How Hawks, Swans have bucked the AFL trend

Lance Franklin has been pivotal to the success of both the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn.
Lance Franklin has been pivotal to the success of both the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn.

Much has changed since the 2012 and 2014 grand finals but rivals Sydney and Hawthorn continue to avoid the boom-and-bust cycle that is the AFL norm.

Sydney and Hawthorn have taken notedly different paths to Saturday night's SCG showdown, which doubles as a playoff for a top-four spot in September.

That applies to their form this season. The clubs have struggled with different issues at different times to be written off as finals contenders, let alone flag fancies.

But also their successful approach to list management over the past four years, during which the Lance Franklin deal has been pivotal for both sides.

The Hawks weren't happy to lose somebody of Franklin's calibre. Who would be?

They made the most of a bad situation, using the resultant salary cap space to sign some of the league's most in-demand talent.

Brownlow medal favourite Tom Mitchell, who left the Swans after losing the 2016 grand final, former Melbourne defender James Frawley and ex-Gold Coast young gun Jaeger O'Meara headline the list of players to have kicked on at Hawthorn.

The Hawks finished 12th on the ladder last year, missing finals for the first time since 2009, but are back in the top eight with oodles of self-belief.

It hasn't just been prudent financial planning.

Tom Mitchell could have earned similar cash elsewhere. The reason he chose Hawthorn is because of their success and coach Alastair Clarkson's reputation as one of the best in the business.

Ironically, the same motivation prompted Franklin to sign a nine-year contract worth $10 million with the Swans.

Everybody knew Franklin wanted to relocate to Sydney after winning a second premiership, in 2013.

They assumed it would be to join GWS but the fiercely-competitive forward preferred the city's premiership contender.

Franklin has since played in two losing grand finals, including a particularly galling defeat to his former club, and created the salary cap squeeze that led to Mitchell's departure.

But the four-time Coleman medallist, considered by many good judges to be the best player of the modern era, has obviously made the Swans a better side.

Franklin has bedazzled with match-winning bags but coach John Longmire has been equally impressed with his mentorship of a young forward line.

The hobbled superstar, in doubt for this weekend, has helped Sydney secure a finals berth for the 15th time in 16 consecutive years.

Such consistency has come at a cost. The Swans, starved of low draft picks, have regularly found hidden gems and become masters of the rookie list.

Ben Ronke, who kicked seven goals in the absence of Franklin when the Swans defeated Hawthorn earlier this season, Dane Rampe, Jake Lloyd, Nick Smith and Kieren Jack all started at the SCG on the league's minimum wage.

The Swans' academy has also proven a godsend, helping them sign Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills.

Australian Associated Press