Chad Warner during Sydney's match against Collingwood in R1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

SYDNEY dynamo Chad Warner has hailed an improved fitness base and healthy competition with a fellow Swans star as the key reason behind his stunning start to the 2024 season.

The 22-year-old has also reserved the highest of praise for a once underrated member of the Swans engine room, James Rowbottom, who has helped inspire a 2-0 start to the season as part of a rejigged midfield group.

Warner has been as instrumental as any player in Sydney's superb opening to 2024, averaging 27 disposals and two goals a game over the first two rounds, an explosive start he credits to an improved summer on the track.

"The pre-season that we've had, we've done a lot more volume running, which has seen my fitness get a lot better than it has been in the past," Warner tells

"I think my fitness is one thing that probably would be down a little bit compared to a lot of guys and it's helped me get across the ground a lot better and use my strengths."

Chad Warner during Sydney's match against Melbourne in Opening Round, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The West Australian's standing in the game catapulted with a breakout 2022 season as the Swans surged into the Grand Final. But while Warner still finished fifth in the club champion award at Sydney last season, there was some commentary that his form had plateaued against the lofty heights he had set the year before.

"I reckon the ratings and stuff were a bit harsh, but everyone's got their own opinion anyway," he says.

"One thing you've got to do is just not worry about last year. Every year's going to throw something different at you. All of us boys adapted to our new training program and did a lot more individual work in the off season. I think coming into this year I just really wanted to put all that away and have a massive crack."

The remarkable emergence of fellow young gun Errol Gulden last year, who won the Bob Skilton Medal and finished fourth in the Brownlow, perhaps had an impact on how Warner's form was assessed and he admits it has provided some wholesome motivation.

Chad Warner and Errol Gulden celebrate a goal against Greater Western Sydney in R21, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"Oh yeah, definitely. We're obviously really great mates and we're always trying to do exactly that, push each other," he says.

"On the golf course, that's probably the main one. It gets a bit fiery to be honest. His handicap's lower so I hate to say it, but I think I'll have to give it to him at the moment.

"But what he did last year was just insane. To be honest, it inspired me and it inspired the way I trained, but all the boys were the same. I think he lifted everyone to another level this year, which is obviously great for the team."

Despite their youth, Warner and Gulden are the key attacking combination in the Swans midfield in the quest for another premiership tilt.

Chad Warner and Errol Gulden celebrate Sydney's win over North Melbourne in R10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

But it's a revamped engine room this season, under the leadership of new ruckman Brodie Grundy and that will be boosted by returns of Callum Mills, Luke Parker and Taylor Adams, that has been the talk of the competition.

Isaac Heeney is now a firm part of the on-ball brigade to add further variety to the mix, but it's the impact warhorse James Rowbottom that Warner is keen to highlight.

The 23-year-old is sometimes an afterthought when the Swans threats are thought of, but that's starting to change after back-to-back top three finishes in the club champion award and another hugely impactful display against Collingwood last week that saw him amass 13 tackles.

"If a new team was starting up and you could take one player with you, he would be my midfielder," Warner says. "I think he makes you so much better and makes all the boys around him ten times better. "He's such a great asset to have.

James Rowbottom and Chad Warner after Sydney's match against Collingwood in R1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"I think he's starting to get the recognition that he deserves now. He's such a hard player and the one thing that I can't get over is he's usually playing with some sort of injury as well. And he still tackles and hits the way he does."

The Heeney impact has been hailed too.

The 2022 All-Australian forward was set for a more permanent midfield move from early on in the pre-season, but injuries to Parker and Adams along with the long-term absence of Mills has made that transition all the more important.

"He's filled it (those roles) and probably even exceeded it by a mile," Warner says. "I think just the way he's able to go forward too, that mismatch he's able to create, he's just such a damaging player now.

"Obviously, we've seen what he has done over his whole career being a forward, how good he is. But now being able to add that midfield string to the bow, it looks pretty unstoppable."

It may be the new-look midfield that is very much in vogue at the Swans, but a couple of veterans in Dane Rampe and Jake Lloyd will also be celebrated this week as they play their 200th AFL game as teammates.


"I didn't know that - that's great," Warner says when told of the milestone, which will see Rampe and Lloyd become just the fourth Swans pairing to play 200 games together.

"They're both best and fairest winners for this club. Dane is just such a hard competitor. On the weekend we saw how well he was able to do on Bobby Hill, who's an absolute freak of a player. He's obviously getting that bit older but is still able to match it with the best and adapt to a new style of play.

Jake Lloyd and Dane Rampe ahead of the 2023 AFL season. Picture: AFL Photos

"And Lloyd is pretty much our director around the ground, whether he's playing back or whether he's playing wing. He sorts all the boys out and gets the structures right and he's like a commander out there for us."

After a tough start to the season, Saturday night's clash against Essendon will give the Swans the chance to go 3-0 amid a favourable early draw that will likely have them as favourites in every game until they face Greater Western Sydney in round eight.

The Bombers, however, loom as a fascinating watch in what will be a difficult challenge at the SCG for a team whose ceiling in 2024 is still very much unknown.


"Based off history, we've always had close games with them," Warner says. "We're all ready for a pretty tight hustle and being at home that's going to be great for us.

"I can't wait to see all the faithful there, but they've got some really good weapons too.

"Watching their game against Hawthorn, they kick very straight, which going to be a great asset for them. Hopefully, we can put a lot of pressure on them to not allow them to kick as well as they have."