Geelong were a hard team to get a read on at times in 2016.
Across the home-and-away rounds, they lost more games to teams outside the eight (three) than they did to those inside (two).
They were able to peel off some big scores throughout the year, but then couldn’t break 60 points in their last two losses of the season (both to Sydney).
The Cats were seen as a two-man band of Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood (I’m here to make a Roar decree that we will not lower ourselves to using ‘Dangerwood’ in 2017), but were also clearly the second best defensive side conceding only 70.6 points per game. It takes a good team and everyone contributing to be so stingy over 22 games.
That defensive strength is what should hold them in good stead this year, despite the departures of the retired Corey Enright and Jimmy Bartel, and the trade of Josh Caddy.
|B||Lachie Henderson||Tom Lonergan||Tom Ruggles|
|HB||Andrew Mackie||Harry Taylor||Zach Tuohy|
|C||Cam Guthrie||Patrick Dangerfield||Mitch Duncan|
|HF||Steven Motlop||Tom Hawkins||Nakia Cockatoo|
|F||Daniel Menzel||Rhys Stanley||Lincoln McCarthy|
|Foll||Zac Smith||Joel Selwood||Scott Selwood|
|Int||Mark Blicavs||Sam Menegola||Jackson Thurlow||Josh Cowan|
Emergencies: Aaron Black, Tom Stewart, Darcy Lang
Zach Tuohy was brought in to replace the position left vacant by Enright, but this is like being offered Pepsi when all you wanted was Coke. Sure, you might accept it, but nothing can replace greatness.
Tuohy has been firing in the JLT Series, is a good kick and loves to run, so the Cats won’t lack for defensive rebound with him around. The old salt Andrew Mackie will still have role to play here too, but I’m still waiting for the day he records negative contested possessions.
Tom Ruggles was okay last year, and should improve. He looks a better option in the back pocket than Jake Kolojashnij and Jed Bews at any rate, and has upped his possession rate over the pre-season.
Harry Taylor has been named at his usual centre-half back above, but the talk all pre-season has been how he’s going to be based in the forward-line. Whether this can last is an unknown, but the change in structure will rightly have many detractors.
It would be an odd move to make given the loss of Enright, meaning the two defensive standouts of the last decade would not be there. That’s a lot of trust in the key posts to be placed in ageing Tom Lonergan and a Lachie Henderson that surprised many last year, especially given the limitations of Ruggles, Kolodjashnij or Bews in a pocket next to them.
Mature-age recruit Tom Stewart also looks likely to bear some responsibility in his first season, after impressing for the Geelong VFL team.
Tom Hawkins is coming off a fairly-stock standard year for him, neither outstanding nor poor. In 11 games against top-eight opposition, he took four or fewer marks seven times, so perhaps Chris Scott feels he needs more marking support, and only Taylor’s sure hands can provide it.
Shane Kersten fell out of favour later in the year in that key support role and was then traded to Fremantle, while Rhys Stanley was adequate in his role, but is never going to reach any great consistent heights.
Effectively, Chris Scott must believe that Stewart in the backline and Taylor at CHF is better for the team than Kersten at CHF and Taylor at CHB. Aaron Black was also brought in from North Melbourne to potentially fill a hole. It must have been a pretty big search party sent after him, given how long he’d spent in the football wilderness. We can assume he looked like Tom Hanks in Castaway when found.
Daniel Menzel was probably the second most used target inside 50 for Geelong last season, and he has a good all-round forward game, but the coaches would no doubt like to see his defensive side pick up. Lincoln McCarthy is clean, but needs to find more football.
Stanley and Zac Smith, as the key forward and ruck duo, combined for the best part of 30 goals and 700 hit outs last year. Mark Blicavs has had great success as a roaming tall, whose influence will obviously be dulled by the new third man up rule.
Figuring out the best way for these three players to best serve the team is one of the glaring issues for Chris Scott in 2017, and one way or another, it will be interesting to see how the forward line plays out.
Of course, things as a forward are made easier when you have Dangerfield and Selwood thumping it into your area a dozen or more times a game. From these two, it’s either coming in quickly to give you a one-on-one chance, or more deliberately to a leading target.
This is not to say it was always smooth sailing, with sloppy delivery inside fifty something that needs to be addressed this season.
Mitch Duncan is a smooth deliverer from a wing, Cam Guthrie has a balanced inside-outside game, while Scott Selwood’s arrival as an inside workhorse ultimately meant Josh Caddy seeking further opportunities at Richmond. You’re not going to get to play your preferred role with the skipper’s brother looking for that position.
Sam Menegola was another in a long line of mature age recruits that Geelong has identified successfully over the years. His game time was low once he made his debut, and a full pre-season should see him rectify that.
The question for the Cats is can any of the third tier elevate their games. Here we’re talking about names like Jackson Thurlow, Josh Cowan, Darcy Lang, Jordan Murdoch and George Horlin-Smith. Some of these guys have been around for a while, and have been persevered with through injury, but are they going to have an impact, or just float off the list at some stage after many wasted seasons?
Two players that could fortify Geelong’s strengths are the much-maligned Steven Motlop and the untapped Nakia Cockatoo.
Motlop is coming off a year where he averaged 20 touches a game and kicked 38 goals, yet was seen as a disappointment. There’d be plenty of players who would love those numbers, but he did tend to go missing in some big games when his side needed him, and reserved his worst for the preliminary final, like many of his teammates.
Cockatoo projects as a player for whom “this season” is always going to be the big one, but never turns out to deliver it. If he can hit Motlop type numbers, then they can form a dangerous double act forward of centre.
It’s amazing how a losing final can define a team, particularly the way the Cats capitulated to Sydney in last year’s preliminary final.
Forget the 17 home-and-away wins (equal most), percentage of 143.82 (second best), ranking third in points for and second in points against, and the fact they have the reigning record Brownlow medallist and All-Australian captain.
One bad quarter on the preliminary final stage sticks in the mind longer than all the rest, and as such the Cats are on the nose heading into this year, with question marks over their depth and their ability to deliver at the pointy end of the year.
There’s no obvious reason why Geelong won’t be a top-four contender again.
Predicted ladder spread: 2nd-6th
Predicted finish: 4th
Best and fairest: Patrick Dangerfield
Leading goalkicker: Tom Hawkins
All-Australian potential: Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood
Rising Star candidates: Negligible
4th – Geelong
5th – West Coast
6th – Melbourne
7th – Adelaide
8th – St Kilda
9th – Hawthorn
10th – Richmond
11th – Collingwood
12th – Gold Coast
13th – Port Adelaide
14th – Fremantle
15th – Essendon
16th – North Melbourne
17th – Carlton
18th – Brisbane