Swans finally land their 'big fish', but that's just one piece of the puzzle

AFTER failing to do so ahead of its first AFLW season, Sydney has finally hooked its long-awaited 'big fish'. 

Following a horror winless first season, the Swans look set to be the big beneficiaries of the newly introduced 'priority signing period' (PSP), and already have the first piece of the puzzle in the recruitment of Collingwood star Chloe Molloy. But given the nature of the Swans' list and the unique challenges that face NSW sides, they will have to make the most of their new allowances in order to climb up the ladder.

As reported by womens.afl, Molloy has told both the Magpies and Sydney of her intention to move, with the deal expected to be facilitated through the PSP.

Molloy will effectively be able to walk to the Swans, with any compensation to the Magpies (in the form of picks for the season nine draft, which will include top under-18 talent) to be decided upon by the AFL at the conclusion of the PSP.

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It's an interesting move for Molloy (which will reunite her with former VWFL coach Scott Gowans), who criticised former teammates for leaving Collingwood for expansion club North Melbourne in a Channel 7 pre-match interview before the sides faced off. Coincidentally, it was almost a year ago to the day, having occurred on February 22, 2022.

"Back in my second year at the Pies, there were a couple of trades that went on," Molloy said.

"They had their reasons for moving on, but I was pretty loyal to the club … I'm a loyal person and it just hurt a bit, so that's probably a root of it."

But the Swans won't care about any of that, having already taken advantage of a portion of the vast array of assistance handed to them by the AFL.

Sydney players look dejected after a loss during round seven, season seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Given their results, the strength of its list and the challenges it faces, Sydney was given the most generous package of the four expansion clubs:

  • Granted an additional three list spots for season eight, reducing to two for season nine and none for season 10
  • Can sign up to five players during PSP
  • Can offer a "secondary relocation reimbursement/payment" to those players
  • Can offer longer-term contracts with an additional two seasons more than that which is allowed in season eight, for two players only
  • Can offer longer-term contracts with an additional one season more than allowed in season eight, for three players only

The longer-term contracts (up from a maximum of two years for the rest of the competition) may end up being the key detail for the Swans, able to assure potential interstate recruits of their future in the harbour city.

Aliesha Newman gets a kick away during round one, season seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

The extra contract length particularly comes in handy when the pay structure for AFLW is taken into consideration. While the men’s competition has a salary cap, the women’s has a tiered structure, with a maximum of only eight players occupying the better-paid upper two tiers, and the remaining 22 split among the bottom two. 

Given the Swans have already been around for a season, it’s fair to assume the vast majority of those upper slots are already taken up with existing contracted players, meaning the longer contracts are an additional recruiting tool.

Sydney had tried very hard to prise a number of top-line players out of clubs last trade period – including the likes of Ellie Blackburn and Ash Riddell – but it's understood one of the major sticking points for a number of players was the potential strength of the squad itself.

With due respect to Sydney's current squad, until Molloy, no one wanted to be the first "big fish", a term coined by Gowans last year to describe a high-profile player with star power.

Scott Gowans addresses Sydney's players during their match against Essendon in AFLW S7. Picture: AFL Photos

The Swans are potentially the furthest of the expansion four from finals, given the still-developing women's football landscape in New South Wales.

But the recruitment of Molloy is likely to be seen as a big tick for established players weighing up an offer to move to the Swans – the idea that star talent attracts and reassures other star talents.

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Assuming the Swans do sign Molloy during the PSP, they will still have four PSP slots available, if they wish to use them. Molloy is a hybrid forward-midfielder (and actually won the 2018 NAB AFLW Rising Star as a defender), and is most dangerous around goal.

Chloe Molloy wins the 2018 NAB AFLW Rising Star award. Picture: AFL Photos

But – as was shown on a few occasions at Collingwood – Molloy can be wasted if the ball isn’t getting into attack. The Swans need a couple of experienced, big-bodied midfielders to help support 18-year-olds Cynthia Hamilton and Montana Ham, while a composed half-back who can direct traffic wouldn’t go astray, either.

The extra list spots afforded by the new PSP rules means the Swans will initially have a slightly bigger list – to be reduced in line with the 17 other clubs over the next three years – allowing them to add a handful of developing players to its squad, able to invest and nurture raw talent.

Current lists of 30 mean it's rare an AFLW club takes on a project player (e.g. a beanpole ruck in the AFL men's competition), as nearly every player is called upon to play at various times, but the Swans are now able to tuck away some local talent and expose them to an AFLW environment.