I’ll preface this review with the same statement I made with when I looked at the Carlton win over Essendon last night – I know this isn’t the real stuff.

You’ll have to excuse me, because watching these blokes running around and adapting to the new rules is still pretty exciting, and though there was plenty of rust, there was a good amount of polish on display as well. Of course, there was also a 40 second delay whilst players returned to their correct positions before a free kick could be taken in the centre. That was horribly clunky and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

It’s funny, there was a point in this game where the Cats were on top, and probably should’ve been further in front but for inaccuracy. However, I couldn’t help but feel, even as Geelong had the best of the third quarter, that West Coast were a far superior side, and that they’d make their run.

And they did.

Here’s a few of the things that stood out to me as the game unfolded.

People forget that Dom Sheed was dropped at a point last year, but if tonight was any indication, he will not be allowing that to happen again. He looks supremely fit, and continued to work right until the final siren. His ability to cover the ground, and run hard whilst others cruised along, saw him end up with a game-high 39 touches.

That’s six touches better than his career-high back in 2015, for the record. If you questioned whether he’d simply be pushed aside when Andrew Gaff returned to the fray, think again. Sheed looked a cut above in the midfield, and not only did he dominate possessions overall, he also led the Eagles in clearances, and got himself 11 contested touches.

Teams that get organic improvement are often the ones that make huge strides. What does it say about the Eagles, who won a flag and there is still significant improvement that can come from its stars? Sheed can get better, and if tonight is any indication, he should be in for a huge year.

I mentioned Gaff, and he looked to be running around at three quarter pace. He still ended up with 27 touches, but there was none of that signature Gaff gut running. He was also a little messy by foot, but he gets a pass, and truthfully, I was just happy to see him out there after the events of late last season.

Jack Darling looked like the player he was in the first ten weeks of 2018, and though he ended with ten marks for the game, he could’ve easily had 14. He got his hands to several very mark-able balls and simply dropped them. Put it down to rust if you like, but he has that concerning glitch as part of his game. That said, if you get what you did from him today, then you take those couple of errors per week. The upside is just so damn good.

What I really liked about Darling in this one was his tackling intensity. He laid a couple of tackles with feeling, and looked as though he wanted the Cats to know that when he was around, they needed to look over their shoulder. I loved seeing that it’s how you know a big bloke is invested.

Mark Blicavs lost touch with Darling several times, and when you do that against him, you’re in trouble. The West Coast big man looked to relish the extra space, and those quick centre breaks saw him competing one-out. He’s an absolute nightmare to play in isolation.

Four clearances for Tom Hickey – this is the benefit of having him in the Eagles side. He will take it out of the ruck and make use of it. From memory (I’m not looking this up for a JLT game, damn it) he was third amongst rucks in clearances per game last season. I know Grundy was first, and I think Stef Martin was second. That’s such a valuable asset to add, as he is giving the Eagles something they didn’t have in Lycett. If Hickey can grab that ball and go long to a forward line where there are no extras back, he will have the Saints rueing what could’ve been had they kept him.

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Interesting to see Joel Selwood in a different role. I wonder how long he’ll be content to cruise through the middle and not get involved in repeated stoppages? He had 15 touches in that first half before sitting the second, but only one clearance to his name – that’s not Joel Selwood-like. He reads the game so well that you could see him hurting teams if he gets one player to beat on the first disposal after a clearance, but I’m not sure we’ll see him stay in that role.

Selwood, though he is getting a little older, is still a contested ball beast. He belongs in the contest and under the feet of the rucks. I’ll give this role a couple of weeks before we start seeing the Geelong captain in the role we’;ve become more accustomed to seeing him in.

I felt last night that the Blues should’ve pulled Cripps from the game in the last quarter given the crash and bash nature of his game, yet I didn’t feel that way about Dangerfield tonight. I can’t quite work out why – Danger was throwing himself into contests with reckless abandon, particularly late in the game, but I just feel as though he is a safer bet to have out there for the whole time in a game that’s ostensibly meaningless.

It was the same with Elliot Yeo. I don’t doubt that he was having a red hot go, and there was a point in the last where the intensity lifted – I believe that was due to both Yeo and Dangerfield deciding they weren’t going to let the other have an enormous influence on the contest at that point, but I didn’t feel that Yeo was going to get hurt at any stage. I felt he was desperate, but not silly. With Cripps… I just think Carlton took an unnecessary risk. Somehow, I think both Yeo and Danger, their continued presence was justified. Weird, I know.

Dangerfield had what was a standard game for him, inasmuch as he was excellent at the contest, and his burst from stoppages looks to be right where it needs to be. 

26 touches for Charlie Constable is a nice return, as was the 14 touches and seven tackles from Tom Atkins, but Jordan Clark was the pick of the kids for Geelong. He looked at ease and showed plenty of poise off half back. He took the ball outside 50 on nine occasions to lead all players, and got some good contested ball along the way. The Cats have a couple to come back into that defence which was so good last year, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Clark forces his way in early in the season.

Chris Masten… well, if you’re gonna shake off the cobwebs, you do it in the JLT series. He made some glaring errors in the first quarter, and was involved in almost every play where the Cats looked dangerous. Seriously, if I was listing the best players after the first quarter, I would’ve been tempted to throw Masten in there… AS A GEELONG PLAYER!

If Masten’s first quarter contained any more fumbling, bumbling and going about things ass-backwards, it could be confused with my mate, Joe Ganino’s sex life. Actually, Masten’s game probably wasn’t that inept… 

Brandan Parfitt looks like he has dropped a few kilos, and it showed with his ability to run hard through the first couple of quarters. I actually think he fell away in the second half. I’m happy to be corrected, stats-wise, but in terms of impact, I reckon I’m on the money here. He was also a little sloppy with the ball at times, but I’m hoping that was just him working out the kinks. He could be a valuable addition to the Cats midfield this season, and if he sneaks forward here and there, he can and will finish.

I wrote a bit earlier about the organic improvement. You know what’s scary as a non-Eagles supporter? They have so many who can, and very well might improve this year. Willie Rioli looks like he could be anything. I would be completely unsurprised if he ended up with 40 goals to his name this season. He reads the play beautifully and just knows footy. Then there’s Liam Ryan, the return of Brad Sheppard, Gaff didn’t play in the finals, and Nic Nat on the horizon… damn you, Eagles – you look wonderful.

The kids… Oscar Allen showed a bit, and finished with three goals for the night. I liked his quick thinking to bring the ball to ground, recover and snap one in the last. A lot of Eagles fans on our facebook page mentioned him as one of the big improvers. I can see why.

Zach Guthrie had a couple of nice wins against Allen as well, but when a secondary forward finishes with three goals… you got beaten.

Petruccelle needs a bit more time to develop. He definitely has the ability, but looks a little lost at times, and takes that split second longer to make decisions than he should at this level. Ditto for Jarrod Brander, but I did like how well he handled the ball below his knees. Very clean.

Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola continue to be very workmanlike contributors for Geelong. I’m always impressed with how good Menegola is overhead, and I reckon people don’t acknowledge it often. Still, I am not sure that they’re in the top four of a midfield that can win a flag. They just don’t seem to have an “it” factor. That said, the Cats have those players in Danger and Selwood, but if Selwood is being phased out in the middle, are Duncan/Menegola the answer the Cats are looking for? I don’t think they are, but that’s probably why I get stuck here writing this for free, and Chris Scott gets to move magnets around a white board and make surprised faces on camera.

In the first draft of this review (yes, there was a worse version) I actually called Menegola “Todd”. I don’t know why and I apologise to Sam/Todd.

Anyway, as a result I’m thinking of starting a petition to change Menegola’s first name to Todd. I think it’d really work for him, and to me, he looks like a Todd more than a Sam. Todd Menegola… has a nice ring to it.  Mention it to him if you run into him. He could be a guy who appreciates something a little different.

The Cats’ recruits? Dahlhaus… is he not as quick as I remember him being? His game was average. Rohan… missed goals, flashed in and out, and didn’t do enough.

And Tim Kelly did nowhere near enough tonight. He could do himself a favour watching the way Gaff and Sheed go about it. maybe he will… next year. Oh Mongrel, not very cryptic. Try harder…

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Look! Mongrel Punt Stubby Holders. Buy one and be cooler than all your friends! It also helps the site out.

I left this bit til now, as it’s a little speculative and I didn’t want to grandstand early, but I think Tom Barrass will establish himself as one of the premier defenders in the league this season. His efforts were somewhat lost on non-Eagles fans last season, inasmuch as he played alongside two All-Australians in McGovern and Hurn. Barrass is an interceptor by nature, but can knuckle down and play a pure defensive role as well as anyone. He has beautiful hands, and when McGovern isn’t clunking marks, look no further than Barrass to pick up the slack.

That back six for the Eagles look watertight except when Chris Masten gets back there and cocks things up.

They have the pillars in Hurn and McGovern. They have the unsung brilliance of both Barrass and Sheppard, and they have players like Lewis Jetta, Tom Cole and Liam Duggan sharing the fifth and sixth spots, able to peel off and do damage. It’s basically the perfect mix.

Then you have a bloke like Francis Watson trying to break into that defensive unit. And how does he do it? He does it by tackling, and tackling, and tackling. He had ten for the game (seven in the first half) but I reckon a few of his disposals by foot let him down. If he can polish that up, maybe he starts making inroads.

So much I haven’t got to, but it’s late and I’m tired. Mark Hutchings was excellent, Daniel Venables started to show creativity for others inside 50, and Quinton Narkle looked like the most dangerous medium forward on the park for the Cats. I liked Nathan Vardy crashing packs, I liked Gryan Miers’ ability to think on his feet, I liked Cam Guthrie’s bursts from packs, and I liked Jack Redden once again doing what’s required by his team without trying to do too much.

The Cats were very competitive, but there’s so much to like about the Eagles…

… except Chris Masten. There’ll come a time this season where he’s not in their best 22. There’s a take to finish on.

Nice win, West Coast. How did you guys see the game. Jump on our Facebook page, or Twitter below and give us your opinion. I’d legitimately love to hear it. I can’t get enough footy talk at this time of year.


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