30/05/2024

Joel Selwood leads his side out in round 10, 2021. Photo: Geelong Cats

Geelong started the season off on the wrong foot, but at 8-3 heading into the bye things are trending upwards at the Cattery.

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:

A very shaky start to the season saw Geelong drop games to Adelaide and Melbourne, and claim unconvincing victories over Brisbane and Hawthorn in the first month of the season.

Since then, Chris Scott’s men have found their groove and sit in fourth-place on the ladder at 8-3 coming into their bye. There are still issues with their ball movement, and there are ugly patches of play, but it’s a great sign that they sit in the top four without consistently showcasing their best football.

With Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Cam Guthrie set to be welcomed back into the fold on the other side of their break, things are trending upwards at the Cattery.

What’s worked:

The three big off-season recruits have fitted seamlessly into a supremely talented Cats side.

Former Hawk Isaac Smith has slotted onto a wing, and retains his powerful running capacity and ball use that has made him one of the great wingmen of the last decade.

Shaun Higgins has assumed the Gary Ablett Jr role, providing class and poise in the front half and moving into the middle to dictate momentum when required.

After a hamstring strain delayed the party, Jeremy Cameron quickly got to business in his club debut in round six. Since his return, the Cats have gone 5-1 and he’s kicked 18 goals.

Throw in the inspired move of Tom Atkins to half-back, and the changes Geelong has made in the off-season has it poised to go one better in 2021.

Geelong in Sir Doug Nicholls Round. Photo: Geelong Cats Twitter

What hasn’t

It has been an area of the ground that has plagued Geelong ever since the days of Brad Ottens. Rhys Stanley began as the Cats’ first choice ruckman, but soon after was omitted from the team. He was then back in the side as a late-in (as is Chris Scott’s way), but then fell out of the side altogether. In his place was the hulking Fijian, Esava Ratugolea.

‘Sav’ isn’t a ruckman by nature; his leap and follow-up work is spectacular, but he doesn’t offer much ruck craft and his engine isn’t good enough to run out the whole game. Mark Blicavs is someone who can run out a game with the best of them but when he goes into the ruck to back-up Ratugolea, Geelong is left wanting in defence.

When Blicavs was a late omission in round 11, Stanley came in and he took most ruck contests with Ratugolea playing forward. A forward 50 of Ratugolea, Cameron, Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan looked uncomfortably big against Collingwood, and wasn’t truly effective against a bottom four side.

With Darcy Fort and Tom De Koning the only other options, Chris Scott has a headache as he tries to work out the best combination for his side in the ruck department.

The Geelong ruck stocks are not of premiership quality. Fortunately, they may not need to be given their brilliance on every other line of the ground.

Best and Fairest contenders

It’s hard to go past 2020 Carji Greeves medallist Cam Guthrie. The All-Australian is everything you want in a modern day midfielder – hard at the footy and the man, composed with ball in hand and a selfless two-way runner.

For a club that has historically acknowledged the work of their star defenders (for example Corey Enright is a two-time medallist), Tom Stewart is due a Carji Greeves medal at some stage in his career. The two-time All-Australian is having another special season as the leader of Geelong’s backline, and will most likely be sizing up his third blazer come the end of the season.

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Who needs to lift?

With the influx of talented individuals that Geelong has brought in for a tilt at the flag, its youngsters have fell by the wayside.

The Cats have only debuted two players – Francis Evans and Tom De Koning – and they were both omitted after a single match in the side.

Jordan Clark was rumoured to be considering a return to WA in the 2020 off-season, but stuck with the Cats to fight for a place in the best 22. However, it’s a place in the best 23 he has found himself in time-and-time again. Clark has started six matches, been the medical sub for three, and been left out entirely for a further two. The uber-talented 20-year-old will surely be considering his options at years end.

Charlie Constable is another who has been left to bide his time. The inside bull has recorded three games (two as the medical sub) after a 2020 season of two games of senior football. Melbourne-based clubs came knocking in 2020, and will come once again in 2021.

This isn’t a selection panel issue – the youngsters just aren’t performing at AFL level.

Whilst Clark’s best position may be off a half-back or wing, he is thrust into a forward 50 role and needs to work on his pressure if he wants to stay in the side and be a contributing player for a successful team.

The same can be said for Charlie Constable; he isn’t going to uproot Dangerfield, Guthrie, Duncan or Joel Selwood in the middle, so needs to find a position in which he can be effective for the Cats.

Quinton Narkle is a case-in-point of how to take your opportunity. Injuries to Mitch Duncan and Cam Guthrie in recent rounds have led to Narkle sparkling in the midfield when he got his chance. The 23-year-old recorded a career-high 34 disposals against the Suns in round 10.

Geelong is not in the business of handing out AFL games in 2021. The stunted growth of its youngsters will all be worth it if Selwood and Scott hold the Cup aloft on the last Saturday of September.

Clark and Constable need to find some consistency in the VFL and maintain that form when they get their chance in the AFL. They are better players than what they have produced in the first half of 2021.

Expectations for second half of the season

Top four is a must for the Cats. They welcome back three stars after the bye, and will hit the ground running from round 13 onwards as they mount an assault on the top of the ladder. Scott will be keen to rest the older legs as they approach the end of the season, but he will only do that if a top four spot is secured.

Prediction

3rd

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