Geelong has finally become the team they were supposed to be.
After a number of years of middling finishes and non-threatening finals performances, the Cats are setting the pace in the first third of 2019.
They have already beaten their most obvious challenger, Collingwood, and last year’s premiers, West Coast. The latter was by a convincing 58 points, winning all four quarters, in a display of control and ferocity.
Essendon, a lower level challenger but still seen as a likely finalist, was dispatched in a similar manner to the Eagles. Hawthorn and Melbourne, fallen September players from last year, have also been shown the door. A win over Adelaide in Adelaide rounds out their six victories.
Each of these wins was worthy enough in and of themselves, but as a collective they have been an awesome feat in a season that has seen unpredictability reign.
Geelong’s only loss came to GWS by four points, in a match they were in front for 75 per cent of the time.
The forward line has been the most celebrated part of the Cats season so far, replete with new faces and one particular dual Brownlow medalist who is spending most of his time there.
Tom Hawkins has led Geelong’s goal-kicking for seven years in a row, and will likely do so again despite sitting second at the moment, but his percentage of the teams goals has dropped to 14.9 per cent from 20 per cent last year. The Cats are averaging 96 points per game as opposed to 91 last season.
Gary Rohan has been one of many finds in the forward half of the ground, with 15 goals from six matches. Only twice in nine years at Sydney did he kick more than that. His set shot kicking has been a feature.
Luke Dahlhaus has also appreciated a fresh start at a new club, back to his high pressure best and second at the club for tackles. Gryan Miers is a new face that has provided a spark, with canny ball use and a sharp eye for goal.
And then there’s the little master, Gary Ablett. He has relished his new role in the forward-line and his last two performances, against Hawthorn and Essendon have been virtuoso displays of talent and experience.
Geelong are ranked number two for attack, but number one for defence.
Their backline is working in perfect harmony at the moment, led by Tom Stewart and Mark Blicavs. The former was named All Australian last year, and the latter was in the extended squad. Both are performing well above those established levels.
Harry Taylor has been rejuvenated after his career looked finished at various stages over the last two seasons. Jake Kolodjashnij looks more assured as each season passes and hardly makes a mistake with ball in hand any more.
There’s plenty of inexperience down back too. Jordan Clark has showed off pinpoint precision in his first season. Mark O’Connor has also been good and wasn’t the lock to make way for Tuohy that many thought. Jack Henry has been getting the job done in lock down roles. These three haven’t even played 50 games between them.
Patrick Dangerfield, Tim Kelly, Mitch Duncan and Joel Selwood make up a star-studded midfield that also has Sam Menegola and Cam Guthrie rotating through. Rhys Stanley has become something of a powerhouse in the ruck, capable of winning his own clearances, taking a strong grab, and chipping in for an important goal.
It must be said, being top of the table at this stage of the season isn’t a great bet for when it comes to winning the flag. Only two of the most recent 15 premiers led the league after Round 7. In that time, Geelong has been on top twice (2008, 2013) and not gone all the way.
In fact, in all three of the Cats flags in 2007, 2009 and 2011, they were never on top after seven rounds. In recent years we’ve come to expect that hot September form trumps five months of home-and-away grind but, in reality, it’s almost always the case.
Still, Geelong are looking well balanced all across the field. They have five matches until their bye, all against teams currently outside the eight. They’re taking on those below from a position of strength.
The second half of the season will be theirs to control.