The AFL fixturing department was very kind to these reigning top four finishers. Or so we thought.
In most dimensions of existence, Geelong and Brisbane are coming off romping wins over the bottom four sides they played in Round 1 and are tuning up for an early grand final.
But in the wild and whacky dimension we’re in, the Cats came off second-best against the Crows, the Lions got blown away by the Swans, Patrick Dangerfield has been suspended and nobody knows what’s going on.
Instead of the winner stamping their premiership credentials early, it’s alarm bells for the loser – who’ll face an uphill battle to finish in the top four.
Round 1 couldn’t possibly have gone any worse for either of tonight’s competitors.
Geelong were supposed to do horrible things to last year’s wooden spooners on Saturday, but misread the script and did horrible things full stop. The final margin was only 12 points, but the Cats were haplessly outclassed in the first half and were flattered by how things looked at full time.
To make matters worse, Dangerfield is now gone after his high bump on Jake Kelly, Mitch Duncan and Jeremy Cameron are still some time away from returning and Sam Menegola isn’t even guaranteed to get up.
But they come up against a Brisbane side heavily bruised after they were made to look like the Justin Lepptisch-era Lions against a Sydney side who, really, had no business of getting within four goals.
Coach Chris Fagan wondered publicly whether a poor attitude cost them after they kicked the first three goals of the game and again when they erased a 25-point deficit close to half time. If true, that simply cannot be allowed to happen again.
How do the Cats go without Dangerfield?
It’s a testament to the former Crow’s durability that this three-week suspension will be just the fourth, fifth and sixth matches he’s missed since coming to Kardinia Park.
Three games isn’t a lot to go off and it’s still worth a look.
The first was Round 20, 2017, a 46-point drubbing at the hands of Sydney. Before you start licking your lips Brisbane fans, the midfield battle in that match was fairly even. In fact, the Cats came out on top in clearances (+11), contested possessions (+5) and inside 50s (+1). As was typical against the Swans at their peak, however, the inside 50s resulted in precious few points, while Sydney rode five multiple goalkickers to cruise to a very strong win.
The second was Round 1, 2018, a narrow three-point win over Melbourne – a match everyone remembers for Max Gawn’s crucial set shot miss in the dying seconds. In that game, the midfield got crushed. The Demons won the clearances by eight, the inside 50s by 23 the tackles by 27 and the contested possessions by six. Midfield domination let down by ineptitude in front of goal? Good thing that’s never happened the Lions lately…
The third was Round 10, 2019, a 27-point win against Gold Coast. It was comfortable in the end, but the Cats were pushed all day and only led by two points at three quarter time.
I can understand the counterpoints that it was only three games and they won two anyway, but that’s pretty clear evidence to me they’re a lot more gettable without their marquee man in the middle.
Are the pre-season fears of a Lions slide justified?
Brisbane were a very popular pick to drop out of the top four coming into 2021 and they did themselves precisely no favours with that Saturday night showing.
They were unprepared for, in fairness, a totally new style of play from the Swans – but their work rate without the ball simply wasn’t good enough. It’s simple, but if you get beaten in disposals and tackles in the same game (which the Lions were, comfortably), you didn’t put the effort in. Getting smashed by 55 in the uncontested possession count was particularly damning.
They need to show a much higher level of commitment tonight and, at the very least, give the Cats hell and go down swinging.
How much strife will tonight’s loser be in?
Finishing in the top four following an 0-2 start is incredibly difficult. Only Sydney (2014, minor premiers) and Collingwood (2018) have done it and someone will need to do the same after tonight.
Looking at the fixture until Round 6 (the last round that’s completely locked in), Chris Scott’s side has Hawthorn (MCG), Melbourne (MCG), North Melbourne (home) and West Coast (home) to come – they should start at least moderate favourites in all of those matches.
As for the Queenslanders, it’s Collingwood (Gabba), Western Bulldogs (Ballarat), Essendon (Gabba) and Carlton (Marvel). Oh boy. A loss to the Magpies next week would be panic stations regardless of what happens tonight. It’s not out of the question that Brisbane could be 2-4 or even 1-5 at the end of April. They can turn to the Swans of 2005 for inspiration though, they started 2-4 and went on to win the flag.
History is heavily in Geelong’s favour tonight. They’ve owned the Lions for a considerable length of time – especially at home – and have more runs on the board in recent years too. They come into this clash with a huge psychological edge and, deservedly, the favouritism.
But I just can’t get past the outs. The Cats midfield is a totally different proposition with Dangerfield and Duncan missing – and their output over the last few years has heavily masked the fact that Joel Selwood is nowhere near as good as he used to be.
If Brisbane’s loss last week was as much an attitude thing as I suspect it was, I’m bravely backing Fagan to whip his charges into shape and deliver a famous win at the Cattery against the odds.
Lions by 11 points
That’s my Friday night forecast, what’s yours?