Isaac Heeney. Chad Warner. Errol Gulden.

A midfield trifecta that has landed Sydney on top of the AFL ladder, staking genuine claims for rivalling superstar trios from Brisbane (Michael Voss, Simon Black and Jason Akermanis), West Coast (Ben Cousins, Daniel Kerr and Chris Judd) and Geelong (Jimmy Bartel, Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood) from yesteryear.

But like in each of the former champion midfield groups, there's always been an unheralded name that seemingly falls through the cracks.

Nigel Lappin. Andrew Embley. Cameron Ling.

And in the Swans' modern-day edition, it is James Rowbottom.

The 23-year-old doesn't possess the flashiness and speed of Warner. Doesn't own the running prowess and elite kicking skill of Gulden. And perhaps doesn't have the versatility of Heeney, whose move to the centre has pushed him to Brownlow favouritism.

No, Rowbottom is an honest, tough, hard-nosed player who epitomises 'the Bloods'.

If you were to google (metaphorically speaking) what the embodiment of a Sydney player would look like, you'd find Brett Kirk, Ryan O'Keefe, Josh Kennedy, Paul Kelly and Jude Bolton.

And in modern society, if you were to ask MetaAI to create a photo (once again, metaphorically speaking) of what a Swans player might appear to be, you'd find blond locks with a steely reserve.

Rowbottom falls well within that category.

The 23-year-old has recorded back-to-back podium finishes in the Bob Skilton medal in 2022 and 2023, and holds the most tackles in a season (171) by a Swan, while his current average of 9.3 per game is on track to become an AFL record.

Voted by the club as the "most underrated player" for his selfless and team-first attitude, Rowbottom has also been tasked with quelling the game's best midfielders.

And yet, his stats have not dipped but instead have improved from the past two years.

But like what Lappin, Embley and Ling did for their superstar teammates, Rowbottom is doing the same.

The Melbourne-born midfielder provides trust and a defensively-minded aspect to a team that is averaging over 100 points a game.

It enables players like Warner, Heeney and Gulden to become even more attacking as they know Rowbottom will slide in behind and cover them.

And yet, to the surprise of most, especially the Swans, is that Rowbottom has yet to poll a Brownlow vote.

β€œIt's kind of cool that I've almost played 100 games and haven't got a Brownlow vote,” Rowbottom said in April, via NewsCorp.

β€œIt doesn't really bother me, I don't play to get votes every week. To have the trust and confidence of the players and coaches inside the four walls is all I really care about.”

Having played 103 games and cemented himself as one of the game's most "underrated" players, Rowbottom says he sees it as a "badge of honour".

β€œTo have the trust of my teammates, that's what I've strived for since I walked in the door.

β€œIt's an added bonus of playing footy in Sydney. You've got the faithful standing behind you and then the people outside the four walls don't tend to bother us as much.

β€œI was pretty excited to get the deal done before the year was finished. It's also a nice honour for the club to commit to me for that length of time and I didn't hesitate to sign.”

 2024-05-23T09:30:00Z 
Sydney WON BY 14 POINTS
Marvel Stadium
WB   
88
FT
102
   SYD

Sydney rewarded Rowbottom with a four-year contract extension earlier in the year as a clear indication of his importance to the club, with leadership no doubt earmarked for the future.