What does Malthouse know?

Do not be duped by Mick Malthouse into thinking Sydney's success is down to the luck of the draw.

So long as the AFL remains a competition in which some teams play each other more than others there will be inequities in the fixture list - but that is not the reason why the Swans have progressed from an also-ran last season to a genuine premiership contender 12 months later.

The three-time premiership coach suggested Sydney and Adelaide were occupying first and second not out of merit but rather a favourable fixture, but that is doing a disservice to the Swans' performance this year.

If the ladder was rearranged this year according to performances against clubs now in the top eight the Swans' record of 5-2 would see them in second behind Collingwood (6-2), but ahead of favourites Hawthorn (5-4), Adelaide (4-4), West Coast (4-4) and Geelong (4-6). Their only losses have been by five points to the Crows and eight to the Magpies.

Had John Longmire's men not blown a near three-goal lead in the third quarter at the weekend they would be a game clear not only on this ladder but the only one that matters.

Of the five games they have won against fellow top-eight clubs this year, four have come outside Sydney. And they are the only non-Western Australia-based club to have crossed the country and breached West Coast's fortress at Patersons Stadium.

Admittedly, the Swans have been given three free hits with their games against establishment clubs Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast - a luxury not afforded to Geelong, Collingwood, Hawthorn or West Coast, who filled the top four last year.

Like other finals contenders Adelaide, North Melbourne and Essendon, Sydney face just two top-eight clubs twice this year compared with four for Hawthorn, Geelong and Collingwood and three for West Coast, which is also at the heart of Malthouse's beef. But that is assuming Sydney would not have been able to win those two extra games had they been handed a similar draw.

Asked to frame a hypothetical market had the Swans been drawn to face Adelaide away and West Coast at home in return bouts this week, TAB Sportsbet installed Sydney as a $1.65 favourite against the Crows and as short as $1.33 to beat the Eagles.

The bookmakers, however, do not believe they can topple Hawthorn or Geelong for a second time this year. TAB Sportsbet has marked the Swans, 37-point victors over the Hawks in Tasmania in round five, a $2.25 outsider to defeat them again in a fortnight's time. Had the Swans been venturing to Simonds Stadium this week to face Geelong, an assignment they completed successfully last year, they would be at $2.60 to topple the premiers for a second time this year.

Assessing the difficulty of a draw is fraught and changes from week to week, let alone season to season.

When the draw was released late last year, Collingwood and Hawthorn could mount a case that they had been handed a tougher schedule than Sydney. Whereas the Swans were due to meet three other top-eight clubs from last year twice, the Pies and Hawks had five and four such matches respectively - the most of any in the competition.

But that is more than offset by the extra travel the Swans, as a non-Victorian-based club, must do. With 10 matches outside of their home state, Sydney are travelling almost every second week compared with five for the Magpies and seven for the Hawks, of which four are in Launceston in accordance with their agreement with the Tasmanian government.

It's not the first time Malthouse has taken aim at the Swans this year. The master coach said before the season that Sydney were ''vulnerable'' if they did not change their game plan.

Perhaps his scepticism of Sydney's credentials comes as a result of having been the chief architect of Collingwood's winning streak that stretches back to 2006.

Sydney have proven Malthouse wrong once this year and they can do so again in the coming weeks should they cling to their position at the top of the ladder.

Twitter: @gregprichard

The story What does Malthouse know? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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