16/04/2024

Isaac Smith (left) celebrates with Jeremy Cameron. (Image: @GeelongCats -Twitter)

Geelong can go to the top of the AFL ladder if it beats Melbourne in Isaac Smith's 250th game.

Geelong will have the chance to go to the top of the AFL ladder when it hosts Melbourne on Thursday night at GMHBA Stadium.

The highly-anticipated clash is the first meeting between the two sides since the Demons 83 point win in the 2021 Preliminary Final.

The last time that these sides met at GMHBA Stadium was last season in Round 23. Geelong surrendered a five-goal lead at three-quarter time and Melbourne ended up winning by four points in a thrilling finish.

The Cats are in strong form as they prepare to face the reigning premiers. Chris Scott’s team defeated North Melbourne by 112 points.

While the coach acknowledges that this week is a more difficult proposition, it is a challenge they are eager for.

“Your game gets tested more by the best teams,” Scott told the media.

“I don’t think anybody sits down in October and works through how they want to play without a bit of thought to ‘will this stand up to the best teams in the biggest moments?’

“It’s the first time we’ve played them for the year, we’re looking forward to the opportunity. There aren’t too many secrets about how they go about it but that’s a reflection of how solid their game style is.

“Everyone knows (how they play), they just can’t stop it.”

For Geelong winger Isaac Smith, there are no thoughts of revenge. Only the immediate task ahead.

“It would be a hard life if you were angry for a long time about that,” Smith said of the preliminary final rematch.

“But to have a top of the table clash against them, obviously there’d be a bit of feeling about it.”

‘I always thought I’d be a one-club player’

Thursday night’s match will be Isaac Smith’s 250th AFL game. After 210 appearances and three flags for Hawthorn, the wingman may not have expected to continue his career at Geelong. However, he has been integral for the past two seasons.

“I always thought I’d be a one-club player and that’d be it, but you’d be naive to think the landscape in footy hasn’t changed in the last 20-30 years,” Smith said.

“It sounds silly but a lot of it is business transactions now. I think what I’ve learned over my career as a player is that your time in the game is very short and clubs will probably get rid of you quicker than what the player would probably prefer.

“To get the opportunity to come to a really strong club was something that interested me and my family.

“Life changes and opportunities arise. You’d be silly not to take them.”

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Smith has added experience and class on the field. Chris Scott has also appreciated the off-field impact of the popular recruit.

Scott tried to recruit the Ballarat product when he first took over as Geelong coach at the end of 2010. Although it took longer than he hoped, he is happy to finally have Smith as a Cat.

“I don’t think that either of us thought at any stage throughout his career at Hawthorn, that he’d end up playing for Geelong. That would have seemed so far away from a possibility,” Scott reflected.

“He trusted us to come in and have us look after him and help him prosper towards the latter part of his career.

“He’s just put as smile on everyone’s face. He makes me laugh, he makes us all laugh. Most of the time it’s at my expense, but that’s ok.

“I had a bit of an idea of the person we were getting. We were both rookies when I went to his house in Ballarat.

“He knew that the Geelong people were coming to his house. I don’t think that he expected me to be there, but still, he answered the door in short and no shoes, so he was a pretty casual character.

“From that conversation, I remember thinking he’d be fantastic for the environment that I envisage trying to help create at Geelong.”

For Smith, joining Geelong meant a chance at another Grand Final. His influence runs deeper than that. During play, he is often seen guiding or instructing Geelong’s younger players.

It is something that comes naturally to him as a champion of the game, but a workload he shares with the other Geelong veterans.

“I think as a senior player, we’re lucky to have so many of us on the ground,” Smith said.

“Some consider us as retirement village others consider us experienced.

“I think that’s certainly a strength of ours and one where I think these young guys that are coming through, blokes like [Sam] De Koenig, [Tom] Atkins, [Jack] Henry and [Brad] Close they get the beauty of playing with players that have played for 200 to 300 games.

“One’s about to play 350, so it’s certainly something that we all add to In the group.”

‘It’s a privilege to play in these big games’

Joel Selwood and Sam De Koenig will return to play Melbourne. However, Geelong will be without defender Jake Kolodjashnij who will not play after sustaining a concussion last week against North Melbourne.

Isaac Smith expects that Geelong will have to contend with Luke Jackson and Max Gawn in the ruck for the visitors.

“They’re probably the best one-two punch in the competition. I think it’s exciting, the challenge is exciting,” he said.

Sentiments echoed by the coach.

“We’re embracing it. It’s a big game, we’ve got no intention of running away from the fact that it’s a big occasion,” Scott said.

“We’ve got high expectations. We acknowledge that we’re playing the best team in the comp for a period of time…. They’re top spot for a reason.

“We’re really excited about what we can bring.

“It’s not as if the side that loses won’t be able to dust themselves off but we constantly talk about the fact that it’s a privilege to play in these big games.

“You need to do a lot of work and get a lot of things right to earn the right. That’s sort of where we are at this point in the season.

“We feel privileged to be there, really keen to embrace expectation and go after it.”

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