Lewis Melican in action during the match between Sydney and Carlton at the SCG in round 11, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

DESPITE facing an uncertain future last year amid a long and frustrating battle with his own body, re-born Sydney defender Lewis Melican says he was always determined to keep his AFL dream afloat.

After a torrid run with injury from 2020 to 2023 where he played just 23 of a possible 84 games, Melican has quietly become a key part of the Swans' defensive structure this season, playing every game in their 6-1 start to the year.

Following a strong 2019 campaign when he played 17 of a possible 22 games, Melican's momentum was stunted by repeated soft tissue injuries and concussion concerns.

Over those years, he concedes it became as much of a mental battle as a physical one to get back on the park. Repeatedly struck down when he was on the verge of a return, and uncontracted for most of last year, concerns that he would make it back at all did creep into his mind.

"I'd be lying if I said there weren't times where that goes through your head," Melican told AFL.com.au.

"But I actually had a chat to the boys this week about it, and some of the stuff I've gone through. There were moments. But realistically, I don't think I ever really thought about giving it up. I've always wanted to be out there.

"I think (the injuries) obviously start as a physical thing, but over time with the sort of history I had, it starts to become a bit of a mental thing."

Lewis Melican and Will Hayward during Sydney's training session on February 16, 2024. Picture: Phil Hillyard

His resilience was rewarded by Sydney last September when he signed a one-year contract extension to remain at the club he first joined in 2014. And with the sudden retirement of Paddy McCartin, the key defensive role was Melican's for the taking.

"He's just had a terrible run with injuries, and generally when he's gotten through those stages, we've played him when we can because we know he can really help, particularly when his anticipation is like it was today," coach John Longmire said after the 76-point win over Hawthorn on Sunday.

"He's had some tough times, but his attention to detail, getting his body right, is at a high level every week and we need to keep that a real main focus for him."

John Longmire and Lewis Melican celebrate Sydney's win over Hawthorn at the MCG in round seven, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

With a full pre-season under his belt for the first time in some years, and a confidence in what his body can withstand, Melican has found the consistency he has sorely missed.

"I'm feeling good. I've started getting a lot of trust back in my body, just the ability to actually get a full pre-season this year and get a good run at it. Get that consistency," Melican said.

"Also that trust back in my body that I'm able to get through games, I'm able to play at the level I need week in, week out."


That consistency has also been found in the defensive unit playing around him. Despite the absence of veteran Dane Rampe for the past three games, Melican has formed a solid partnership with Tom McCartin and Nick Blakey across the first two months of the year.

"Having (McCartin) out there, but then also having 'The Lizard' (Blakey) in the air to help support, then get that run off half back. It's been nice to play a good block of footy with them," Melican said.

Despite their success this season, Melican and his defensive partners will face their biggest challenge on Saturday against a potent Greater Western Sydney attacking line. The Giants' combination of Jesse Hogan, Toby Greene (who will return from suspension) and Callum Brown has been devastating this year, and will no doubt cause some sleepless nights for the Swans' backline in the coming days.

But staring down a challenge and overcoming the odds is nothing new for Lewis Melican.