Is Geelong Finally Ready To Topple The Tigers?
After a busy, soul-searching off-season, Geelong is ready to confront their demons and launch yet another premiership assault.
While farewelling club greats Gary Ablett and Harry Taylor comes with a tinge of sadness, welcoming in star recruits Jeremy Cameron, Shaun Higgins and Isaac Smith has the AFL buzzing, so much so they’re considered premiership favourites according to the Stats Insider Futures model.
However to take that next step the Cats will have to confront their well-pronounced Tiger turmoils, with Richmond getting the better of them in six of their last seven meetings, including running all over them in last year’s Grand Final.
Under Chris Scott, Geelong has continued to evolve and has remained premiership relevant for almost his entire tenure, yet his sides have continually come unstuck against the competition benchmark.
While the Cats were good enough to take a 15-point lead into half-time of last year’s Grand Final, they were ultimately overwhelmed by Richmond’s kamikaze, fast-paced game, with the Tigers kicking nine goals to two in the second half, and plunging Geelong into yet another off-season depression.
While Scott’s 'death by a thousand cuts', possession orientated mantra was enough to secure the club its sixth top-4 finish in eight seasons, the Tigers were easily able to curtail their best intentions when it mattered, applying immense pressure in the back half, repeatedly forcing Geelong into two-minds (and turnovers), while effectively neutralising their attack in the process.
In last year’s Grand Final, the Tigers won the tackle count by +22, and kept Geelong’s disposal efficiency to a season-low 61.7%, with the Cats running out of ideas, and hope, as the game wore on.
So has Geelong done enough over the off-season to cut into Richmond’s pronounced supremacy over them?
Well the inclusion of three-time premiership speedster Isaac Smith is a great start. At he’s best, Smith’s speed and penetration will be able to help the Cats out of tight spots in defence while also contributing positively on the attacking front. For the last six seasons Smith's been ranked in the top-3 at Hawthorn for metres gained, while last year he was the only Hawk, along with 2019 Brownlow Medalist Tom Mitchell, to rank in both the top-ten for inside-50s and rebound 50s.
Like Smith, Shaun Higgins might be in the twilight of his career, yet still has plenty to offer the premiership fancies.
While he was North’s most prolific ball-winner for a third straight season in 2020, his 75.5% disposal efficiency in 2020 was actually the competition’s best number for any midfielder, while his 96 goals in six seasons for the Roos will be sure to rattle all manner of buttons inside Scott's head.
And while Smith and Higgins are multi-dimensional weapons that can be slotted in to an already exceptionally dangerous team, it’s Jeremy Cameron who may well prove the final piece in Geelong’s premiership puzzle.
While Cameron’s goal-scoring prowess is obvious, booting 427 majors for the Giants and winning the club’s goal kicking in each of his nine seasons, it’s his increasingly expansive game, and potential compatibility with Tom Hawkins, which has the rest of the league shaking in its boots.
Coming off a career-best, Coleman Medal season, Hawkins dwarfed the league where marks inside-50 were concerned, while according to Stats Insider's shot charting tool, he accounted for 24% of Geelong's shots inside 25-metres, demonstrating just how much of a force he is close to goal.
Geelong will be hoping that Hawkins' brute force, coupled with Cameron's engine and ability to take opponents out of their comfort zone can immediately gel.
In fact, the Cats will look to Richmond's Tom Lynch-Jack Riewoldt tandem who's respective games instantly meshed at Punt Road, while welcoming in even more layers to their own games.
Indeed, if Cameron and Hawkins are immediately able to make sweet music together, and if the likes of Smith and Higgins can find a niche within this team, then the Cats might finally have the formula to first knock off the Tigers and perhaps win its first flag in ten years.
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