WHEN Tom Papley clutched for his hamstring at the Lavington Sports Ground at the end of February, the Sydney star wasn’t initially expecting to miss round one, let alone the first six rounds of the season.

The 26-year-old had just produced a career-best campaign that culminated in a maiden All-Australian blazer and a fourth-place finish in the Bob Skilton Medal after booting 43 goals, but his season had stalled before it had even started.

But after overcoming a frustrating start to 2022, Papley has returned to his game-breaking, get-out-of-your-seat, electrifying best in the past month.

The Victorian torched Adelaide in a first quarter onslaught on Saturday that helped the Swans keep their top-four chances alive, finishing with 22 disposals, 12 score involvements – the most on the ground – 11 contested possessions and 2.2 in the 33-point win at the SCG.

00:45 Mins
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Double trouble kick Swans clear

Back-to-back goals from Chad Warner and Tom Papley extend their side's lead midway through the first term

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“I missed eight weeks out, so it took me some time to get going. I was out of form there for a while, but I worked hard at training and I’m slowing building that form back up. It starts at training. It’s nice to be finding some form again,” Papley told AFL.com.au after Saturday’s win over Adelaide.

“It was very frustrating. I haven’t really had an injury before and missed a bit, but that’s footy. I haven’t had too many injuries; that’s part of the game. It’s about how you come out of it. I think looking back, it probably plays out better now that it took a bit longer.”

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With only one win separating second-placed Melbourne and seventh-placed Carlton, the finals race couldn’t get much tighter ahead of the final month of the home and away season.

Sydney has won three on the trot and six of eight to emerge as a serious contender in 2022, but Papley isn’t looking towards September yet.

“We don’t take much notice of the talk. I’m just going to straight bat you. You’ll hear every coach, every player say how tight the competition is right now, and it’s true. If you look too far ahead you’ll get your pants pulled down,” Papley said.

“We are just following our basics – team footy, our defence – and everything will take care of itself. It’s clicking for us now, but it’s a grind; the back half of the year is a grind; these next four rounds are very important for us.”

Tom Papley (left) and Lance Franklin are seen on the sidelines during round four, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

While the Swans don’t quite have a one-two punch like Geelong pair Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins or Carlton duo Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, they have Lance Franklin, Isaac Heeney and Papley.

A tall, a hybrid and a small who create headaches in the air and on the ground for opposition coaching departments who struggle to nullify them all, especially at the SCG.

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Franklin kicked three goals against the Crows to leapfrog Geelong legend Gary Ablett snr and move into fifth spot on the all-time goalkicking leader board with 1033 goals, while Heeney slotted two to move to a new personal best haul of 37 for the season, and Will Hayward kicked three of his own to cause Matthew Nicks plenty of grief.

“I think we’ve worked on it a lot the last couple of years. Forward movement and multiple options. I think nearly every forward kicked a goal today and that’s what it’s about. Share the load. The more options the better up there,” he said.

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Highlights: Sydney v Adelaide

The Swans and Crows clash in round 19

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Now nearly three years on from the trade request to Carlton that failed to materialise in 2019, Papley is content with what happened, happy he remained at the club that plucked him from the Gippsland Power with pick No.14 in the Rookie Draft at the end of 2015.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m so happy at the moment, happy the way the boys are going. It’s a good club to be at.”

With Greater Western Sydney, North Melbourne, Collingwood and St Kilda to come in the final four rounds, Sydney could be a very good club to be at this September.