2017 AFL preview series: Geelong Cats – 4th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert


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    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

    Rhys Stanley Geelong Cats AFL 2016 tall

    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.

    Steven Motlop Geelong Cats 2016 AFL tall

    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

    Cam Rose’s AFL preview series ladder

    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

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • Roar Guru

      March 17th 2017 @ 5:06am
      AdelaideDocker said | March 17th 2017 @ 5:06am | ! Report

      Very nicely written, Cam! Loving the series thus far!

      It’s weird being this early to an article, but I’ve got nothing else to do whilst heading to the airport at 4:36am!

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 7:51am
        Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        Thanks mate. Enjoy your flight!

        • Roar Guru

          March 17th 2017 @ 8:04am
          AdelaideDocker said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

          Funnily enough, the flight is done and dusted. Just got to Melbourne!

          Guess I’m officially MelbourneDocker until Monday.

    • March 17th 2017 @ 7:39am
      Bobby said | March 17th 2017 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      An excellent article, very fair and balanced.
      I’m so pleased that you did not fall into the easy trap of bagging out Motlop. I heard David King say “maybe Motlop can turn into that 30 goal forward the cats need” to which Dermott Brereton replied “yeah that 30-40 goal mark would be par for him.” Astounding the group think BS that goes on at fox footy

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 7:53am
        Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

        I’m a fan of Motlop, I just don’t get the hate. I understand people would love more consistency, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 9:41am
        DH said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        I think Motlop struggles to get into the game when he plays too high up the ground, missing tackles and trying to do too much when he does get the ball.

        He’s a far better forward and should stick to what he does best. They’ve got trouble with depth in midfield, but Motlop has been tried there for years now to no avail. Time to focus on him just being a forward.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 17th 2017 @ 8:52am
      Tom said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      Good read Cameron, can’t argue with much here. Only minor critique would be the little stab at Cockatoo, he can be anything but it is only his third year, pretty sure fitness has been his main issue so if he can work on his tank then he can definitely add the pace the Cats midfield desperately need.

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 9:07am
        Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        Fair call Tom. Just thinking out loud on him a bit there.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 10:02am
        DH said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Motlop has tried and failed to add that spark in the midfield, I think Cockatoo is a good chance to bring that pace.

        I think that’s the reason Caddy had to go, his lack of pace, similar pace to Duncan/Guthrie/McCarthy.

        I think the analogy about Enright and Tuohy is apt, but the reasoning is wrong. Pepsi (Tuohy) is a fresh change whereas Enright had become stale and slowed the team’s rebound, along with Mackie and Taylor, to a halt.

        The cats can win the ball in their back half, but their transition from there to the forwardline is their biggest problem. They’ve been far too conservative with their ball movement which means they have less scored against them, but it significantly impacts the space and time afforded to their forwards.

        Hawkins and Motlop with only two defenders against them would be very difficult to beat, even Menzel one on one is pretty good. Too often the slow ball movement out of defence allows oppositions to flood back.

        It works against a lot of teams, but when they’re getting blitzed in the midfield, like they did against Sydney, the goals just pour in and Geelong go even more defensive and it gets worse until Selwood/Dangerfield stems the tide.

        • Columnist

          March 17th 2017 @ 10:22am
          Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

          All good points DH. The Cats were a very boundary-centric side last year, which ties into that conservative movement. They weren’t overly impressive in pre-season, and I think they will probably still play in fits and starts to an extent.

          • March 17th 2017 @ 1:00pm
            DH said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

            I think it’s Chris Scott’s nature. Very conservative, more worried about saving scores than understanding how a forward line works well.

            The cats haven’t had a well-functioning forward line since Cameron Mooney retired and around the same time Ablett left which meant their corridor dominance was over.

            They’ve gone from corridor-dominant to ultra conservative and their forward-line won’t function under these conditions.

            Either Chris Scott finds himself a decent forward coach to get things going and demand faster ball movement or he won’t have any success at the cats or perhaps beyond.

            We’ll know after two rounds whether it will be last years’ Geelong and the same result, or they’ll take some more risks (and perhaps lose a couple of early games) and maybe be a flag chance.

    • March 17th 2017 @ 8:56am
      Pumping Dougie said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

      Good analysis Cam. Geelong’s finals exit was surprisingly poor but their season was impressive. I think their biggest downfall is a lack of pace across their best 22. They clearly also rely heavily on two players, far more than any other finals side. As good as Danger is, I think when / if you stop J Selwood, you stop Geelong’s catalyst. Top 6 for 2017 again but I can’t see them being quite good enough for the GF.

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 9:08am
        Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        But the thing is, when the two are as good as they are, they are bloody hard to stop.

        Motlop, Cockatoo and Tuohy will be crucial to provide that run across the ground.

    • March 17th 2017 @ 10:12am
      reuster75 said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      A fair analysis of where we sit Cam. I know we had a lot of wins last year but if you look at our losses they were all identical – taking far too long to get the ball out of defence and into the forward line thus giving opponents time to set-up a defensive wall and stifle our midfield. Plus we should’ve lost our first final to Hawks. It doesn’t help that playing Hawkins, Smith, Blicavs and Stanley all in the one team makes us too tall. Of that grouping only Stanley and Blicavs are mobile but neither of them are good users of the ball. You’re bang on when you talk about the likes of Jackson Thurlow (although to be fair his ACL last year was unlucky as the club had high hopes for him with his pace), Josh Cowan, Darcy Lang, Jordan Murdoch and George Horlin-Smith needing to step up. I don’t believe we are good enough to win the GF which is an issue as the club believes they are in contention and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of new talent coming through. I worry that our pre-season form is again indicating Scott’s preference for a slow build out of the backline which won’t work in finals. Anyway time will tell.

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 10:25am
        Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        They might have to make a call between Smith and Blicavs at some stage. Stanley is a better forward than them and can support ruck, so I think he has a place. Horlin-Smith seems to have been pretty sharp through JLT, so maybe he’s ready.

        I guess it’s about getting to September, and then hoping Danger and Selwood can carry them through, with hopefully a Motlop special and Hawkins kicking five or six.

    • Roar Guru

      March 17th 2017 @ 10:18am
      Cat said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      First off, thank you Cam, for writing a well balanced and thought out article about Geelong and not falling into the shallow oft-repeated tripe so often seen regarding this side.

      I hope the whole Harry Taylor forward thing was a preseason smokescreen. It’s not going to work. It is a terrible idea and if Scott really plans on persisting with it the Cats will drop out of contention early.
      I do not think HT is mobile enough to play forward; especially next to not so mobile Hawkins. I also believe HT is needed back. Watching Lonergan this preseason I have strong reservations about him seeing out the season. For a guy never blessed with a lot of pace and have clearly lost a step last year, Lonners looks to have lost two more. He can still defend but he fast becoming a major liability with ball in hand. Hasn’t looked willing to carry it at all. Just stands still, waits for opposition to come at him, then handballs to another player already under pressure. This is not what the Cats need as a team that can struggling clearing the ball from defensive 50 at times.

      It was only one game, and a preseason one at that, but I’d give Black a three game run and see what he can do up forward.

      Regarding Motlop, yes his numbers were OKAY last year but his reporting to camp fat and often turning in one way lazy performances irked a lot of us. I’m glad Geelong couldn’t off load him, I think that would have been a mistake. When on he is one hell of a player. Just needs to be on more, and I’d like to see the coaching staff sit him forward more and in the midfield less. With all our talls, a freak like Motlop could kick bags of goals from all kinds of ridiculous places and angles.

      Cockatoo just needs a sustained run without an injury keeping him out for a chunk of time. Still only just 20 years old.

      Don’t be surprised when Brandan Parfitt is named in round 1 and forces his name into the best 22.

      Cats are an imperfect team but on their day can beat anyone (except Sydney, here’s hoping we can dodge them in finals if we both play).