The Geelong machine rolled on, powered by the big names, and some of the unsung heroes, as they laid waste to the reigning premiers at Kardinia Park.
I’m sure that this day was circled on many calendars as the true test of the Cats. They were sitting pretty at 4-1 after last round, and with the Eagles still the competition’s measuring stick, and with quality players littering their line-up, this was to be no walk in the park.
Yet it was.
Geelong were a cut above a struggling West Coast team, and by half time the game was ostensibly over.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
What a privilege this was. I hate the term “masterclass”. It was played out about two years ago, and every crappy TV show was using it as a tagline for their upcoming crapfest shows. “It’s a masterclass in this… it’s a masterclass in that” when really, it was just some Bozo telling a group of nobodies what they should be doing in a half hour slot that’d be forgotten within a day or two.
But what we saw in the first quarter at Kardinia Park this afternoon was a genuine masterclass in how to deliver the ball to teammates in attacking positions, and it was delivered by Gary Ablett. A masterclass from the Little Master himself.
Ablett had four direct goal assists in the first quarter, as he spoon-fed Gary Rohan for three goals, and gave one off to Esava Ratugolea for good measure. Four goals in the first quarter, all set up by Ablett’s ability to hit targets so effortlessly inside 50. It was an absolute joy to watch.
I don’t want to enter into hyperbolic realms here, but as of right now, Gary Ablett is looking like the All-Australian forward pocket. Tell me – who challenges him in that role right now?
Alex Sexton with 15 goals? Yeah, he’s been good, but he is nowhere near the level of Ablett in general play. Plus, Ablett looks for teammates – Sexton has eyes only for the goals.
Eddie Betts? Was virtually unsighted for the first couple of weeks.
Michael Walters? Might be in contention, but is splitting time between forward and midfield, and will either have that work for him, or against him.
Robbie Gray? Nup, out for weeks now and has been nowhere near it thus far.
Luke Breust? Not on his first six weeks, but he has the potential to pinch it.
Ablett’s embracing of the small forward role, and adding his own unbelievably good spin on it has been largely responsible for the early season dominance of the Cats. For mine, he was best on ground today, and not by a small margin, either.
THE WATERTIGHT BACK SIX
The Cats defence welcomed Zach Tuohy back, and he slotted into that machine like he’d never been gone.
There is an amazing symmetry in the Geelong back six that sees every player know his role, and every player accept their place in the structure. Tom Stewart is the rebounder. Harry Taylor zones off. Mark Blicavs is the contest killer, and Zach Tuohy has the licence to run forward and get involved up the ground.
As it stands, this is the best defensive unit in the game, even if the stats day otherwise (do they say otherwise? I actually don’t know). To see them gel so well, so perfectly, use the ball so well, and work hard to make sure they cover for each other demonstrates that a back six is only as good as their communication.
You didn’t notice any game-breaking, streaking runs from Jack Petruccelle in this game, did you? Nope, because the Cats simply wouldn’t allow him to get goal-side. That is the mark of a great team defence. They’ve studied the tapes. They’ve made the necessary preparation, and they’ve worked hard to ensure that things have gone their way.
It was as close to a perfect defensive game as you’ll see as a unit.
I’ve written a lot this season about Luke Dahlhaus and what he has added to the Geelong forward 50, but with his aerial ability, and accurate kicking for goal, Rohan is providing a perfect foil for Tom Hawkins deep in attack.
For the second consecutive week, Rohan snagged four goals, with three coming early in the piece to help the Cats establish a handy lead. He took the ball at its highest point on a couple of occasions, and though he does not get a heap of the pill, he uses it well and makes teams pay when he does get a touch.
And he certainly made West Coast pay in this game. Matched up at different points on Jeremy McGovern, Shannon Hurn and Tom Cole, Rohan was a consistent danger up forward and commanded the attention of any and all defenders in the vicinity.
Rohan finished with 14 touches, ten marks and had only one disposal that was ineffective. There was one other aspect of the game from Rohan I’d like to point out – his ferocity at the contest. On the wing early in the second quarter, a short pass to Jamie Cripps was slightly off-line. Rohan put his head down, charged the contest and made heavy contact with his opponent, and in doing so his fist made heavy contact with the ball. It was indicative of the way Geelong went about it in this game, and indicative of how Rohan is grabbing this second chance on an AFL list with both hands… or at least getting a solid fist on it.
STANLEY V HICKEY
This was quite enthralling.
How about if I told you the two ruckmen led their respective teams in clearances? Would you buy me a rose and tell me you love me? Come on… someone has to, and my missus is busy playing Zeus and Poseidon on her computer. Well… I’ll tell you anyway.
Hickey, in particular, dominated the ruck contests and moved whoever was unfortunate enough to compete against him out of the way with ease, to collect 12 individual clearances for the game. He was the Eagles’ best player for the entire game, racking up 25 disposals, seven marks and laying five tackles.
Hickey’s clearance work was elite last year, sitting comfortably in the top few rucks in the competition for clearances per game, yet that aspect of his game was underrated.
But that is not to say Hickey was head and shoulders above Rhys Stanley in this game. Not at all.
Stanley had five clearances of his own and notched 21 disposals for the afternoon, with 14 of them coming in contests. He snuck forward for a goal, notched 30 hit outs and provided a consistent outlet option for the half b
Coming into 2019 I was under the idiotic impression that Stanley was a bit of a battler in the ruck. Far out he has proved me wrong. Right now, I am guessing (and it’s an educated guess) that when I compile the Player Power Rankings for Round Six (see the previous, and inaugural rankings after Round Four here), that Rhys Stanley will be near the top of the ruck division.
If I am forced to pick, I give this matchup to Hickey based on the number of times he was able to send the Eagles forward, but I am also acutely aware that several of the six turnovers from Hickey came as a result of those clearances.
Now I look at Duncan’s game and his numbers are solid – 28 possessions through the middle is the kind of game Cats fans expect from him when the team is up and running, but there is more to his game than offensive numbers.
At many stoppages, Duncan was responsible for Dom Sheed, who has made life miserable for a couple of teams in the last half of 2018, and looked to have made a significant leap coming into 2019. But he didn’t have someone paying him a lot of attention in 2018, and he does this year.
Today he got some attention from Mitch Duncan at stoppages, and the result was another less-than-stellar outing for Sheed. While Duncan got his 29, Sheed was limited to 20, and when Duncan got the ball and took off, I noticed that the Eagle wasn’t too keen on chasing him.
I’ve read a couple of stories about Sheed being up for the fight to keep his spot in the team with the return of Andrew Gaff, but based on his defensive running, he didn’t look like that today. In contrast, Duncan worked up and back constantly, picking up disposals in defence and offering a marking option through the middle of the ground.
Whilst the plaudits will always fall to Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood, Duncan deserves a few as well today – as good a defensive mid as he was an attacking one.
THE BOTTOM TEN
So, for fun I like to peruse the stats and see who did what and how they did it. As I made my way down the list of players, there was a distinct lack of blue and white as I neared the bottom.
As a matter of fact, there was no Geelong player in the bottom ten disposal-winners in the game. That dubious distinction belongs to the premiers.
Shall I name them? Yes… good idea.
Jack Darling, Jarrod Brander, Mark Hutchings, Daniel Venables, Josh Kennedy, Jamie Cripps, Liam Ryan, Jack Petruccelle, Oscar Allen, Tom Cole and Will Schofield. They were the bottom ten on the park.
If you’re an Eagles fan, looking at that list, it is pretty clear that you have significantly underperformed as a team if these guys cannot have more touches that Geelong’s Tom Atkins, who is in the side for his pressure on the man, and not to win a heap of the footy.
The only player I would give a pass to out of the whole lot would be Hutchings, as his designated role was to limit the influence of Tim Kelly, and he was able to do that, with Kelly notching just 18 disposals at 61%.
The rest… the video review of their highlights will be quick. The video review of what they could’ve done better… they might wanna bring some popcorn.
THE INEPT EAGLES FORWARD LINE
I’ll get to Darling in a little bit, but there are other holes in the West Coast forward set up that need addressing.
Josh Kennedy – is he right? He seems to be attacking the ball okay, but in terms of being a scoring threat, the alerts for the Cats went from red to amber when JK was near it today. I know he had an interrupted preseason, which may be impacting his ability to get up the field, and double back toward goal, but seven touches from a player of his calibre is far below a pass mark.
Jack Petruccelle – The toast of the town after his five goals against Port. He was brought back to Earth with shattering force this week. He was forced to earn touches going at the ball as opposed to running toward goal, and ended up with just six disposals as a result.
Jamie Cripps – Has someone replaced this bloke with an indecisive statue? Hasn’t looked like being involved in the last two weeks, and seems to be in a state of perpetual confusion. I’d ask him if he was feeling confused, but I am afraid the answer coming back at me would be “I’m not too sure.”
Liam Ryan – Took that nasty head knock, and bled like a stuck pig (which I’ve never actually seen happen, but apparently they bleed a fair bit), but is not doing the things that a small forward needs to do. We need to see him hit packs hard and have clean hands. We’re not seeing that at the moment. Dropping uncontested chest marks doesn’t help matters.
Jarrod Brander – 10 touches, one mark. A kid, so he gets a pass, but ineffective.
Oscar Allen – Another kid, but has a few games under his belt now. Five touches for the game. My mate Joe Ganino gets more touches at an over 38s night than that – that’s how bad Allen was going today!
Daniel Venables – Trying desperately to secure a spot in this team, but eight disposals and three tackles ain’t gonna get it done.
The Eagles are crying out for an injection of something, and that something would be in the form of Willie Rioli. His creativity and ability to make something from nothing is the exact remedy for a dysfunctional forward set up. They need him back in there as soon as possible.
THE GHOST OF JACK DARLING
Those who have been reading for a while would know that I had an article penned at the start of 2018, but didn’t publish it. I wrote about how the form that was on display early in Jack Darling’s career had completely deserted him as we rolled into what would become the Eagles’ premiership year.
I was pretty happy I didn’t go with it, because Darling had an amazing run for the first ten games of the season, establishing himself as the best big forward in the game over that period.
But you know what? I am thinking of dusting that article off and giving it a reboot for this season, because his form has been atrocious. Look, if you know something that could shed a bit of light on why he has dropped away so dramatically, please do us all a favour and share it, because he is painful to watch at the moment.
He looks like he is on rails, has limited mobility, and if he doesn’t take a mark, which he isn’t. He is rendered a useless presence inside the West Coast attacking half. There is a robotic nature to Darling’s play this season. He looks as though the innate ability to play the game has been sapped from him, and replaced by a series of formulaic responses to any situation that are about two seconds behind everyone else in the area. He looks slow, uninspired and nowhere near the player that powered the Eagles through the exhilarating first half of 2018.
The 2019 version of Jack Darling needs to make a stand. He is averaging just three marks per game, and has now dipped to be sitting under 10 disposals per contest. They are less than ideal numbers for one so heavily relied upon. The marking is of huge concern. He is taking less than half the amount per game this year than last, and as a contested marking option, he is almost non-existent.
He has dropped from 2.6 contested marks per game in 2018 (and he was up around 4+ per game through the first 10) to 0.6 per game.
The league has a few disappointing players this season, but for mine, Jack Darling is THE most disappointing of all. So much was expected of him after his blistering form to start 2018, but he has delivered nothing, and the West Coast Eagles are suffering as a result.
I thought Elliot Yeo was pretty lucky to get away without being pinged for holding the ball a couple of times in the first quarter. He looked to take tackles on, or at least absorb the contact before releasing, and was caught a couple of times, but given the benefit of the doubt.
It was probably the best outing for Jeremy McGovern for the year, with the big fella having double figures in both intercept possessions and 1%ers yet was still held in check by the varied approach inside 50 from the Cats. The Eagles are really missing Tom Barrass, who gives them that second contest-killing floater.
This may have been the best I’ve seen Esava Ratugolea look this season. His timing appeared a lot better, and his hands a lot cleaner than other games I’ve seen to date.
Tom Atkins is obviously in the team for his pressure, and we saw that with his efforts across half forward. He has a devil-may-care attitude in relation to his own well-being, and doesn’t hesitate to throw his body in.
Really strong start for Sam Menegola. He drifted out of the game, but when the heat was on early, he was very reliable. I still think his one-speed can be a detriment at times, but when those around him are quick, and he can use those good hands to set them off and running, it works.
Patrick Dangerfield had a really quiet first half, spending a little bit of it across half forward, but he made up for it in the second half, with 22 touches. My hope is that this isn’t a three-vote game for Danger in the Brownlow, as he clearly wasn’t influential when the cats had their foot on the Eagles’ throats. he came into it later, and racked up great numbers, but it was the work of others that should be recognised in this game.
So many hacked kicks from Andrew Gaff in the last couple of weeks. He ran at 48% efficiency overall, which is terrible for someone getting the ball as often as he does. One thing the Eagles are missing is the ability to get him out and running down the wings or through the middle. Every ball he seems to get is under pressure at stoppages, and this is not his game at all. He had 11 turnovers for the game, which is right up there with the worst for the year.
The Cats are getting plenty from Gryan Miers as he continues to grow into his role in the team. His pack mark in the last quarter was representative of the way he goes about it – all heart.
Eight clearances for Luke Shuey would normally mean a very nice day at the office, but almost as many turnovers means he wasn’t using the ball the way we’re used to seeing. He was at 59% for the game.
Another 21 touches for Luke Dahlhaus as the small half forward option. He didn’t tackle the way he has in the first part of the season, but his use of the ball forward of centre has been excellent – 81% today.
Another really solid defensive outing for Shannon Hurn. He’s like the little engine that could… only bigger, stronger and no one has ever questioned whether he can or not. 26 touches at 85% and 12 rebound 50s – I expect him to feature prominently in the Power Rankings this week.
And the big fella, Tom Hawkins. He had a game-high 12 score involvements this afternoon, making sure to keep his teammates involved. Had he kicked straight, we’re talking a big day for Tomahawk, but 3.3 is still a nice return in a win of this magnitude.
I’m starting to ramble now, so I’ll shut up. The Eagles get what they hope will be some relief, taking on the Gold Coast Suns at home, whilst the Cats and Bombers should have a belter at the MCG.
The season is starting to take shape. The Cats are looking like the real deal, and the Eagles… well, I’m not silly enough to say anything terrible about such a good side, but they’ll need to start finding a way to win soon. There are a few too many hiccups for my liking.
And get Willie Rioli back – stat!
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