HAYDEN McLean started the season as Lance Franklin's understudy but after some strong displays he's now securing his place in Sydney's forward line and building a partnership with his superstar teammate.
Franklin kicked more than a fifth of Sydney's goals in his first five seasons with the club – booting 337 majors - but a growing spread of options means his teammates no longer need to be as 'Buddy conscious'.
He has still kicked 13 goals from five games this year, but trails Tom Papley (15 from nine games) as the team's leading goalkicker. Isaac Heeney is close behind with 12 goals from seven games.
A month ago, few would've guessed McLean would be next on the list, especially as he seemed to only be selected when Franklin was unavailable due to injury.
Yet in the past few weeks, McLean has often lined up as the Swans' deepest forward, helping him kick eight goals from six games including a career-high four against Geelong in round seven.
The 22-year-old impressed again in the 30-point win over Collingwood, in what was arguably his best game in red and white with career-highs for disposals (18), marks (nine) and, perhaps most importantly for a 197cm forward, contested marks (five).
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McLean is now looking to build on those performances and the way he works with the eight-time All-Australian and four-time Coleman medallist that he shares a forward line with.
"We're just building that synergy. But if Buddy's up the ground, I kind of let him have his space, and vice versa. It has been working well," McLean told AFL.com.au.
"It wasn't the plan against Collingwood for me to play deep and have Buddy up the ground, I think that was just the way the game panned out.
"I felt like I was really getting up the ground a lot, but then my end-product was usually when I was closer to goal."
Franklin worked closely with McLean and the Swans' other young tall forwards when he joined them in the hubs last season.
The 34-year-old continues to pass on plenty of the tricks he's learned during his 17 years in the AFL.
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"Throughout the game, especially at the end of quarters, he mentions some things to work on or think about," McLean said.
"During the week he's always got useful tips. He's good with giving motivation too and helping you build confidence, which has been very helpful."
After 10 games in his first two years at the Swans, McLean puts his sudden improvement down to the influence of gun teammate Heeney and being ready when opportunities present themselves.
"I did a lot of work with Isaac Heeney in the off-season, staying up in Sydney to train with him. He was almost like a mentor, and just pushed me to up my game both on and off the field. He's been super for me," McLean said.
"I put on about three or four kilograms of muscle but at the same time tried to work on my fitness. I'm feeling a lot stronger in one-on-one contests now.
"There have been a couple of roles this year with Buddy being in and out, so I got a little taste early, then I've been able to take that second forward role with [Sam] Reid being injured. I'm just trying to make it my own."