Geelong vs Western Bulldogs: Friday Night Forecast

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By , Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    Stage 947 of Kardinia Park is unveiled, as the languid Cats host the slop-loving Dogs. The weather looks atrocious, and Geelong are market underdogs at home for the first time since the veteran farewell game in 2015. Stakes are high, as ever on a Friday evening.

    Punters have jumped off the Cats in a big way, and Geelong are expected to lose on their home deck for the first time since Steve Johnson, James Kelly and Matthew Stokes were farewelled in Round 23 2015.

    It was a clear point of demarcation for the Cats – guaranteed to miss the finals no matter the result, it was a time to reminisce about the days of glory past.

    By contrast, their opponents, the Adelaide Crows, were hot running into September, and were playing for the right to host an elimination final a week later. The Cats won by 39 points, sending off their veterans to a month-long stint in the football retirement home.

    The last time the Western Bulldogs won in Geelong was 2003 – they’re 0-7 from their past seven attempts spread over an 11-year span from 2005 to 2016. During Geelong’s premiership run, a ten goal margin was pretty well the automatic result.

    When is an own-ground underdog really an underdog? When the own-ground underdog is in an early season funk.

    Joel Selwood Geelong Cats AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    We talked a little about this on Monday. Plenty has been made about Geelong’s lack of tackles, like the tackle count is a measure of effort or intensity. It is, to an extent. A better indicator would be to adjust the number of tackles a team has laid for the time their opponents have held on to the ball – you can only bring down opponents when they’ve got possession after all.

    Here is every team’s tackles laid per minute of opposition possession.

    Team Tackles per Minute of Opp Possession Ranking
    Adelaide 1.33 10
    Brisbane Lions 1.19 17
    Carlton 1.49 2
    Collingwood 1.34 7
    Essendon 1.23 14
    Fremantle 1.09 18
    Geelong 1.21 16
    Gold Coast 1.21 15
    GWS Giants 1.34 6
    Hawthorn 1.35 5
    Melbourne 1.47 3
    North Melbourne 1.38 4
    Port Adelaide 1.32 13
    Richmond 1.34 8
    St Kilda 1.32 11
    Sydney 1.33 9
    West Coast 1.32 12
    Western Bulldogs 1.54 1

    Over the season, the Cats are 15th for tackles per minute of opponent possession – ahead of Gold Coast, Brisbane and Fremantle in 18th. This isn’t an indicator of success in and of itself: the Dogs are ranked one, but Carlton are second; West Coast are 12th and Port Adelaide 13th.

    The Dogs are ranked number one. Keep that in mind.

    Still, it’s an interesting talking point. The Cats have been unable to reliably pressure their opponents when they have the ball in hand, a marker of the way the opposition has sought to open Geelong up on turnovers and through defensive 50 exits.

    Indeed, in their past three losses, the Cats have been able to lay just over one tackle (1.011) per minute of opposition possession, a mark that would have them ranked last over the season if it was their year-long output.

    With the stats we have to hand, it’s difficult to pinpoint something with quantitative evidence. The eye test says Geelong’s towering press from 2016 has been torn down by opponents that have invested in pace on their half back and half forward lines.

    In the weekend just past, Essendon did as they pleased exiting defensive 50, keeping some shape ahead of the ball and running the length of the field for quality scoring shots.

    The Dogs went to market with a relatively small forward line last week against West Coast, but have gone tall tonight.

    Luke Beveridge and company have made five changes, with Travis Cloke and Tory Dickson joining Jack Redpath in the forward line; Dale Morris and Robert Murphy heading back; Mitch Wallis playing his first AFL game since a leg break in the middle of last year.

    Out go Matthew Boyd, Zaine Cordy, designated tackler Tom Liberatore, Toby McLean and Fletcher Roberts – the latter four of the quintet dropped to make way for what are evidently Beveridge’s first choice players.

    The team’s height is interesting, although that may be largely due to match up requirements against the Cats’ own land of the giants.

    Geelong have made two mostly like-for-like changes, albeit Lachie Henderson is a tall back compared to Rhys Stanley a tall forward. Scott Selwood re-joins the team for George-Horlin Smith. The Cats still look on the tall side to me, but this is a position I’ve maintained for a year and a half.

    Travis Cloke Western Bulldogs AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    With plenty of rain forecast, the tactics of this game are likely to be simple. The team that is able to win the ball in tight, and make the most of their possessions, is the one that will win the game.

    It may also be an opportunity for the Dogs to play ducks and drakes with the Cats, making a late change on the basis of weather conditions at the ground.

    In this respect, the Dogs’ favouritism makes sense. Their game style is akin to an all-weather wet weather football preference, particularly now it seems as though coach Luke Beveridge has abandoned his first quarter experiments to make the game more open (which was not working).

    They’re also, as mentioned, the best team for laying tackles per minute of opposition possession – opponents are made to work hard to escape the Dogs’ congestion and get the ball outside.

    Geelong have two trump cards of course: Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, who on most measures are in the top handful of players in the competition through eight rounds.

    The numbers show the Cats remain the team most potent side at scoring from stoppages, even if they have issues moving the ball inside 50 once they’ve won it.

    Meanwhile, the Dogs have dropped their most accountable – to a fault, it seems – midfielder (Liberatore), and in essence replaced him with an offensively-minded midfield-forward (Wallis).

    The ‘Scrays might be able to stop one of Dangerfield and Selwood with their team defence – but not both of them.

    In the end this game looks set to come down to whether the Western Bulldogs can make the most of turnover opportunities and run up a decent wet weather score. Their height has me feeling unsure, but then again, the entirety of Geelong’s football team has me feeling unsure.

    Weighing the evidence and recent form, it has to the Dogs in a close, low-scoring encounter. It could be a 66 def 60 kind of game, particularly if the volume of rain forecast comes during the 120 minutes of football itself.

    That’s exactly the circumstances in which the Dogs have thrived in recent years, even if they are seeking to be more balanced in attack and defence.

    The Western Bulldogs will break their run of Ls at Kardinia Park, and win tonight by six points. That’s my Friday Night Forecast, what’s yours?

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.