
However, Swans do need to kick a score themselves and not just rely on their defence and while Jesse Palmer and Brayden Noble are handy key targets, they are going to need to be creative with their options in front of goal.
Veterans Matt Riggio and Lewis Jetta would be good options and have the potential to kick multiple goals while the black-and-whites will be hoping the likes of Tom Edwards and Aidan Clarke can get dangerous, and that they get some goals from the midfield.
Swan Districts will be desperate Corey Gault can return but that's not guaranteed and whether it's he or Matthew Germs in the ruck, they need to give their midfielders Sam Fisher, Josh Cipro, Frank Anderson and Jesse Turner the best chance of getting their first hands on it and driving their team forward.
Swan Districts struggled in attack this season averaging just 73.7 points a game to be ranked seventh but their defence was strong conceding just 67.2 points to be ranked third. Only twice did Swans score 100 points but only three times did they concede over 80.
Swan Districts' 10 wins for the season came at an average of 27.4 points with them scoring 84.3 points and conceding 56.9. The eight losses were at an average margin of 19.6 points with a score of 60.4 points and giving up 80.0 against.
Swan Districts averaged just 322.5 possessions a game this season while their opponents averaged 332.0. If they can't at least break even during the finals they will find the going tough.
From their genuine scores this season, Swan Districts kicked 194.130 at an accuracy rate of 60 per cent. When you add in the rushed behinds it was 194.162 at 54 per cent.
Swan Districts is the second best first quarter team having outscored their opponents by 19 goals throughout the season in opening terms. They are then ranked fifth in second quarters, seventh in third quarters and fifth in final terms.