Will Hayward has a stern message for AFL sceptics doubting if Lance Franklin-less Sydney can kick a winning score: we have done it before and we will do it again.
The Swans will be down more than 1100-goals experience for Sunday’s clash with Essendon at the SCG, with key forward pillars Franklin (hamstring) and Sam Reid (knee) ruled out.
AFL media pundit Kane Cornes has suggested Sydney’s season was effectively over the moment four-time Coleman medallist Franklin pinged his hamstring, questioning whether the Swans can find enough avenues to goal.
But Hayward waved away the doubters, pointing to an upset win over Geelong in 2018 as a memorable example of the Swans functioning well without their usual spearheads.
That day the young gun bobbed up to boot three goals at GMHBA Stadium.
“History shows it’s happened before,” Hayward told AAP.
“We had a really good win in Geelong a few years ago when we didn’t have Bud (Franklin) or Reidy. Everyone stepped up.
“We know we can do it. I know people are going to talk but I’ve got full confidence in our forwards.”
Hayward (two goals) was one of only two multiple goal-kickers in Sydney’s round-one victory over Adelaide which also featured neither Franklin or Reid.
As the season resumes after the coronavirus hiatus, the 21-year-old is desperately searching for continuity after a broken jaw and hip surgery limited him to 13 games last year.
His injury-interrupted 2019 campaign has him flying under the radar, despite averaging nearly 1.2 goals a match across his 54-game career.
But Hayward does not feel like Sydney’s forgotten man among a talented crowd of small forwards including Tom Papley and Isaac Heeney.
“Paps had an amazing season last year and Isaac’s been doing it for a long time now,” he said.
“What they’ve done has warranted the attention they get from defenders and the media.”
Sunday’s clash shapes as a defensive rock fight, with Essendon’s forward line equally undermanned.
Swashbuckling Bomber half-backs Adam Saad and Conor McKenna could be circuit-breakers and the Swans will need to contain them.
“We’re definitely aware of those guys,” Hayward said.
“I’ve played on them a few times and they’re very good attacking, fast defenders.
“We know what they want to do. It’s just about how we can nullify their impact.”
The Swans have not gone undefeated through the first two rounds since their grand final season in 2016.