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For the second time in a fortnight a juicy Friday-night match between a pair of premiership contenders is diminished due to the number and quality of the players who won’t take part.
The list of players missing from tonight’s match is quite extraordinary.
The Cats will, again, be without their defensive pillars Harry Taylor and Lachie Henderson as well as the great Gary Ablett.
Add to those players Daniel Menzel, Cam Guthrie, Brandan Parfitt and Nakia Cockatoo.
That’s seven of Geelong’s best 22 players. Lincoln McCarthy, too, would have a strong case if healthy.
Things are just as ugly for the visiting Giants, who will head to Kardinia Park without arguably their three best players – Josh Kelly, Toby Greene and Jeremy Cameron – as well as Brett Deledio, Tom Scully, Zac Williams and Rory Lobb.
If you follow the NBA, you might have heard the term “schedule loss”. Essentially, it refers to a team looking at their schedule and deciding a certain game – usually a third game in four nights, or the second-night of a road back-to-back – is more trouble than it’s worth.
This game has a bit of that feeling about it for the Giants, who are taking no chances with Cameron or Deledio.
That’s not to suggest GWS won’t try to win, just that with four wins and a draw from six games – and the second-best percentage in the competition – they don’t need to risk their stars on the road in a short week.
For the Cats, it’s not quite desperate times, but it’s getting there. Geelong, rightly, have top-four ambitions, and to achieve that there isn’t a lot of room for error.
You have to go back to 2010 for the last time a team earned the double chance with fewer than 60 points – that’s 15 wins, or, in the case of last year’s Giants 14 wins and two draws.
Geelong are precariously placed at 3-3, with recent history suggesting they need to win 12 of their next 17 games to guarantee more than a week of finals action.
They can’t afford to take these Giants lightly. Leon Cameron’s team still boasts plenty of talent around the ball, which has been a problem for the Cats this season.
Geelong are 18th in the competition for clearance differential at -8.5 a game. To put that in some perspective, the Crows are the next worst team at -3.2. The Giants are fifth in the league with +2.2.
It’s an area of the game Chris Scott would have spent plenty of time thinking about after last week’s hammering by the Swans.
Sydney won the clearances 50-34, including a 16-5 advantage at centre bounces – Josh P Kennedy (seven) had more centre clearances than Geelong.
The return of Zac Smith should give the Cats a boost in that area against make-shift ruckmen Adam Tomlinson and Jonathon Patton, the latter of which will likely spend much of his time forward with Cameron out and the Cats still shorthanded down back.
The more simple solution to Geelong’s stoppage woes might be to get more out of their best player. In his first five games of 2018, Patrick Dangerfield has been well below the standard he has set in recent years.
Dangerfield is averaging 5.4 clearances a game this season. That’s a more-than-respectable number for mere mortals, but well below the 7.2 Dangerfield averaged last season and would be his lowest average since 2011 if it continued.
The 2016 Brownlow medallist can expect plenty of attention from GWS star Stephen Coniglio, among others, when he’s in the midfield.
Kardinia Park and it’s narrow wings have found out many a visiting team. Teams get trapped in their defensive third and choked by the narrow ground and Geelong’s defensive set-up.
Sydney have had success in Geelong for three glaring reasons: their stoppage strength, their comfort defending deep and their patience in transition.
The Giants could have one of those bases covered at stoppages, and based on this season, they might have the defensive aspect covered as well.
It’s worth emphasising that it’s still early and GWS have played a pretty soft schedule, but they have conceded a score on just 32.5 percent of their opponents’ inside-50s, which is the best mark in the league.
Counter to that, the Cats have converted a league-best 45.1 percent of their inside-50s into a score.
As for the patient transition, that’s not really the Giants’ go, but their link-up wave running could prove equally effective in penetrating Geelong’s defence.
GWS should take some inspiration from what the Crows did in Sydney a fortnight ago. If they come with a plan and control the stoppages and territory, they can cause an upset. Even without a handful of stars, they still have plenty of talent.
This game means too much for the Cats though, and I still expect them to be a force this season, so I’m tipping them to get up by three goals.
Here’s hoping it’s also a good enough game of footy to shut up the “footy is bad” crowd for a bit.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?