13/04/2024

The Cats will be hoping Dangerfield can remain fit and firing to lead the side to success in 2024. Photo: The Inner Sanctum/Daniel Cohen

After winning the premiership in 2022, Geelong was in unfamiliar territory for much of 2023, missing the finals for just the second time in 16 years. With much of that premiership side still in good shape and an injection of new talent, the team has high hopes for 2024.

2023 Overview

2023 can only be described as the season that never really began for the Cats. Three losses to begin the season (two against eventual preliminary finalists in Collingwood and Carlton) left the reigning premiers as the only side without a win after three rounds. Fast forward five weeks, and the Cats seemed to be back purring again, winning all five games convincingly to be entrenched in the top eight.

From that point on, the season was stop-start, with unexpected losses to the likes of the GWS Giants and the lowly Fremantle in Geelong costing the club dearly. In the end, it became all too much for the side to replicate in 2023, and they finished outside the top eight for only the second time in 17 years.

Injuries did not help the cause, as the midfield was light on for experience throughout the season. Others were not able to re-capture their 2023 form and others just couldn’t get going. Tom Stewart and Gryan Miers were the obvious standouts, and Jeremy Cameron before injury hit was the most dominant player in the competition.

Off-Season Changes

OUT: Jonathon Ceglar (retired), Flynn Kroeger (delisted), Sam Menegola (delisted), Esava Ratugolea (traded – Port Adelaide), Osca Riccardi (delisted), Sam Simpson (delisted), Isaac Smith (retired), Cooper Whyte (delisted).

IN: Mitchell Edwards (pick 32), Joe Furphy (category B rookie), Lawson Humphries (pick 63), Emerson Jeka (rookie draft), Shaun Mannagh (pick 36), Connor O’Sullivan (pick 11), George Stevens (pick 58), Oliver Wilshire (pick 61)

For the first time in a while, the Cats have grabbed a number of players from the draft rather than looking at free agent or trade targets. There is plenty of youth to work with, including the highly regarded O’Sullivan a chance to feature early on in the Cats’ defence. Mannagh, a mature age recruit at 26, finally earned his chance after impressing for Werribee in recent years.

Fixture

The Cats will open the season in their brand new, fully finished 40,000+ seat stadium on a Saturday night against St. Kilda. The increased capacity has allowed for more Victorian sides to make the trip down the highway, with Hawthorn, Richmond, North Melbourne, and the Western Bulldogs all to feature at the Cattery.

Geelong also secured two block-buster home games at the MCG against Carlton and Essendon, and will play their first-ever game for premiership points in Darwin in Round 10 against Gold Coast.

Double-ups against the Carlton, St. Kilda, the Western Bulldogs, Adelaide, Hawthorn, and North Melbourne are all winnable and have given the side a huge chance to bounce back and claim a spot in the top eight again.

Full Fixture (game at GMHBA unless otherwise stated):

Round 1 vs St.Kilda

Round 2 @ Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)

Round 3 @ Hawthorn (MCG)

Round 4 @ Western Bulldogs (Adelaide Oval – Gather Round)

Round 5 vs North Melbourne

Round 6 @ Brisbane (Gabba)

Round 7 vs Carlton (MCG)

Round 8 @ Melbourne (MCG)

Round 9 vs Port Adelaide

Round 10 @ Gold Coast (TIO, Darwin)

Round 11 vs GWS Giants

Round 12 vs Richmond

Round 13 @ Sydney (SCG)

Round 14 – BYE

Round 15 @ Carlton (MCG)

Round 16 vs Essendon (MCG)

Round 17 vs Hawthorn

Round 18 @ Collingwood (MCG)

Round 19 vs Western Bulldogs

Round 20 @ North Melbourne (Blundstone Arena)

Round 21 vs Adelaide

Round 22 @ St.Kilda (Marvel)

Round 23 vs West Coast

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Looking Ahead to 2024

The Cats are one of the great unknowns heading into 2024. Many wrote them off at the end of 2021, only for them to be holding aloft the premiership cup 12 months later. Regardless, some believe tough times are ahead for the perennial finalists.

The defence is as good as ever, and if not for it, their results would have been much worse in 2023. Tom Stewart is elite, Sam de Koning’s injury-plagued 2023 is behind him and the Cats’ best patch of the season in 2023 was when a fit Jack Henry was in the side. Throw in the ever-improving Zack Guthrie, the reliable Jed Bews and the class of Mitch Duncan, and there is no cause for concern down back.

The forward line is also looking good. A fit Hawkins/Cameron combination is still as scary as ever. Miers is a great ball user who was close to the All-Australian squad selection in 2023 and Ollie Henry, still only 21, kicked 40+ goals. If Close and Stengle can recapture their 2022 form, then watch out!

The issue, just like 2023, may be the midfield pressure, contested ball and supply to the forwards. Dangerfield is injury-prone, nearing the end of a stellar career and really shouldn’t be relied upon to win matches anymore.

Rhys Stanley is almost at the end and Mark Blicavs, whilst still so good, is 32. Cam Guthrie will be a valuable inclusion having missed all of 2023, however he will unfortunately miss a few months through a quad injury sustained during the practice match against Carlton.

To make their way back into the top eight, the young midfielders are going to have to take the next step. Tannr Bruhn showed signs in 2023 but did not get enough of the ball. Max Holmes was the same. Brandan Parfitt is on his last chance and will need to bring the pressure around the ball he was renowned for two years ago. Tom Atkins is a tackling machine but can only do so much. The likes of Mitch Knevitt, Toby Conway in the ruck and Jhye Clark will need to show significant improvement to give the Cats a chance.

Prediction – 8th

The Cats have the firepower and defence to win against the best, but will also likely be inconsistent as the youngsters further develop. Supporters will be hoping this happens quicker than expected. A finals spot is a possibility and should be considered a pass mark for the maturing midfield.

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