Tom Papley will celebrate his 150th game on Saturday when the Sydney Swans take on Fremantle. Here, Peter Blucher recalls 10 things you should know about the star forward. 

Draft Pick #84 - Really?

The 84th player drafted in 2015 when taken at #14 in the Rookie Draft of 2015, Papley will be the second player from his draft year to reach 150 games. Only Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver, drafted at pick #4, has played more games at 155. Behind Papley are Richmond’s pick #15 Daniel Rioli (145), Sydney’s pick #4 Callum Mills (143), Carlton’s pick #1 Jacob Weitering (141), Essendon’s pick #5 Darcy Parish (140), Brisbane’s pick #14 (135), GWS’ pick #16 Harry Himmelberg (135), Brisbane’s pick #25 Josh Dunkley (132) and Hawthorn’s pick #44 Blake Hardwick (132).

Leading Goal-Kicker

Having kicked 238 goals, Papley is the leading goal-kicker from the 2015 draft, ahead of Eric Hipwood (210), Carlton’s pick #3 Harry McKay (186) and pick #12 Charlie Curnow (174), Harry Himmelberg (158), Essendon’s rookie pick #22 Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (156) and St.Kilda’s pick #18 Jade Gresham (123).


An All-Australian selection in 2021, Papley is one of just six from the 2015 draft honoured in this way. The others are three-time All-Australian Clayton Oliver, Callum Mills, Darcy Parish, Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow. Papley also made the All-Australian squad in 2022.

Swans Do It Again

Papley will continue a proud Swans tradition of turning rookie draftees into stars, becoming the ninth Swans rookie to play 150 games. He follows Kieren Jack and Heath Grundy (256), Brett Kirk (241), Dane Rampe (219), Nick Smith (211), Jake Lloyd (208), Tadhg Kennelly (197) and Harry Cunningham (169). Only 71 rookies in AFL history have played 150 games, making the Swans group the biggest group easily.

Tom Papley holds his #11 guernsey with South Melbourne great and Brownlow medalist Peter Bedford.

Model of Consistency

Papley has been a model of consistency, with year-by-year goal totals from 2016-22 of 29-30-24-37-26-43-32. He finished 2nd in the Swans goal-kicking in 2016 (behind Lance Franklin) equal 2nd in 2017 (behind Franklin and equal with Sam Reid), 4th in 2018 (behind Franklin, Will Hayward and Luke Parker) and was the leading goal-kicker in 2019-20. He was second in 2021 (behind Franklin) and 4th last year (behind Franklin, Isaac Heeney and Hayward). And with 17 goals this year he is #1.

Eight Years On … the Best Small Forward?

Papley has kicked 238 goals in 149 games to rank 12th for goals during his eight years in the League. Ahead of him in this period are Geelong’s Tom Hawkins (423) and Jeremy Cameron (381), West Coast’s Josh Kennedy (350), Lance Franklin (348), Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt (334) and Tom Lynch (332), West Coast’s Jack Darling (309), Melbourne’s Ben Brown (301), Adelaide’s Taylor Walker (298), Brisbane’s Charlie Cameron (289) and St.Kilda’s Tim Membrey (250).  

There are only two small forwards in this group – Papley and Cameron, who was originally drafted by Adelaide with pick #7 in the rookie draft two years earlier and has played 187 games. Papley has averaged 14.0 possessions, 1.6 goals, 1.5 clearances, 6.1 contested possessions and 0.8 goal assists. Cameron has averaged 11.6 possessions, 1.8 goals, 0.8 clearances, 5.1 contested possessions and 0.7 goal assists. Who has been better?


All in the Family

Papley is part of a family of five who have played in the AFL. Grandfather Max Papley, a 179cm half forward/centreman originally from Moorabbin, played 59 games with South Melbourne in #11 from 1964-67, kicking 38 goals and polling 16 votes in the Brownlow Medal. Now living in the Gippsland town of Bunyip aged 82, he was the club’s leading goal-kicker in 1964, club champion in 1966 and in 1967 polled six medal votes to sit third on the South count behind a couple of handy players - Bob Skilton (11) and Herbie Matthews (8).

Grandfather Jeff Bray is a South Australian Hall of Famer who played 196 games with West Adelaide from 1956-63 and 1967-70, winning a premiership and the Adelaide Advertiser Player of the Year in 1961, and in ’63 playing in a SA State side that beat Victoria at the MCG. A 184cm centre half back, he played 34 games with South Melbourne in #23 from 1964-66 for two goals and five votes, playing 26 times alongside Papley, including his first and last games.

Cousins Ben and Michael Ross, grandsons of Max Papley, played a combined 20 games – Ben played 14 games with North (2007-11) and four games with Hawthorn (2014) split by the Liston Trophy as the best player in the VFL in 2012, and Michael played twice with Essendon in 2011.

The Big Question?

Why did Papley slide all the way to pick #14 in the rookie draft? It’s a question that can never be truly answered but Papley’s manager Winston Rous offered a theory on the eve of his 100th game.

"A key piece of feedback (during his draft year) was that Tom was a tad slow for the role and that he was a little bottom-heavy," Rous told ESPN.

"Tom was working as a plumber five-to-six days a week, getting up at 6am and being on his feet all day - it affected his footy and his burst. We advised him to speak to his boss about taking the day off before a game to rest up, and if it was a Sunday game, to take time off on the Monday to do a proper recovery. That really helped him perform well late in 2015, as he was fresher when he played with more zip."

The Decoy

Kinnear Beatson, Swans GM of List Strategy and Recruitment, admitted at the same time he had done plenty of strategising ahead of the rookie draft to help Papley get through to the Swans at #14.

"We had to set up a few things, making a few calls as if we were interested in other players - just to put the wind up other clubs so they didn't pick him,” Beatson revealed.

"You're always trying to position yourself as best you can ... not to manipulate it but to influence it!"

An Anxious Wait

Fifteen minutes or so seemed like an eternity for the Swans camp as the rookie draft unfolded on 27 November 2015 at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Counting down the picks, they saw Carlton take Jesse Glass-McCasker at #1 and Brisbane re-drafted Jackson Paine at #2. Gold Coast took Tom Keough at #3, Essendon Gach Nyuon at #4 and St.Kilda Nick O’Kearney at #5. Melbourne chose Josh Wagner at #6 before Collingwood re-drafted Lachie Keeffe, and GWS did likewise with Sam Reid.

Geelong chose Jock Cornell at #9 before Port Adelaide took Will Snelling, Western Bulldogs took Brad Lynch, and Richmond picked Callum Moore at #12. When Adelaide chose Paul Hunter at #13 Beatson couldn’t get Papley’s name out quickly enough.

Paine played four more games, Wagner 40, Keefe none for Collingwood but 57 for GWS, Reid 84, Snelling one for Port and now 52 for Essendon, Lynch nine, Moore eight for Richmond and two for Carlton and Hunter none for Adelaide but seven for St.Kilda. The others never played in the AFL.

And with pick #44 the Swans re-drafted Harry Marsh, who played in the 2016 preliminary final in a career that reached 25 games.