On The Move – Colin Sylvia

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With Colin Sylvia exchanging the misery of Melbourne for the promise of Fremantle, we look at the impact of this move for both clubs, the competition and your fantasy team in 2014.

There has never been much doubt that Colin Sylvia represents a prodigious AFL talent. The 27-year old has the skill, size and speed to succeed at most clubs when playing as a Dale Thomas, Rory Sloane outside running midfielder.

The greatest barrier to Sylvia realizing his potential at Melbourne was that he was deprived the opportunity to play such a role, more out of necessity than coaching malice. In every sense of the word, Sylvia is a complementary player. His most prolific seasons of 2009 and 2010 may have come in years where the club averaged a ladder position of 14th, but took place when the Demons boasted an inside midfield of McLean, Moloney, McDonald and Jones, only the latter of whom played at the club in 2013.

Fast-forward to this past season and and almost 50% of Sylvia’s 19.4 possessions per game were contested. Supplying a midfielder who provided 13% of the side’s Inside 50s (16th in the AFL) with just 10 uncontested possessions per match is unacceptable, however a sheer lack of class rendered this depressing reality largely unavoidable.

As an unrestricted free agent, Sylvia was presented with similar offers from both Fremantle and Melbourne however understandably chose the former following years of frustration at the Demons. But what does the move mean for both clubs and Colin as a player heading into 2014?

From the Melbourne Perspective

Last season, Melbourne recorded the fewest possessions in the AFL whilst finishing 18th and 17th in contested and uncontested possessions respectively. The absence of depth through the midfield not only precluded the development of a winning culture, but precluded the healthy development of Viney, Toumpas, Evans and Matt Jones as role players in an otherwise stable team. Woeful structures were pursued which failed to place the likes of Watts and Sylvia in their best positions, and the absence of coaching stability threatened to derail any semblance of familiarity between players largely thrown together in recent years by an aggressive draft policy.

Melbourne were and remain in desperate need of change, however was allowing Sylvia to move to Fremantle really the answer?

On Paul Roos’ comments that Melbourne’s proposed offer was similar to that of Fremantle, the loss of Sylvia’s services will free up some $340,000 per season for the next 3 years.

Melbourne’s new coach knows how to build a side and will do so knowing that the arrival of rookie sensation Jesse Hogan and re-signing of Jack Watts provide the Demons with a forward line structure. As such, even if Sylvia signed with the Demons, he wouldn’t be forced into playing the false full-forward role he was thrust into on several occasions in recent seasons.

In order to replace his production on the outside, Melbourne could look to Hawthorn’s Shane Savage who has expressed a desire to leave the club. With the horror rookie season experienced by Jimmy Toumpas, chances of finding an outside player of quality in the near future seem bleak at best. Thoroughly under-rated, Savage is expected to be assisted by the Hawks to find a new home and would come far cheaper than his predecessor in Sylvia.

From the Fremantle Perspective

After finishing 3rd on the AFL ladder last season, Fremantle’s high pressure, contested game allowed them to thrive in the Finals series and reach the club’s first ever Grand Final.

It could be argued that Sylvia, a former number 3 overall draft pick hasn’t reached his potential and that Ross Lyon is the perfect coach to channel his talent into something special, however coming into a side that already boasts a midfield of Barlow, Mundy, Mzungu, Hill, Fyfe and Crowley, this signing is somewhat curious.

Colin Sylvia is almost guaranteed to find himself on a half-forward flank next season a position where his defensive lapses can be covered and his mercurial skills can combine with the likes of Stephen Hill, Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne to produce more points.

In 2013, the Dockers ranked 12th in the AFL in points per game, the lowest of any side to make the Finals. Whilst their philosophy doesn’t necessitate high scores, the presence of someone like Sylvia who has the potential to turn games individually is undoubtedly valuable for the club.

Even more importantly for Premiership aspirants however is that on the injury front, Sylvia’s versatility gives Fremantle the ability to cover injuries in almost any position. This past season Fremantle were fortunate on that front, however Fyfe’s shoulder issues are but one concern facing a club throughout a rigorous AFL season.

The unfortunate players to make way for Sylvia would most likely be either Lachie Neale, who despite an impressive season found himself out of favour throughout the Finals or Cameron Sutcliffe who played 16 games this season, mostly as the substitute. Another potential option would be shifting the latter to half-back, however the likes of Mzungu, Duffield, Johnson and Ibbotson are unlikely to be displaced. The final option would be the relegation of Matt de Boer and injecting of Sylvia into the midfield, however de Boer’s subscription to the Ross Lyon gameplan makes this the least likely of the three options.

From ‘The Fantasy Front’

For years Sylvia has been a viable yet unpredictable player on the fantasy front. His supporting cast in Melbourne hardly assisted in freeing him up on the outside, however at Fremantle and under the watchful eye of Ross Lyon, his work-rate and production should increase.

Whilst the tackling statistics amongst Fremantle’s forwards are impressive (Chris Mayne had 13 tackles against Sydney in the 2013 Preliminary Final), Sylvia has consistently averaged 4 tackles per match since 2010 (the same as Mayne did in 2013) and has returned AFL Dream Team averages of between 96.2 and 75.6.

Sylvia’s potential to increase his fantasy production lies with his ability to get the ball uncontested on the outside and his ability to get forward and kick goals. In 2010 when he averaged 96.2 points per game, Sylvia averaged 1 goal a game. This past season when he averaged 86.5 points per game, he averaged just 0.5 goals per game.

Whilst there are many mouths to field at Fremantle in terms of disposals, Sylvia looks like a terrific mid-priced pick up for the 2014 AFL Dream Team season. On the Supercoach front, his move to Fremantle and the steadying influence of Ross Lyon is sure to assist him and in many ways, he looks an even more promising prospect in that competition.

The Final Result

Any side in the competition would benefit from having a player of Sylvia’s talent, but only if he buys into the Ross Lyon gameplan. His press conference upon announcing his move to Western Australia showed a maturity many thought he lacked whilst the recognition that at this stage in his career he needed success indicates that he is willing to subscribe to any winning philosophy.

Any initial reservations regarding the introduction of another midfielder into the Fremantle set up have subsided upon watching a few Melbourne games from recent seasons. A player of his class would walk into any team and whilst Shane Savage may have provided a similar service for an inferior fee, should the Hawks’ midfielder find himself a Demon in 2014, all three teams should be very happy with their transactions.

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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