Stevie J praises Coleman contender Papley

Sydney assistant coach Steve Johnson is a fan of Tom Papley's cheeky steak, insisting an improved work rate has helped him top the AFL's goal-kicking charts.

TOM PAPLEY of the Swans.
TOM PAPLEY of the Swans. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Steve Johnson is thrilled that Tom Papley leads the AFL's Coleman medal race, but he loves the small forward's pressure and cheek even more.

Papley has booted a league-best 19 goals in the opening eight rounds, excelling during an injury crisis that has robbed Sydney's forward line of Lance Franklin and other key targets.

The 24-year-old, fresh from a match-winning effort and Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson's public clip, will have a chance to enhance his lead in Saturday's clash with St Kilda at the Gabba.

The tape measure will need to come out if Papley does win the Coleman medal.

Some records have the former Bunyip plumber listed at 177cm, which would make him the shortest player to top the VFL/AFL goal-kicking charts since Richmond legend Jack Titus in 1940.

"It's certainly not something we speak about, but for him to be the leading goal-kicker so far speaks volumes of his work rate," Swans assistant coach Johnson said.

"His pressure and work rate have gone to another level.

"He's a really tough match-up for any opposition. I don't think they're sure which way to try to play him now."

Papley has transformed from goal sneak to pint-sized key forward in 2020, crumbing his own contests.

And it is fitting that Johnson, who earned a reputation for both goal-kicking wizardry and witty one-liners at Geelong, has overseen Papley's rise and rise.

"He brings so much energy to our team, so much excitement. Even just getting up and in to the opposition is something we love about him and why teammates love playing with him," Johnson said.

"He is cheeky around the club. He's full of beans and you can never have enough of those characters, especially given the circumstances we're all in at the moment."

The pair talk daily, but Clarkson's "milking" critique hasn't come up in conversation this week.

There remains rampant speculation that Papley will request a trade home at season's end, as he did after topping the Swans' goal-kicking list in 2019, but Johnson hasn't heard or seen any evidence.

"Tom certainly seems happy with where he is and he's playing really, really good footy," he said.

"It's been a real credit to him, the way he put that all behind him and had such a ripping start to the season.

"I don't think he's looking too far ahead."

Saints coach Brett Ratten highlighted the threat posed by "little fella" Papley as he talked up the Swans' potency, while Swans teammate Nick Blakey noted he would "love to see Papley take home the Coleman".

Will Hayward has been picked ahead of Dylan Stephens for Sydney, while Josh Battle returns for St Kilda in place of Dean Kent (illness).