AFL Mid-Season Review: Geelong Cats – Premiership Contender or Finals Filler?

Geelong forward Jeremy Cameron has been lighting up the forward line so far in 2022. (Graphic: Will Cuckson; Photo: Geelong Cats)

As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.

Up next, Geelong.

Snapshot:

Questions marks about Geelong’s ageing list and ability to blood youth made it an unknown quantity heading into the season. However, the team continues to defy critics and is again thereabouts for a high-placed finish on the ladder come season’s end.

What’s Worked:

The addition of Tyson Stengle to the Cats’ forward line has added a new dynamic. The former Crow and Tiger has kicked 23 goals in 12 games. Combined with a fit Jeremy Cameron (38 goals) and the ever-young Tom Hawkins (33 goals), Geelong now has three legitimate threats up forward.

The forward line, when given space and supply, has worked well to hit the scoreboard quickly and heavily, and with Brad Close, Gary Rohan and others providing pressure when the ball hits the ground, the Cats have the potential of few other sides.

The Cats’ backline has continued to work well, despite the added pressure on them with the new game style. Tom Stewart is in the best handful of defenders in the game, Sam De Koning is taking and beating the opposition’s best defender each week, and Zach Guthrie has gone from whipping boy to one of the game’s most improved players.

With Jack Henry to come back post-bye, the Cats will be in good shape, should they be able to break even in the middle of the ground.

What Hasn’t:

Geelong brought in former Hawthorn ruckman Jonathon Ceglar to boost its ruck stocks, however, the big man has yet to get on the park, with injury marring his season to date. Esava Ratugolea has not come on as hoped and is now injured, and Rhys Stanley has battled form and injuries.

This has meant Mark Blicavs has gone from pinch-hit ruckman to often full-time in the role, and while he has dominated around the ground due to his athleticism, centre bounce clearances and hit-outs to advantage have been an issue. To be a serious threat come September, an in-form ruckman will be crucial.

Biggest Improver:

Tom Atkins goes largely unnoticed by outsiders, but to Geelong fans, his improvement again this year has been a significant contribution to the side’s success. Originally a midfielder in the VFL, Atkins was trialled with some success across half-back over the previous two seasons.

An excess of defenders in 2022, combined with a lack of tackling pressure in the midfield has allowed Atkins to move into the middle, and he has grasped the opportunity with both hands. His recent effort against the Crows (17 tackles) highlights his importance inside the contest.

Tom Stewart despite earning All-Australian selection three times already, the 29-year-old has taken his game to another level in 2022. His ability to read the play, intercept mark, break the lines and absorb the pressure of opposition forwards has often single-handedly kept Geelong in games.

His career-high 40 disposals in Round 11 showcased all his talents.

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Who Needs to Lift?

Jake Kolodjashnij continues to perform admirably as a lock-down defender, but with the emergence of Sam De Koning, the continued improvement of Zach Guthrie, and the impending return of Jack Henry, more is needed from the key defender to hold his position. His lack of pace and ability to take the game on go against Geelong’s new game plan and are areas he needs to work on to ensure his spot is secure.

Rhys Stanley played a great game against the Western Bulldogs in Round 12. This effort around the ground is needed consistently if the Cats are going to go deep into September.

Best and Fairest Contenders:

It’s a three-horse race at this point, with Tom Stewart out in front, closely followed by Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins.

As mentioned, Stewart is dominating at a level few defenders in the league are. Cameron sits fifth in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award (as of the end of Round 12) – his good games have been very, very good, but he has had his quiet games.

Hawkins, who is in most expert’s All-Australian teams at the halfway point, has the ability to bring others into the game (second in the league for score involvements) which would please his coaches.

Expectations for the second half of 2022:

Currently, at 8-4, the Cats have a fair back-half of the year. Two games against the Eagles and another against the Roos should be three straight-forward wins, and a number of difficult matchups are at GMHBA Stadium (Saints, Demons and Bulldogs), a venue they rarely lose at.

Barring significant injuries to key players, the Cats are a chance in every game they play and should win seven to eight of their last 10 to find themselves somewhere in the hunt for a top-four spot.

Prediction:

4th, a Preliminary Final – toss of a coin after that

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