“Stranger things have happened,” Mumford said. “You just never know with football, do you? I guess it’s a wait and see.”
Swans ruck coach Dean Cox said there was no consensus among his colleagues about when the right time would be for Naismith. “There was always discussion throughout the rehab process that when he was back, he’d play when he’s ready – certainly in relation to senior football,” Cox said. “Circumstances might have changed, but when he’s missed pretty much two years of footy, and he’s a really important player … there’s a lot of variables. It’s great seeing him back but how many weeks does he need? Is it only one? That’s the unknown.”
It appears highly likely that the Swans will err on the side of caution, which means another brutal afternoon awaits for McLean. The 20-year-old is a natural forward who has been thrust straight into the ruck cauldron at AFL level – first against Fremantle trio Aaron Sandilands, Rory Lobb and Sean Darcy, and then against Geelong’s 206cm beanpole Zac Smith.
Mumford, an old hand who plays with a brutalist streak, looms as another very tough ask in just his third senior game – particularly if the Giants retain the two-ruck arrangement they’ve used in the last fortnight with Dawson Simpson.
“I suppose he plays a little bit like Shane in regards to a lot of his follow-up, he’s aggressive in his contests,” Cox said of McLean, who has extra incentive to impress as his contract with the Swans runs out at the end of the year. “Teaming up with Simpson adds another dynamic. They’ve been playing some really good footy. Hayden will have a crack at them, though.”
Cox admitted the strain of playing without a proper ruckman has started to show through Sydney’s midfield numbers. Against the Cats on Sunday, the Swans had just 14 hitouts to 47 and were subsequently smashed in contested possessions (162-132) and clearances (46-28). They also won just one centre bounce, which have been made even more crucial with the introduction of the 6-6-6 rule.
“One thing you look at now is the importance of centre bounces and the ability to get your hands on the ball there when it’s a pretty open area at the minute,” Cox said.
“That’s been the challenging part. Callum’s been injured but Darcy Cameron hasn’t had a run at it this year either with a heap of injuries. We’ve just had to do what we can and get the midfielders to read what the opposition’s doing, or get the rucks to be really predictable to our mids.”