How a late Geelong lineup change became the undoing of GWS

Zach Guthrie made the most of his opportunity on Saturday evening (Image: Geelong Cats)

After dominating the Adelaide Crows in round 7, the Giants received a harsh reality check at the hands of Cats, with a late change to Geelong’s ruck situation becoming the undoing of Greater Western Sydney.

Geelong coach, Chris Scott, knew all week that there was every chance he’d end up being without ruckman, Rhys Stanley, due to an ankle issue, so the decision to replace him with Zach Guthrie was pre-planned.

Scott could’ve opted to use a more ‘like for like’ player from his emergency list in Esava Ratugolea, however, he decided against it, and moved Mark Blicavs from defence, to the middle.

The feeling before the game was that the Giants had an opportunity to dominate in the middle with two recognised ruckman, as opposed to the Cats’ one part-timer. As the game unfolded it became apparent that wouldn’t be the case.

The late change proved to be in favour of the Cats for a couple reasons, Mark Blicavs’ complete performance, and the influence of late inclusion, Zach Guthrie.

Blicavs, whilst not being a strong ‘tap’ ruckman, did win a fair share of ruck contests whilst also allowing the Cats to essentially play with an extra midfielder.

The stand-in ruckman finished with 21 hitouts, eight tackles and 26 disposals on the night, including 11 contested, eight clearances and six inside 50’s. The performance earned top praise from his coach.

“I just thought Blicavs’ follow up, we knew he wasn’t going to get his hands to it against Preuss, who’s a giant, I thought his follow up and ground level stuff, he was the best player on the ground for mine,” Scott said.

The influence Blicavs in the middle even forced opposing coach, Leon Cameron, to concede that despite having two specialist ruckman in contrast to Geelong’s fill-in, the Cats won the battle of the big men.

“I’d like to think not, but clearly the indicators are that they won that battle,” Cameron said.

“They won it at ground level and they won it around the ground, so that’s disappointing, but there’s probably seven or eight things that we just didn’t get right, that’s probably one of them,

“Credit to them, they got that right and we didn’t.”

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Zach Guthrie, the beneficiary of Stanley’s exclusion, continued his development to becoming a consistent, AFL level footballer.

Replacing Blicavs in defence, Guthrie was able to play on the GWS tall forwards, often matched up with Harry Himmelberg, but also pushed up the ground to support offensive play.

Guthrie collected his fair share of the Sherrin with 23 touches, 12 marks, with four being contested, and a goal for his efforts.

“It speaks to the system that the people at Geelong have built over a long period of time, that Zach Guthrie can come in and play the way he did, if you’re not being developed well, it’s hard to come in and play like that,” said Chris Scott in response to the praise of adaptability the Cats have.

Chris Scott’s praise for the developmental system built at the Cattery went even further when asked about the performances of debutants; Cooper Stephens and Mitch Knevitt.

“We loved how composed they were, again, it’s really difficult to come in and play against really high quality opposition, I’ll double down on that again, those guys, if you go through the (GWS) individuals, I could rate them much more highly,

“So to play, against those guys, and look so composed, it’s a real positive for them as individuals, Cooper and Mitch in particular, but even more so for the system.”

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