Swans' dour defence ready for AFL test

Rob Forsaith

The players in Sydney's back six might change from week to week and year to year but the AFL club's reputation for boasting the stingiest defence is now seemingly entrenched.

Friday night's blockbuster between the Swans and West Coast at the SCG is widely expected to be an epic, with the top-four teams expected to progress deep into September.

There are subplots aplenty. Among the most intriguing is the showdown between arguably the league's most potent forward line and dour defence.

The Eagles have thoroughly entertained in a 10-match winning streak, averaging 15 goals a game this season.

The Swans have conceded an average of 10 goals per match. Geelong are the only club to have done better.

If you built a ladder based on average points conceded, the Swans would have finished first or second in five of the past six seasons.

Heath Grundy, who on Friday celebrates his 250th match, has been the cornerstone at full back but Dane Rampe and many other talented defenders have debuted in that stretch.

"We're all on the same page and work well together. There's some pretty handy players down there who have played about 100 games together, that helps," Harry Marsh said.

"There is (forthright feedback). It doesn't matter if you're playing your 200th or second game, you need to give and receive it.

"There's very healthy competition for spots. You always know there's someone breathing down your neck and you don't get gifted games here.

"It's well earned and that helps you gain respect from the playing group and gives you confidence."

Marsh is a prime example of the Swans' depth.

The 24-year-old debuted in 2016 and played three finals that year, eventually being dropped for the grand final when Callum Mills and Jarrad McVeigh returned from injuries.

Mills' season-ending injury has now given Marsh a chance to establish himself in the side, although young defender Lewis Melican will soon be fit and creating more selection pressure.

Marsh, Grundy, Rampe and Aliir Aliir, who has been recalled because McVeigh has a sore calf, will have their hands full on Friday night - even if the Eagles will be without injured forward Jack Darling.

"It's a very dangerous forward line. A lot of gut-runners and good marking targets, they've got a bit of everything," Marsh said.

"Our defence has held up really strongly over the last couple of weeks. I think we match up well. It'll be a hard contest and go a long way to deciding the outcome."

In the Swans' favour will be the SCG's unique dimensions, which are a far cry from those at the Eagles' home ground.

"Playing on a ground that is just about a circle, it's quite different to what we're used to," Eagles assistant coach Sam Mitchell said.