Sydney coach John Longmire concedes the Swans' early season reliance on Lance Franklin has proved costly as the ageing star feels the pinch.
The Swans should regain co-captain Callum Mills, dynamo Isaac Heeney and forward Logan McDonald against West Coast at the SCG on Saturday, but Franklin is likely to miss a second consecutive game due to knee soreness.
Sydney typically like to manage 36-year-old Franklin but he instead played nine of the Swans' first 12 games amid a spate of forward-line injuries.
"We wouldn't have played him in the first half of the year as much as we did if we had other options," Longmire told reporters on Wednesday.
"We had some injuries to other key forwards in Joel (Amartey) and Reidy (Sam Reid) - and towards the end of that period Logan (McDonald) as well - and it's probably cost him a little bit in the back end of the year.
"If we had other options we would have taken those."
The legendary forward is part of a lengthy injury list, which has plagued Sydney's performance and sent them tumbling down the ladder to 15th.
Though the Eagles are strong contenders for the wooden spoon, the return of defenders Tom Barrass, Liam Duggan and Jeremy McGovern will pose a challenge to the Swans' understrength forward line.
Longmire says, while his team have undeniably been ravaged by injury, it is a challenge all teams have to face.
"Different teams at different times go through it," he said.
"You deal with the cards that are put in front of you and our challenge now is to make sure we get the other players - the ones that are coming back - we get that balance right and get them in as good a form as we possibly can."
The Swans remain confident in their team composition and have re-signed 33-year-old co-captain Dane Rampe on a two-year extension.
The defender has played 221 games with Sydney since being picked in the 2013 AFL rookie draft and has played a pivotal role leading the Swans during their tumultuous 2023 season.
"(From) the moment we put him in the team, he has been an outstanding, massive competitor https://plainnuts.com/member.php?action=profile&uid=2865 and such a critical leader for this footy club on and off the field," Longmire said.
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