AT STAGES last year, Sydney's ruck cupboard was bare, but on the eve of the 2021 season, it's almost bursting at the seams.

With Sam Naismith still recovering from his ruptured ACL, the Swans went out and acquired Tom Hickey from West Coast in the off-season to support reliable Callum Sinclair.

With both men fit and going at it hammer-and-tongs during pre-season, John Longmire and his coaching staff have some decisions to make ahead of round one's date with Brisbane at the Gabba.

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Hickey was preferred in the AAMI Community Series loss against Greater Western Sydney, performing strongly, so he's a chance to play one-out with back-up minutes from Sam Reid.

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Or could Sinclair play as a tall forward, something he's done well in the past, to support the new Swan?

Then would there be room for No.4 draft pick Logan McDonald to play as a key forward? Sydney's ruck and key forward mix is intriguing.

Swans ruckman Tom Hickey (centre) in action during a practice match against GWS in February 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Speaking to, Swans assistant coach Dean Cox – a six-time All Australian ruckman himself – said selection could be "circumstantial".

"The first role of the ruck is to try and get ascendancy around stoppages," Cox said.

"The centre bounce is really important to try and get your hand on there or force opposition into certain areas if you can't.

"That's primarily the ruck craft, then the follow-up, then what happens around the ground post that.

"They're not 205cm and 110kg rucks so they've got to make sure they can try and square that battle as much as they can and be predictable to our midfielders."

Sydney assistant coach Dean Cox addresses his players against Fremantle in round 18, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

Neither fits the physical description Cox describes, but nor are they small either.

Hickey, at his fourth club in his fourth state, stands 201cm and has 102 games of experience from Gold Coast, St Kilda and West Coast.

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Sinclair, who fought off knee pain last year before undergoing post-season surgery, is 200cm and played 114 games with the Swans and Eagles.

Sydney's Callum Sinclair competes for a mark against Carlton's Liam Jones in round 16, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

"We've got some really good inside mids and good kids coming through, so we need to make sure that ruck battle week in, week out, is really consistent," Cox said.

Hickey is excited by the challenge and said competing with Sinclair had improved his game.

"It's been awesome. It's been challenging," he said.

"Cal's a competitive guy. Everything he does he goes as hard as he can. It's really fun to play him.

"I think we've become closer mates because of it."

Sinclair agrees, joking that aside from being ruckmen, the other thing they have in common is being let go by West Coast.

"I've played against Tom a handful of times … I think it's a really handy addition to have another player of his experience in the squad. I'm learning a ton off him.

"We've played against a lot of the premier rucks in the competition, so it's pretty good to bounce ideas off one another.

"At training it's good to have someone to challenge you and make sure you're on that competitive edge every single session.

"He's fitted in really, really well. You've got to have guys pushing you to get better – if you don't have that you can get complacent."

Sydney's Callum Sinclair and St Kilda's Tom Hickey do battle in round 12, 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

Cox says these days you can't have two specialist ruckmen splitting time and offering nothing else to the team.

This is where the decision-making gets tough.

Sinclair has kicked 62 goals in his career and shown he can provide a target inside 50.

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"I pride myself on being able to play that forward role," Sinclair said.

"That's a string to my bow that I keep wanting to work on and improve on.

"The last couple of years I've probably fallen more into that traditional ruck role. I think with the addition of Tom that'll give me an opportunity to work on that forward craft as well.

"How and what it will look like will probably evolve throughout the season. Not only have we been competing and battling in the ruck, but we've had patches in the pre-season where we're on the same side and I'll go forward and Tom will do the same thing.

"Me and Tom probably play the game quite similar, he's extremely athletic and mobile. 

"If we can put a few goals through the sticks it'll make the coaches happy and hopefully they'll pick us both in the side."

Sydney's Callum Sinclair celebrates a goal against Hawthorn in round 14, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

Hickey says after playing just three games last season behind Nic Naitanui – and extremely modified scratch matches at the lower level – he's as fresh as he's ever been.

"I'd love for us to be able to play in the same team together, but I'm not in match committee, so I'll just do as I'm told," he said.

"I'm not the biggest guy, so it's just competing as hard as I can and then once the ball hits the ground, having as much influence around the ground as I can, around stoppages and clearances and impacting in the air."

Sydney might have been thin for tall timber in 2020, but with Hickey and Sinclair, Longmire now has two options to juggle while Naismith continues his rehabilitation.