Heading into this one, the Blues were a mathematical chance of making the eight. You know you’re in trouble when that phrase starts being trotted out, right?

On a cold, slippery and even somewhat foggy Melbourne afternoon, the Cats made the trip up the highway to take on Carlton and either give their opponents a little something to hold onto going forward, or snuff out their finals dreams and solidify their own standing in the top four.

Thanks to a far more efficient attack, a solid defence and some disastrous kicking at goal from the Blues, it was the latter scenario that played out, with Carlton becoming the latest victim of the potent Geelong rebound attack.

With Tom Hawkins contained for the most part by Jacob Weitering, and Jeremy Cameron on the sidelines, the Cats had to find different avenues to goal, and they did so via Zach Tuohy, Isaac Smith and even Jed Bews.

There is a heap to work through in this one, so let’s just straight into the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

 

Wellll, this was actually a bit of an ugly game, and I came out of it with more questions than I did points to make. So, given that I have had a couple of attempts at starting the review and have filled up the questions section both times, I might just punch out the questions and see if we can work through things that way. Sound okay?

Yes… I hear you think.

Let’s go, says the clairvoyant.

 

WERE THE COMMENTARY TEAM WAY TOO HARSH ON ESAVA RATUGOLEA?

Shit yeah, they were.

Now, I am no Esava Ratugolea fan, and I genuinely think he could be one of the reasons the Cats are brought undone this season, but on a night where the ball was a little slippery, I am not sure what Garry Lyon expected from this guy.

Sure, he dropped a mark early in the third quarter, and yes, he probably should have taken it, but I am sure I wasn’t the only one that noticed a bunch of players unable to grab the ball cleanly in the second half.

When I can be bothered syncing my radio coverage and the foxtel broadcast, I endeavour to do so, but as we were in the third quarter, it presented a little problem, so I just turned the damn volume off for the rest of the quarter. Ratugolea is a mountain of a young man. At 198cm and over 100 kilograms, he is never going to thrive in slippery conditions, yet here were our guides for the game lambasting him like he was Tony Lockett dropping chest marks or something.

No one is saying that Ratugolea had a great game. Hell, I am not even saying he had a good game – he was ordinary, but it seemed like it was a concerted attack on the bloke by people who really should know better. Did they bag out Paddy Cripps when he put one to grass? Of course not, but the big bloke who is still a bit raw.. yeah, sink the boots in. Why not, right?

 

DO YOU RAISE THE HAND OF SAM WALSH, ZACH TUOHY, OR TOM STEWART AS THE BEST MAN ON THE GROUND?

Traditionally, you go with a bloke on the winning side, but Sam Walsh was just so damn good that it makes the decision a lot more difficult than it should be.

His run and ability to be involved twice, or three times in the same passage of play highlight not just how good he can be, but how good he already is. This was a guy that was pushing uphill in this one. He was not getting support from his fellow midfielders, was battling against Patrick Dangerfield, Cam Guthrie and Isaac Smith both on the inside and outside, and damn it, he more than held his own.

The case for Stewart is a strong one as well.

Two weeks ago, he was our overall number one ranked player in The Mongrel 50. What’s that? You’re not familiar with our fluid player rankings? Your loss…

Of course, days after he cracked the number one position, he collapsed into a frustrated mess of a game against the Lions and turned in a stinker. This time around, that performance caused him to dip, all the way to fourth. Boooooo, right?

Well, he was back to his intercepting, spoiling and dashing through the middle brilliance in this one, clocking in at 25 touches, ten intercepts and the lazy 608 metres gained. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if I were creating the perfect half back flank player from scratch, I would use Tom Stewart as the template and make only minor adjustments. He can do it all.

And then there was Tuohy… he gets a whole section all to himself, below.

 

IS ZACH TUOHY THE BEST SWINGMAN IN THE GAME?

He can do it all, and if we were naming a team of players never to have been All-Australian, Zach Tuohy, in terms of consistency and versatility, would almost have to be a lock.

Imagine starting the game as a defender, swinging up to the wing to provide some run and carry for the team, only to be the highest goal-scorer for the game? Zach Tuohy doesn’t have to imagine.

He is such a tough matchup, as he combined great core strength with a fearlessness and willingness to break the lines. If you’re playing on the wing and decide to play a less-accountable brand of footy, Tuohy will burn you. The crazy thing is, there were occasions in this game where he was presenting as an option inside forward 50 one second, and then would be one of the two deepest defenders for the Cats the next.

He runs his guts out, has an innate knowledge of how to get be in the right place at the right time, and had there not been a gentleman named Jimmy Stynes, we may well be celebrating Tuohy as one of, if not the best imports of all time.

This season sees Tuohy 22.2 disposals (his second-highest average) and 0.6 goals per game (career-high) as he continues to add dimensions to his game. Defender… wingman… floating forward… the bloke can do it all, and he continues to do it without much fanfare at all.

 

HOW BANGED UP IS PATRICK CRIPPS, AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HIM LONG-TERM?

He looks absolutely shot at the moment – I wrote that twice and twice I accidentally wrote “shit”. Maybe I am trying to tell myself something?

Sometimes, it is not what a player does with the ball that gives an indication as to whether they are fit or not – it is what they do without it, how they move to position, and how quickly they’re able to get from contest to contest. If I were rating Cripps out of ten in each of those three categories, the average score would be between two and three. He is simply unable to cover the ground, and just about every time he is taken off his feet, be it in a one-on-one or pack situation, he seems to be the last one to his feet.

And not by a short amount of time, either.

Look, if he is hurt and wants to play on, that’s showing enormous guts, but with Carlton now all but out of the running, if there is something legitimately wrong with him, it might be time for the Blues to do the right thing not just by him, but by them for the next six damn years!

Cripps is going to be a huge part of this Carlton outfit for the next six seasons. Six loooong seasons. If you’re not going to make finals this year, why kill the bloke by having him play through injury?

The larger concern is if he isn’t injured and this is just where he’s at…

This off-season, I read several pieces that centered on Cripps’ preparation for the 2021 season, where it was stated he was doing more work to get stronger and less work on endurance. Early in the season, it was reported that the quicker game style was not gelling with Cripps’ style and the Blues, in particular, were employing faster ball movement. But that was then – the ball is not moving quicker now, yet Cripps is still struggling to get into the game.

Yes, he had Mark O’Connor to deal with quite a few times throughout this game, but peak Patrick Cripps would have dispensed with him at some stage of the game. In this one, Cripps was unable to shake him, and even when he wasn’t around, the slippery footy caused the Carlton captain to double grab too often.

One other concern – why won’t he kick the damn football?

In the last five games, Cripps has kicked the footy just 31 times. Twice in this game he opted to handball to a teammate who was then put under immediate pressure. Not only is he not winning good footy, he is selling teammates into trouble when he does get it. Kick it, Paddy – you have feet… I’ve seen them!

An early finish to 2021, a really solid, endurance-based pre-season and hopefully, they can start getting return on their investment. Right now, if I were a Carlton supporter, I would be worried about what the hell we’re doing with our coin.

 

WAS THAT SHAUN HIGGINS’ BEST OUTING IN THE HOOPS?

I was critical of Higgins last year at North Melbourne and was really reluctant to join in the celebrations of some Geelong supporters when they picked him up for a bag of chips for the 2021 season.

I am sure they thought they were getting a hard runner with great ball use, but his last couple of seasons at North saw him play a bit of a seagull role, and his ball use at times was deplorable. I don’t want to quote numbers again, but if you look up the amount of footy he was getting and measure it with inside 50s and score involvements, he just wasn’t doing enough with the ball. On the surface, the numbers looked great, but on closer inspection, they were hollow stats.

And he had not been at all impressive at Geelong up until this game, either. He’d been fumbly, messy with his delivery, and unaccountable. And then, there was his pathetic shepherding attempt that allowed Nick Holman to bury Mitch Duncan in a tackle… remember that?

I am sure plenty of people on the Geelong match committee remembered, which led to Higgins being “ rested” or “managed” on a couple of occasions this season.

Was it fair to say that this game carried a fair bot of importance for Higgins? Spots in this Geelong side are not gifted to anyone, and with young talent kicking the door down, Higgins needed to perform well to justify his place in the team. To his credit, he responded well and turned in close to his best outing as a Cat. He had 25 touches, five inside 50s, and seven score involvements as he seemed to find his place in the Cats outfit.

And not a moment too soon for him, either.

 

DOES THIS PERFORMANCE SECURE JACOB WEITERING’S PLACE IN THE 2021 ALL-AUSTRALIAN TEAM?

Okay, Weitering was really good in this game, and he was helped by a couple of Hawkins’ teammates being a little less unselfish than the man, himself.

Don’t get me wrong – Weitering was immense, and his positioning was absolutely elite, but Gary Rohan chipping in front of Hawkins, and young Mr Max Holmes opting not to dish off to the wide open Hawkins in the goal square kind of made Hawkins’ goose egg in the goals department look a lot worse than it was.

That said, it is difficult to fault Weitering in this game. Both he and Hawkins were playing without their number one partners in crime – Hawkins without Jeremy Cameron, and Weitering without Liam Jones, and I for one though this could play right into Hawkins’ hands. You see, I really rate Jones as a defender, and thought that with both he and Weitering giving Hawkins plenty of attention, we could see the forward subdued.

It turns out that Weitering was up to the task all on his own, and whilst I am on record with stating that Jones does a huge amount of heavy lifting for the Blues, but in this one, the weight all fell on Weitering, and he was well and truly up to the task of putting that back six on his back and carrying them.

As for the All-Australian team… well, Weitering as the number one ranked defender in The Mongrel’s Defensive Player of the Year award heading into this round. That’s good enough for me. Start measuring him up for a blazer.

 

ARE THE CATS THE BEST AT BUILDING A LIST/RECRUITING?

Bear with me here, okay?

Grab your AFL app (admit it – you have it on your phone… so do I) and open up the game stats. In order of players with the most metres gained for the Cats, you have the homegrown talent of Tom Stewart at the top, but then you get five of the next six that started their careers elsewhere and then moved across to Geelong.

Henderson, Menegola, Isaac Smith, Zach Tuohy, and Patrick Dangerfield… the Cats just cherry picked all of them, and they all fit like five fingers in a glo… well, not in a glove – that’s too restrictive. It’s as though you placed a condom on each one of them, allowing them the freedom to move individually, as well as work as a unit where required, without too much mess of fuss.

If you’re into that kind of stuff…

Yes, this is going somewhere interesting, isn’t it? Perhaps somewhere I don’t want to go…

Geelong have made a habit out of finding just the right players to fill holes (oh my god) in their list without upsetting the balance and becoming too top heavy. When you add in that this team also boasted Rhys Stanley, Gary Rohan, and Shaun Higgins, you have a third of the team coming from elsewhere to prop up and strengthen a unit that was already pretty bloody strong. And that’s without the name of Jeremy Cameron in the mix.

Stephen Wells deserves a tonne of credit for the work he did in constructing this list. It was not his first rodeo (it might be his last) and the talent he assembled to attack the 2021 season are working together beautifully. It would be a wonderful homage to see this collective emerge victorious in 2021 after Wells stepped away from his role earlier in the season.

 

HOW IS THE RETURN FOR INVESTMENT THUS FAR?

Well, I should specify who I am talking about first.

Adam Saad, Zac Williams and Jack Martin.

The Blues have shelled out plenty of coin for these three over the past couple of off-seasons, so it is always worth having a look at how they’re going. Buckle up.

Jack Martin is playing like a bloke who had an upfront deal and saw most of his earnings pissed away in the season where salaries were reduced drastically due to Covid. Barely a presence, his biggest opportunity in this game was a metaphor for his career to date. The opportunity was there, it was gifted to him within range of goal…

… and he fumbled it and nothing came of it.

The Blues would be stoked that they front-ended his deal, because if they were paying a premium right now for a half forward flanker to pick up ten touches in a game, I reckon they’d be pretty annoyed. As it stands, they can be annoyed that they have a bloke averaging 12 disposals per game in their team, despite having as much pure talent as anyone in the game.

Zac Williams had 22 touches in this one, and I am sure that there’ll be some looking at his stat sheet thinking he did okay. Are you one of them? Don’t be one of them – those people are dumb!

Williams’ game had a touch of the early-season Jack Ziebells about it, inasmuch as he took the kick ins, played on and it inflated his overall numbers. Of the other touches he received, several were part of switches in the back half under little to no pressure. When you consider what he was recruited to do, and what he is actually doing, the return on the investment is… no return at this stage. You’re making a loss.

Without going back and counting, I would say that at least half of Williams’ touches came via kick ins or switches, and 15 uncontested touches would go close to confirming that. He also laid one tackle. Yay!

Adam Saad… nah, I liked Saad’s game. He was excellent early, taking the game on and using soccer tactics to gain ground and take possession of the footy. For the most part, he was responsible for Brad Close or Gryan Miers (given the nature of switching defences, sometimes responsibilities for either were handed over. It seemed as though Close was his primary opponent). Close ended up with 15 touches, but 12 of them were gained outside 50, which was something that probably would not have bothered Saad too much. That said, Close did lead the game in score involvements, so perhaps it should have worried him just a touch?

On the flipside, Isaac Smith continued to play an important role in the Cats’ offence. He was close to the best player on the park in the second quarter, amassing eight touches and a goal, and given he took the foot right off the accelerator in the last quarter (no touches), his 19 possessions through the first three quarters are a great return.

Higgins, I covered already.

 

ANYTHING ELSE, MONGREL?

Why, yes… thanks for asking.

I haven’t seen a small forward work as hard as Matt Owies did in the third quarter for the Blues. At both ends of the park, he was everywhere in the first ten or so minutes, and looked like a genuine spark plug for them.

Earlier this week, I released the X-Factor Rankings for small forwards/mids, and I was surprised to see Owies ranked number one amongst his peers for goal assists. He added another one to his name in this one, and really, in that third quarter, he looked as though he could be a factor in getting the Blues back into the contest.

Loved hearing the boos for Lachie Henderson… only because it emphasised just how well he was playing early in the game. With seven touches and five marks in the first quarter, he was close to best on ground. He really seemed to enjoy handing over the responsibility for Harry McKay to Mark Blicavs in this one, with the part time ruck/wing, and genuine gun defender restricting McKay’s output.

Meanwhile, Henderson was permitted to play as the floating defender at points, and really seemed to relish the opportunity. Not bad for a bloke who was delisted last year.

Gary Rohan’s hands were the best on the park with a slippery ball. Whilst others were fumbling and bumbling around, he looked sure of himself and his ability every time he went near it after half time. He finished with 1.3, and really, that should have been 3.1, but his marking in the third quarter was a highlight.

I scored it about a breakeven between Sam Menegola and Jack Newnes on the wing. That said, Newnes played more of a defensive wingman role, dropping back onto the back fifty to help out his defenders on multiple occasions. This permitted Menegola a bit more freedom to work into the middle and run forward without worrying about Newnes sneaking forward.

 

And yea… that’ll do me. The Blues will now be free to experiment, as they take on the Pies in Round 18. Are they still a mathematical chance? Hell, I was never good at maths, so I’ll say yes, but I really need one of the old school maths books with the answers at the back to help me with it. If they are, they’ll need a ton of results to go their way, so let’s just say they’re cooked?

And the Cats? They’ve done some hard yards, but their Thursday night clash (five day turnaround and trip to Western Australia – take note!) against Freo at Optus Stadium comes at a time when the Dockers are really mounting their case for a finals berth, and with Sean Darcy the form ruck in the competition, how Chris Scott handles his big men (ahem…) will be very interesting.

As always, thanks to the best damn members on the interweb for supporting us, and if you’re not a member, please consider becoming one. I’d like to think we’re offering something a little different to everyone else… but different in a good way, not a bad way. Cheers – HB.

 

Want more of this kind of stuff? Join The Mongrel to get it!