The next Dusty? Swan Chad Warner’s similarities to Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin

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Late in Sydney’s dominant win over Carlton last Friday, Chad Warner’s eyes lit up as the ball ricocheted off his hands and hit the ground.

With victory already secured, the Swans were putting their foot on the Blues’ throats. This was their chance to send a message to the rest of the competition and Warner’s next five seconds summed it up.

As he turned on a dime, scooped up the ball and sprinted past Jack Carroll, he couldn’t hide the excitement on his face. With an empty corridor ahead of him, Warner took his opportunity to get the ball forward.

Four bounces later, and with a cheeky grin on his face, he handballed off to a teammate with Carroll still nowhere near him. This was a kid playing footy at the highest level and loving every second of it.

That’s the scary thing about Chad Warner. The dynamic midfielder only turned 23 on Sunday but has already cemented his place as one of the AFL’s best. While Isaac Heeney and Errol Gulden have received the majority of plaudits for Sydney’s start to the season, it’s their confident teammate from Western Australia who is truly breaking the game open.

Against Carlton, Warner was awarded the Goodes-O’Loughlin medal after finishing with 28 disposals, 561 metres gained, three goals, 14 score involvements and seven tackle breaks.

It caps off the best four-week stretch of his career and places him in the top echelon of players who can truly break open a game. Over the past month, he is 5th in the AFL for average score involvements.

John Longmire has always seen that ability in Warner, but even he admits he has seen another level in him this season.

“We see it a lot at training and his ability to be able to go from inside to outside in a very fast amount of time has been a real credit to him,” Longmire said.

“From the moment he came to the footy club since we drafted him, he was always one that could go from stop to top pace in a pretty short amount of time.

“You don’t want to discourage that, you want to encourage it. The more he does it, the more confident he’s becoming in his ability to do it.

“It doesn’t mean it’s gonna work every time and sometimes you’ve got to wear the good with the bad. But when he’s able to do it, and he’s able to bring other players into the game the way he does, it certainly adds to our ability to hit the scoreboard.

“He changes the way we play and that’s been important.”

Warner is never going to be the Swans’ main disposal accumulator, but he has shown that he can make his possessions count in a similar fashion to some of the greats of the modern game.

After 70 games, Warner’s statistics are eerily similar to Brownlow Medallist and three-time Norm Smith Medal-winner, Dustin Martin.

Whether it’s contested possessions, metres gained or score involvements, Warner is mirroring, and exceeding, Martin across the first few years of his career. It’s an exciting thought for Swans fans if he can continue that trajectory.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a player trust the power he’s got more than Chad Warner,” Fox Footy analyst David King said on The First Crack. “He’s embarrassing players and breaking ankles out there at the moment.”

Warner is only behind young gun Harley Reid for most tackle breaks in the competition this season but is getting nowhere near as much attention despite treating opponents with a similar level of disdain.

He exudes confidence every time he has the Sherrin in his hands, and while sometimes his bravado brings him unstuck, it’s clear that Longmire has given him a license to thrill. If you see an opportunity, take it.

It’s paying off for the Swans in a big way. While their 9-1 record displays a level of dominance, the fact their average winning margin in 2024 is 41 points highlights just how authoritative they have been.

Warner has played a massive role in that, with his 15 goals this season only behind teammate Isaac Heeney (16) for all other midfielders in the competition.

The cohesion of the Swans’ midfield is also why Longmire has been so reticent to make changes to a winning formula. Many have questioned the decision to keep Luke Parker in the VFL, but with a young, in-form group that has openly spoken about winning multiple premierships together, why would you upset that balance? Parker’s ban is only going to make it more difficult to make his case for an AFL return.

Sydney fans also agree, with a majority of them happy for the former co-captain to remain out of the side if it means maintaining their current form.

It was also put continued pressure on club captain Callum Mills once he returns, which will likely be off halfback or the wing. While young talents such as Angus Sheldrick and Academy-product Caiden Cleary are going to have to bide their time for an opportunity.

With Warner off-contract at the end of 2025, his signing has already been a priority for the club despite having numerous players coming off deals at the end of this year.

But with the consistent pieces in the midfield already in place around him, it’s no surprise the Swans want to lock down the player who could be their game-breaker for the next decade.

Originally published as The next Dusty? Swan Chad Warner’s similarities to Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin

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