The QBE Sydney Swans Academy will be aiming for back-to-back titles when the NAB U18 Academy Series begins this Saturday with a match against the Brisbane Lions Academy at Blacktown.

The Swans Academy were outstanding in the inaugural Academy Series in 2017, winning all five games against the other Academies, states and territories to be crowned champions.

The 2018 squad boasts plenty of talent but the challenge will be tougher this year, as the majority of players are ‘under-age’ U17 boys who can play in the series again next year.

However those younger players will be strongly supported by several key players eligible for the draft  (turning 18) this year, including strong-marking forward, Nick Blakey, and powerful midfielder, Kyle McKellar.

Head coach Jared Crouch is confident there’s a strong bond amongst the group that will translate to the field.

“These championships are always interesting because coaches and the players have to strike the right balance between team and individual performance,’’ Crouch said.

“But we know from experience that if we focus on working as a united, cohesive team, then the individual performances are better anyway.

“We work hard to ensure the players have a clear understanding of their roles which we hope draw on and showcase their particular strengths.’’

Academy general manager, Chris Smith, who has overseen the development of many of the boys in the team since they were 11 years old, says the squad is fit and highly-skilled.

“They’re super-keen to get out there and impress, because it’s a big moment for them,’’ Smith said.

“We constantly remind them that mistakes will be made, but the key is to maintain effort regardless.

“The AFL recruiters who will be there watching the Series just want to identify those boys who are competitive and have the necessary athleticism to compete at a higher level.

“We strongly believe all our players are talented but we emphasise a team-first approach to highlight their particular attributes and versatility,’’ Smith said.

The Division Two championships, which formerly featured combined teams from NSW-ACT, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, were re-structured to an Academy Series last year because of the strength of the northern football club Academies at the Lions, Suns, Swans and Giants.

Under the new system the Academies, NT and Tasmania all play five games against each other during April and May, and then a combined Allies team is selected to play in the Division One U18 championships against SA, WA, Vic Metro and Vic Country in June and July.

Academy general manager, Chris Smith, is very positive about the new system.

“It is fantastic that so many of our players can now be exposed to this really high level competition on the national stage.

“It’s a very good development opportunity, especially for those under-age players in our squad this year who can get a feel for it and build their confidence prior to their draft year in 2019.

“I also want to pay tribute to all our coaches including Crouchy and his assistant coach Nick Davis and our conditioning team who have done a great job to get the players ready for this important series,’’ Smith said. 

The QBE Sydney Swans U18 Academy will play the Lions Academy at Blacktown International Sports Park this Saturday April 14 at 12.30pm.

Their other Academy Series games will be against the GWS Academy on Saturday April 21 at Blacktown, followed by Northern Territory in Alice Springs on Saturday April 28, then Tasmania in Glenorchy on Saturday May 5 and finally Gold Coast Suns Academy at Blacktown on Saturday May 12. 

The full QBE Sydney Swans U18 Academy squad for 2018 is: