SYDNEY'S midfield is undergoing a changing of the guard, and this rugged third-year onballer is right at the coalface.
Although veterans Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker are still central to the Swans' engine room, coach John Longmire has drip-fed a number of younger players into the middle in recent seasons.
Perhaps not a household name – yet - it was James Rowbottom who jumped the pecking order in a disjointed 2020, impressing with his hard-at-it, relentless nature.
The 20-year-old Victorian finished seventh in the Swans' best and fairest, one spot ahead of Kennedy and three ahead of fellow youngster Ollie Florent.
Speaking to AFL.com.au, Rowbottom said the longer his second season went, the more comfortable he felt.
"It was massive just getting more inside midfield time," Rowbottom said
"I also felt playing more regularly I got to know the gamestyles of our players a lot better, which would bring me into the game a lot more.
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"Playing with Joey (Josh Kennedy) and Parks (Luke Parker) and George Hewett, you really get to understand how they like to move the ball and where you can get to, to help them and yourself as well, which was great for my development."
Rowbottom said learning from contested bulls Kennedy and Parker had been invaluable.
His insertion into the midfield has continued the transition from Kieren Jack, Dan Hannebery and Jarrad McVeigh, who were long-time regulars before retiring and moving on respectively.
The next stage in Rowbottom's development, says midfield coach Dean Cox, is to mix his ball-hunting prowess with some outside dash.
Rowbottom has power and should be a nice complement to Callum Mills, Florent, Dylan Stephens and Chad Warner, who are all young teammates expected to be major contributors in the future.
"One good thing about James is he's really tough and clean inside, but he can go from inside to out with his power," Cox said.
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"That's one thing we want to continually see, his ability to break out of contests and stoppages and if he's not creative by hand, bridge a gap and explode out and use his legs.
"He's a fantastic young man that puts everything into his game."
Rowbottom started his year well on Sunday, kicking two goals from 17 disposals to go with six tackles in the AAMI Community Series loss against Greater Western Sydney.
In his second year studying a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Rowbottom said he liked to learn away from the classroom as well.
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"I've always had the will to learn and put myself out there to learn as much from the older boys and coaches and thrown myself in the deep end," he said.
"I've always had that real competitive edge. I've never liked losing.
"I'm never fazed, I take everything as a learning curve and I think that's where my hard edge came from, that joy to compete and learn."