Kurt Tippett has kicked 32 goals in just nine games this year
WHEN Kurt Tippett completed his move to the Sydney Swans in December last year, it was met with a hailstorm of question marks and queries from many across the AFL landscape.
Whether an incoming power forward would mess with the balance of a side coming off a flag, the effect his hefty contract could have on team chemistry and his past concussion problems were just some of the issues raised.
Whichever way his brief time as a Swan is assessed, however, it has unquestionably been a roaring success thus far.
In fact, Tippett's presence over the second half of the year can be viewed as a trigger that has helped keep the side on track and in the AFL's top four.
Since his Swans debut in round 13 against Port Adelaide, Tippett's 32 goals through nine games are the best return by anyone in that stretch.
What makes his adjustment to his new team more impressive is the fact the forward line set-up is nothing like the one he spent six months training with during his suspension.
Tippett was supposed to partner centre half-forward Sam Reid, with help from Adam Goodes, Lewis Roberts-Thomson and small forward Lewis Jetta.
Yet Tippett has played just one game with Goodes, 10 minutes with Reid and zero game time with either of Jetta or Roberts-Thomson due to long-term injuries to all four.
"It has been a little bit different from what I expected," Tippett admitted.
"But in saying that, it's been great to play alongside Jesse White and Pykey (Mike Pyke), Benny McGlynn, Jude Bolton – it's been working pretty well.
"My focus since coming in has just been on getting better each week and learning to play alongside my new teammates and feeling comfortable with the game style."
That focus has been unfolding like clockwork.
Over his first four games, Tippett kicked 9.13, struggling with his accuracy after such a long lay-off.
In the five games since, he has been on an absolute tear, kicking an outstanding 23.5, including 17 goals in his past three appearances alone.
His 32 goals top Jarryd Roughead (29 goals), Jeremy Cameron (27), Josh Kennedy (26) and Travis Cloke (24) over the same period, the leaders for this year's Coleman Medal.
Last season, Jetta, Goodes, Reid and Roberts-Thomson kicked 138 goals from a combined 88 games, paced by Jetta's club-best 45 majors.
With two games left until the finals, that quartet has managed just 35 goals from 36 games.
Someone needed to pick up the slack.
"To lose Adam Goodes, Sam Reid and Lewis Roberts-Thomson, who can all play key forward roles, as well as our number one goalkicker from last year in Lewis Jetta, has provided some real challenges," coach John Longmire said.
"Obviously to be able to get Kurt Tippett into the team and provide a real marking target has been so important in the back half of the year.
"He's such a big bloke who marks the ball so strongly and we've been really pleased with the way he's going about his business.
"He works so hard at his game and is getting reward for that."
With his gaze firmly focused on basketball growing up on the Gold Coast, Tippett didn't take too much notice of what was happening AFL-wise in the southern states.
But he was still aware of a couple of key forwards making a name for themselves in red and white.
"I didn't follow football that closely growing up, but you still heard about guys like Tony Lockett," Tippett said.
"Barry Hall was then certainly a big key figure up forward for the Swans when I started to learn the game and enjoy the game."
Tippett now seems well on the way to becoming the next marquee key forward for the Swans.
He plays a very straight bat when that suggestion is put to him – stating "it's not something I think about" – but he is clearly establishing a presence at his new home.
Tippett's name has been prominent alongside local product Kieren Jack in television and radio advertisements for the club's upcoming games in the build-up to the finals.
If he continues with his recent exploits in front of goal, there is little doubt the 26-year-old will become another fan favourite.
He is buying into the club's renowned culture, learning plenty from Goodes, Ryan O'Keefe and Jarrad McVeigh.
"Ultimately you want to win a premiership, but your focus lies within winning each week and doing the things that make you a good side," he said.
"You'd be lying if you said a premiership didn't drive you, but it's not where you put your focus."
KURT TIPPETT ON:
Upcoming games against Geelong and Hawthorn
"It's a great opportunity to test ourselves against the best sides in the competition. We're looking forward to that challenge and seeing where we're at."
Getting to know his teammates
"I live with 'Hanners' (Dan Hannebery) down at North Bondi and there's a group of us that live pretty close to each other. I'm building great relationships and really enjoying the guys' company when we're away from footy."
The Swans' culture
"It's definitely led very well this football club. Guys like Adam Goodes, Jarrad McVeigh, Ryan O'Keefe, everywhere you look there's someone to guide you and to look up to. I've certainly learned a lot and will continue to do so."
The best player in the game right now
His toughest opponent
"Jeez, there's plenty of those. Where do I start? There's too many to name."
The current state of the game
"I think it's a great spectacle. I really enjoy the way the game is being played at the moment. Obviously there's always a little bit of tinkering with the rules, but generally I think it's in good shape and I'm enjoying it."
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs