After five rounds, Geelong and Richmond were unbeaten and sitting pretty in second and third on the ladder respectively.
The Cats had just beaten St Kilda in arguably their best performance of the season against good opposition, while the Tigers had staged a remarkable comeback that had left their supporters euphoric about the possibilities that lay ahead.
Fast-forward to three weeks later, a trio of losses for each, and the wheels have fallen off.
Richmond has won only one quarter in each of their last four matches. They got off to strong starts against Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs but were then outplayed for the last three quarters. Against Melbourne and Fremantle, they had no answers in general play for three terms, before coming home hard at the end.
That’s four quarters won of their last 16. And while there was one win in there, and two losses by less than a goal where they could falsely consider themselves unlucky, the competition is clearly too even to get away with such uneven performances.
And don’t let anyone tell you that luck had anything to do with Richmond’s loss to Fremantle on Sunday. As Ryan broke down for us yesterday, the Tigers did everything wrong. It was gross incompetence to not be able to defend a lead from a centre bounce with 20-odd seconds to go.
Geelong are going through a similar form trough, having only won one quarter in each of their three losses too.
Richmond have at least lost to top-of-the-table Adelaide, reigning premiers Western Bulldogs, and a Fremantle sitting in ninth having won five of their last six matches. It’s a respectable grouping to lose to.
The Cats, however, have gone down to Collingwood (currently sitting 17th), Gold Coast (12th) and Essendon (11th). None of that trio are expected to figure in September, and frankly, it would be a surprise if any did.
The 22 that ran out for Geelong on Saturday night contained half a team of players that could charitably be described as jobbers, regardless of how many or how few games they’ve played – Andrew Mackie, Tom Lonergan, Mark Blicavs, Zac Smith, Rhys Stanley, James Parsons, Jake Kolodjashnij, Nakia Cockatoo, Jed Bews, Tom Stewart, and Mark O’Connor.
It’s a long tail when read out loud.
A number of the names listed above are from the Cats’ back six, and Geelong just can’t stop teams from scoring against them. Last year, they were clearly the second-best defensive team in the competition, conceding a miserly 70.6 points per game.
This year, despite their 5-0 start, they are ranked 13th for points against, currently tracking at 95 points per game. Perhaps moving Harry Taylor forward after the loss of Corey Enright wasn’t such a good idea, hey Chris Scott?
The worst part about this stat for Geelong? They’ve only played one side that is currently sitting in the eight, which is St Kilda. The average ladder position of the Cats’ opponents so far this season is 12th, as the ladder stands after eight rounds.
The next month is when Geelong’s draw truly stiffens up. It starts with the Western Bulldogs this week and is followed by Port, Adelaide and West Coast. The comfort for Cats fans is the first three of these are at their home base of Simonds Stadium. The Eagles game is in Perth.
If the Cats aren’t capable of playing their best football more often against this batch of teams, it won’t matter where the games are played.
There’s some soul-searching to be done, both at Punt Road and Kardinia Park. Both Geelong and Richmond showed what they were capable of in the first five rounds, but have since been found out.
With sides like Melbourne and St Kilda hungry and on the rise, plus Sydney and Hawthorn gathering some form, their positions in the eight will be under threat before too long. In fact, if results fall the right away, both the Tigers and Cats could be outside the eight after this week.
The mighty have fallen. The only questions now are if they can bounce back, and how quickly they can do so.