Geelong fans attended Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon hoping for an entertaining show. They were eager to catch a glimpse of The Hollywood Cats, the exciting outfit that dismantled Fremantle the week before with swagger and skill. With Todd Goldstein and Jarred Waite out injured, the pre-show aperitifs were quaffed down without a worry. It was a pleasant Sunday arvo down at the Docklands and Cats fans took their seats armed with beverages and great expectations.
Within the first fifty seconds, North Melbourne’s Ben Brown kicked his first of the day. It soon dawned on the Geelong faithful that The Hollywood Cats had been replaced by a troupe of understudies who had taken to the stage without direction, constantly fluffing their lines and making up the story as they went along. Twenty-three minutes into the first quarter, Geelong was down by 26 points. Stunned Cats fans realised their malt whiskies had been replaced with cola cordial while the Cuban cigars were blowing up in everyone’s faces.
The performance improved in the second quarter, Geelong clawing its way back to within a goal at half-time. But the plot got worse. The Cats fell 32 points behind in the third quarter and faced a 25 point deficit at the final change. To that point, the performance of The Hollywood Cats had been underwhelming, its faithful supporters enduring an arthouse flop for three quarters. In the end, as we all know, the Cats rallied and wore down their opponents. “We always win the tight ones,” came a voice in the stands with five minutes to go. He was right, but this was a straight-to-video performance if ever there was one.
Geelong’s defence were under siege all day. North Melbourne’s tactic of moving the ball quickly from clearances and driving it long into their forward 50m provided ample opportunities for their forwards and wrong-footed Geelong defenders. North’s forward line was ominous with Ben Brown introduced to three Geelong backmen in the first quarter, such was his dominance. Brown’s powerful leads and strong marking ability made him almost impossible for Geelong to match-up on. He managed two goals in the first quarter and three for the day, but if he had made the most of his opportunities, he would have won the game for the Kangas. Majak Daw provided another tall option, booting a goal thanks to a clumsy free-kick from Tom Lonergan. Memo to Lonergan: Let your opposition try to mark it in a fair contest – there’s always a chance they might drop it.
Tom Ruggles spent the day playing on the North centremen who were resting in the forward pocket. This included Andrew Swallow, Jack Ziebell and Shaun Higgins. He did an admirable job and will hold his place moving forward although his disposal efficiency (62%) needs work. Zach Tuohy tried hard to break lines and start run off half-back. In the second and final quarters, where Geelong outscored North, he was prolific, with 10 and 8 possessions respectively. Tom Stewart is a great find for Geelong and is clean with both hand and foot. He ran at 100% efficiency last week and 86% in this game. He is close to the best kick at Geelong. With seven contested possessions and twelve pressure acts, he is earning his place. Andrew Mackie is great when he is on his own and battled manfully across half-back on what was a difficult day for the Geelong backmen. Jackson Thurlow is also doing good things across half-back, easing into the season after 2016’s knee reconstruction. He almost required a spinal reconstruction after Braydon Preuss drove his knee into his back in a clumsy marking attempt. Preuss was only fined for this offence, however a week on the sidelines should have been the outcome for this dangerous action. Preuss is a professional footballer and knew what he was doing. Lachie Henderson keeps impressing. He’s a natural footballer who reads the play as well as any other. His intercept marking is essential to the stability of Geelong’s backline, once a forte of Harry Taylor, who is now a star forward. (See FORWARDS)
Horrid. Geelong went into the game without a bona fide ruckman. Rhys Stanley is a capable pinch-hitter, but if Zac Smith is not playing seniors next week when Geelong face Melbourne, (and ‘Big’ Maxie Gawn), then I’ll invite Gary Ayres over for dinner to talk about the good ol’ days. Geelong lost the hit-outs 21-54 this week. Last week they lost 18-63. That’s 39 – 117 in two weeks. In the past two weeks, clearances are Geelong 71 – opposition 84. The point should not be, ‘Geelong is doing okay in clearances without a ruckman.’ The question should be how much better would Geelong be with a ruckman (their ruckman) hitting the ball to advantage? The competition average for hit-outs is 38 per game. Geelong sits at 19.5, the worst in the competition. The competition average for clearances is 37. Geelong’s average is 35.5, 15th in the competition. Geelong may have DangerWood roving, but they have deadwood in the ruck. So much so Geelong abandoned competing in the ruck altogether in the final quarter, allowing Braydon Preuss – in his second game - to go it alone.
Without Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield, Geelong loses this game. Both had 11 possessions in the last quarter. But what of the other midfielders? Steven Motlop put in a shocker. A two possession first quarter set a trend, finishing with 16 possessions and zero points scored. This is not enough and neither are his undisciplined acts that result in free kicks – particularly when his team is trying to get back in the game. Mitch Duncan battled hard but is destined to remain a B-grade midfielder. George Horlin-Smith (The Hyphen) had one of his best games in the hoops, kicking two important goals, one the match winner. He deserves his opportunity and won’t be losing his place anytime soon.
Darcy Lang and Josh Cowan, however, will be. One should make way for Sam Menegola, (35 touches and a goal in VFL practise match), and the other will be pushed aside for the return of Cam Guthrie or Nakia Cockatoo when they overcome injury. Both Lang and Cowan were caught numerous times with the ball and when the pressure rose, their errors came. It seems the instruction to Geelong midfielders is, ‘when you take possession of the ball, get around an opponent and then dispose of it.’ That’s okay for a select few, but others need to know their limitations. Mark Blicavs helped out Stanley in the ruck and did some good things around the ground at times. He still looks like a man without a plan at times. Jordan Murdoch had an ordinary day with only 13 possessions, three of those turnovers. Crucially, he failed to hit the scoreboard which he must do on a weekly basis.
Tom Hawkins kicked four goals (three in the third) but soured his performance by giving away ridiculous free-kicks (five in total). He, like some of his other team-mates, should realise that being out-marked is not the worst thing that can happen. Provide a fair contest and your opponent may make a mistake. Don’t give the ball away. Daniel Menzel kept Geelong in the match early with brilliant goals and efforts around the ground. He is a star (like Hawkins), but a disciplined one. Lincoln McCarthy has the flair of Menzel and uses the ball beautifully around the ground. Although quiet (not hitting the scoreboard) he did some useful things and wasn’t Geelong’s worst. Brandan Parfitt kicked a goal early, (his first in his career), and is learning the trade. He will continue to be played until he needs a rest.
Harry "Coleman" Taylor
Harry Taylor is more Gary Coleman that John Coleman when it comes to being a star forward. North Melbourne’s Lachlan Hansen must have slept well on Friday night, knowing his only job would be to keep Taylor quiet on the Geelong forward line. As Harpo amassed his fourth possession of the game just before the half-time siren, Chris Scott must have been trying to swallow his pride. In the third quarter, Scott finally got it down, moving Taylor back where he belongs, reading the play from half-back. Let’s hope we’ve all seen the last of this experiment.
To say Geelong was ordinary would be to dismiss the pressure North Melbourne brought to the game. The upside for the Kangaroos is huge. They now have a young team with many new players getting the opportunities they deserve. If Todd Goldstein and Jarrod Waite had taken the field, this would have been a different result. Geelong has problems with its game-plan. It has no ruckman, leaving its centremen to shark taps from the opposition. Players seem to be instructed to take possession in traffic, get around one opponent and then dispose by hand or foot. But, if the ball is knocked loose in that attempt, or the tackle sticks, a turnover ensues. Geelong players are also hopeless at minding space. North chipped the ball between the 50m arcs from player to player, then bombed it from 70m into their tall forwards leaving the Geelong defenders in a one-on-one. The Geelong coaching staff need to look at this issue. It seems the players are minding too much space and are unable to cover their opponents.
In last week’s review, I pondered whether Geelong’s win over Fremantle said more about one than the other. This Geelong performance, and Port Adelaide’s drubbing of the Dockers, suggests The Hollywood Cats are not as slick as first thought.