North Melbourne 8.12 (60) Sydney 14.16 (100)THE retooled Sydney Swans’ tight opening-round loss to St Kilda and enterprising victories over the struggling Adelaide and Richmond sides had created increased, and in some cases massively overblown, expectations of a team still attempting the difficult task of rebuilding from the middle of the ladder.So while yesterday’s 40-point victory over North Melbourne was comprehensive, the tough but sometimes dour struggle at Etihad Stadium provided an early-season reality check. Despite their 3-1 record, the Swans are yet to prove they could challenge the pacesetters should they earn a finals berth.Coach Paul Roos partly attributed the Swans’ start to the season to the longer preparation made possible by missing last year’s finals. ”But we’re still a team learning a bit about each other,” he said. ”At this stage, we are going along nicely … but we all know how footy can change.”The greatest indication of Sydney’s steady improvement was that, on a day when a young, honest North team clung to the Swans for a good part of the afternoon, they were able to find the muscle and a few moments of inspiration to work their way over the line.Roos said his team had been lucky to trail by just one point at half-time, but was happy with their effort after the major break. ”First half, credit to [North Melbourne], they really came out and were on top of their game and fierce and competitive, and we probably just battled away,” he said.”Second half, probably our experience and just the younger guys probably had an edge fitness wise … we were able to keep on going a bit longer than they were.”The Swans’ signature moment came midway through the third quarter when big forward Jesse White rose high over North’s Lachlan Hansen to take a spectacular mark. The resulting goal was one of four in a row kicked by the Swans during a match-winning five-goals-to-two third term.Until then, the game had been claustrophobically tight. It was not until 10 minutes into the final quarter that Daniel Bradshaw killed the contest with a strong mark and goal, one of four for the day.As the bargain basement replacement for Barry Hall, the experienced former Brisbane Lion is more than fulfilling his role as a constant and reliable target. Bradshaw’s hard work in tight traffic – not something for which the occasionally petulant Hall was always renowned – was just as important as his late goals.The Swans have promised and, at times, delivered a more attacking style than last season. Yesterday’s defensive arm wrestle, in which they initially found themselves mired, was not of their own making.North Melbourne, in the early stages of rebuilding under a rookie coach, were clearly eager to put fierce man-on-man pressure on the Swans’ ball carriers. As a result, in enervating 28-degree heat at an open-roofed Etihad Stadium, neither team found much space or rhythm going forward and, when the Swans did find their tall forwards, they were usually far from goal or on tight angles.Thus the few moments of individual inspiration become even more important. As Sydney and North went goal for goal in the first half, Adam Goodes twice burst free to kick majors. Otherwise, most of what the Swans put on the scoreboard was the result of hard graft, the odd free kick or whatever space they could find.There were, however, some more good signs from the legion of the Swans’ off-season recruits. Youngster Lewis Jetta’s composure grows with each game and midfielder Daniel Hannebery accumulated 27 possessions and used the ball well.Kieren Jack had the job of curbing North’s premier midfielder, Brent Harvey, whose speed and creativity made him a constant threat in the first half. But Jack wore him down and had the better of the battle.North’s gifted but erratic forward Aaron Edwards also proved a handful for Swans defender Craig Bolton. He kicked two goals early on but as the Swans’ midfield got on top, North’s attack was inevitably starved for supply.The result was a valuable victory, albeit one that showed the Swans were still a fair way short of the standard set by the competition’s elite.