For the past three weeks, the Geelong Cats’ forward line has looked completely different to the group that averaged 17 points a game in the rounds prior.
Just like last season, the Cats prioritised defence and contested ball, grinding out two wins in low-scoring affairs against Richmond and Fremantle.
But since Round 5, Dan Lowther’s side has been entirely rejuvenated inside 50. They have averaged 50.3 points and 25 inside 50s in that period.
That clinical delivery to the forwards was once again on show in Sunday’s game against Essendon. Geelong generated 22 inside 50s, but crucially, turned 13 of those into scoring shots.
This was in comparison to Essendon’s 29 inside 50s, which it created just 10 scoring shots from. It was the final piece of the Cats’ game plan they needed to shore up to go to the next level.
And after three weeks of perfecting it, they’re knocking on the top four as a result.
While Geelong didn’t finish the weekend amongst the competition’s very best, with Collingwood also winning, it is just one game out of a double chance.
Breaking away in the last term, it was convincing a performance as the forward group has shown in the club’s AFLW history.
“Our inside 50s late in the game proved to be the difference,” coach Dan Lowther said post-game.
“We’ve come a long way clearly. We feel like we’ve got a bit of a through-line now between our defence, our midfield and our forwards.”
Key to that efficiency this week was 23-year-old forward Chloe Scheer.
She kicked an equal career-best three goals against the Bombers, but more than that, she was constantly offering a forward presence and a marking target.Embed from Getty Images
Scheer isn’t the tallest player, standing at just 165cm – she’s closer to a small than a tall in AFLW proporitions.
But her natural game has always been as a marking forward, a role she also played at former club Adelaide. She’d been utilised as a midfielder as well throughout season seven, but her impact is clearly highest forward.
Melbourne recruit Shelley Scott joined Geelong this season, and spent the first four weeks as a defender.
Her move back into the forward line, where she kicked five goals across the past two rounds, coincided with the rise of the group as a whole.
Scheer has also clearly benefitted, having now kicked seven goals in the past three weeks. While Scott didn’t feature on the scoreboard on Sunday, her presence has changed everything.
“[Scheer] is one of our genuine forwards; strong overheard, really nice kick of the footy,” Lowther said.
“We’ve got Jackie Parry and other forwards in our space. Kate Darby did a couple of things early to set the tone for us… Chloe had an outstanding game.
“She had seven shots on goal today, which is a great game. Kick two or three of those a bit straighter and it’s a better game on the scoreboard.
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One area that the Cats were uncharacteristically poor in this week was their clearance game.
Boasting two of the league’s top ball-winning players in Amy McDonald and Georgie Prespakis, the midfield normally runs like a well-oiled machine.
But without Prespakis again this week due to suspension, Lowther had to adapt to what was a hard-pushing Bombers group in the middle.
Maddy Prespakis was one of the big issues, as she collected a career-best 37 disposals (the second most ever in AFLW history) and 10 clearances.
McDonald was intent on matching her ferocity at the ball, collecting 26 disposals, 12 tackles and seven clearances of her own.
The Cats entered the do-or-die final term with scores tied, losing clearances by 12 and contested possessions by seven. They would ultimately finish minus 14 and five in the two statistics respectively.
But that efficiency inside 50 defied the odds. The Bombers couldn’t convert when it mattered, while the Cats did nearly every time.
“Particularly the last quarter when we got on top I thought our clearance rate improved,” Lowther said.
“Essendon had gotten on top of us with their clearances and their stoppage work… it was an arm wrestle in that space.
“Looking at the stats, our metres gained from clearances was quite positive.”
Playing their best footy at the right time of the season, the Cats are primed for a strong charge into finals football for just the second time in their life in the AFLW.
The club qualified for finals in its inaugural campaign, but went down comprehensively to Adelaide.
Geelong will finish its season with games against West Coast at Ikon Park, Adelaide at Norwood Oval, and Sydney at GMHBA Stadium.
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