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Does GMHBA make a contender a pretender?

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Roar Guru
21st April, 2021
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“The measure of a man is not how much he suffers in the test, but how he comes out at the end.” ― Neal Shusterman

Such a quote needs to be plastered across two change rooms on Anzac Day eve but it won’t be at the MCG where an undefeated Melbourne will do battle with the champions that are Richmond.

It won’t be a Buddy-less Sydney as they travel to the Gold Coast in response to their first loss of 2021 and it won’t be featured in the Dockers’ rooms when they shoot for three wins in a row against a North side who were much better last Sunday, nor at Marvel Stadium where Carlton and Brisbane have some points to prove.

No, this little piece of inspiration will be in two rooms at Kardinia Park as the Cats do battle with West Coast with what will be the game of the round.

In simple terms, the reigning runners up have been slow to adapt to the new rules and their game style has been under scrutiny in a major way.

Their ball movement has been labelled as slow, boring and monotonous and it’s looked poor at times but their first five games have been nothing short of unremarkable.

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A two-goal loss to last year’s wooden spooners in Adelaide on the road was brushed aside as a Round 1 blip on the radar before completely letting an undermanned Brisbane come back from 21 points down at three quarter time and were saved by a poor umpiring decision.

In Round 3, they led the Hawks by four goals at the last change and once again, completely stopped and escaped the Hawks by five points before being soundly beaten by a rampaging Melbourne who out hunted an insipid Cats outfit, before a bankable game over North Melbourne to go 3-2, in which they trailed at quarter time against a side who could almost lose to Southport.

On the flip side, the Eagles have had their injury and form concerns in the opening month and change of 2021.

At home, they’ve been brilliant, with a four-goal win over Gold Coast, a six-goal win over Port Adelaide and a four-and-a-half-goal win over the Pies last week but away from home, have really struggled.

The boys from the West ran out of tickets in the last ten minutes against the Dogs at Marvel and lost a classic before the nightmare against St Kilda.

A 33-point lead not only eliminated but was in arrears of 20 points when the final whistle blew, not only looking like they’d run out of gas but out of ideas as well.

Chris Scott

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Both teams have form lines of WLWLW in their opening five games and someone will get some momentum going forward, given the Cats have Sydney next (4-1 and should be 5-1 as they have Gold Coast) away from home and the Eagles have got the home Derby against the Dockers who if they beat North Melbourne, will have three on the trot with a great sense of self confidence and belief.

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In 24 meetings between the two sides at GMHBA Stadium, Geelong have a 15-8 advantage over the Eagles, with a draw in Round 20, 2003 but the Eagles haven’t beaten the Cats in Geelong since the three-point epic in 2006, when the Eagles came from six goals down at the last change.

Since that day, the Cats have won six on the trot by an average of ten goals, if history is worth considering.

Geelong’s game style should be helped by the Eagles’ lack of pressure, being the worst tackling team in the competition.

Both teams will get plenty of the ball as both are in the top-five for uncontested ball. The Eagles will be without skipper Luke Shuey and Elliott Yeo so the midfield battle will be a tight one with the Cats ranked second against the middle-of-the-road Eagles.

Luke Shuey of West Coast Eagles looks dejected

(Photo by Matt Roberts/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Add in a fit Jeremy Cameron reportedly ready to go, the Eagles need to stop their delivery and the Cats need to enter their forward half with greater energy and purpose.

The question then becomes: what happens to the loser?

More questions will be asked of Geelong if they lose, given they’re at home and have failed these tests so far in 2021.

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If the Eagles go down, they’ve almost got a three-goal buffer of comfort, if it’s 20-plus points then some serious questions will need to be asked but if they can take Geelong all the way and not quite get the job done, they won’t lose as many admirers, just like the Bulldogs game at Marvel but their supporters will not be happy and rightly so.

Geelong fans are seemingly turning on Chris Scott it seems in recent times, and if the Cats go down, it will only lead to more frustration and angst within an already impatient fan-base who think they should have more premierships with the quality of their lists in the last decade.

If the Eagles want to establish themselves as genuine premiership contenders, they put the ‘too old, too slow’ Cats to the sword and demolish their ‘flat track bullies’ tag that has haunted them for a long time, even after the premiership of 2018 and at 0-2 on the road, if they lose too many games they won’t get that home ground advantage in finals and if they can’t win on the road, they ain’t winning a road final.

Starting with a quote and ending with it, it isn’t about the gruelling contest that these two preseason contenders are going to throw on Saturday afternoon but how they come out of it that truly matters.

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Do Geelong adapt to the new play style of the league? Are the Eagles able to travel and have their game style hold up?

Can Nic Naitanui take advantage of an out-of-form Geelong ruck brigade?

Hard to predict now but make no mistake, by the time the siren echoes around GMHBA Stadium, we will know and one of them might be in trouble.