I don’t think you’re ever going to hear this Geelong unit accused of playing beautiful football, but you simply cannot argue that they’re playing winning footy.

The Cats and Kangaroos headed to Tasmania and in front of a sell-out* crowd, engaged in an arm wrestle that saw few highlights but plenty of hard work in the clinches. Shaun Higgins played his 250th game after playing his best footy for the Kangaroos, and celebrated with a win for his new club, knocking over North by 20 points in what could only be truly described as a struggle.

Geelong’s defence was solid, as always, but the improvement in North Melbourne cannot be denied. There was no quick ball movement, as the sides found it difficult to find targets inside 50, and the Cats struggled to convert.

I’m gonna change this up today. In truth, I am a bit annoyed today with another Covid-impacted season, and feel I could get a bit negative if I use the regular format, so let’s throw a new format at the wall and see what sticks.

And if it doesn’t stick, I’ll go back to what works for the two games tomorrow. Sorry Cats and Roos fans – you’re guinea pigs for this one as we work through a pretty… pretty… pretty ugly game of footy.

Here’s The Mongrel’s… TALES OF INTEREST

 

GEELONG DID ALL THEY NEEDED TO DO TO WIN

They’re an interesting team at Geelong. Against sides that they should really pummel, they just seem to do enough to win comfortably. They don’t go out there and humiliate teams or pulverise them… unless they’re the West Coast Eagles – they play their game style irrespective of who they’re playing, and if it becomes a bit of a dour struggle, they don’t seem to care too much.

The Cats possess something most teams would kill for – a watertight defence.

Look at the way they took Lachie Henderson out this week, slotted first-gamer, Nathan Kreuger, who I am guessing has the nickname Freddie? Is that about right? You can tell I have been in footy clubs… sometimes the imagination isn’t exactly a strong suit for these blokes.

Since writing, I’ve been reliably informed that his nickname is Sonia. Again… creative stuff. I wonder if her nickname will be “Nathan”?

Kreuger was solid on debut, and did nothing to raise any red flags about his future with the club at all. He was well-supported by Jack Henry, Tom Stewart and Zac Guthrie, and had runners like Zach Tuohy to provide him with assistance as well.

The Cats were methodical, and though North seemed to be within striking distance, they never really got to within a kick, as the Cats were able to respond a little too easily.

 

THAT COULD BE THE BEST GAME THE GUTHRIE BOYS HAVE PLAYED TOGETHER

Scrap the “could” and give the boys some credit.

We got what we expect from the Tim Minchin look-alike, but it was the effort of Zac Guthrie that may be turning some heads at Kardinia Park this week. Playing perhaps his best game for the club (easily the best I have seen him play), I kept waiting for him to have a Zac Guthrie moment, and with nine minutes remaining in the game, I started to fear we would not get one.

Zuthrie held it together and completed the type of game that will give selectors something to think about next week, assuming we all haven’t contracted whatever strain of covid is in the papers by then. He ended up with 28 touches and 11 intercepts as he made great position across half back and pushed up the ground to form an almost impenetrable wall with Tom Stewart at points.

24 of those 28 touches came via his boot, and to travel at 82% efficiency for the game is a nice feather in his cap. Could Guthrie and Guthrie (attorneys at law?) remain a duo for the rest of the season?

Look, I’d love to say yeah, and as much as I barrack for the underdog, I cannot see it happening. Geelong has too much class in defence, and I fear that when Henderson and O’Connor are ready to go again, it’ll be Zac who makes way. Such is life, as the Australian hero, Ben Cousins once famously said… in tattoo form.

 

NORTH MELBOURNE ARE A VASTLY IMPROVED TEAM

Of this, there is no question, and whilst I spoke about the Cats doing all they needed to do in order get the four points, it wasn’t made easy by the Kangaroos, whose competitive edge at stoppages and ability to set up defensively managed to disrupt the run and carry of the Cats.

This was illustrated best when Tom Stewart took off from defence in the third quarter. Against a poorly-structured team, this kind of four-bounce run could very easily end in teammates out everywhere and a goal beckoning, but North in Round 20 are a very different unit than they were earlier in the season, and their defenders ensured they were well-positioned to stifle any of the “fast break” (so sorry… f’n basketball references!) style of offence.

As a result, Stewart had to hesitate, and then as the pressure came, he bombed it to half forward and the North captain intercepted it easily.

Both teams seemed to capitalise more on the chaos ball inside 50 than the traditional forward entry, with Nick Larkey well held at one end, and Tom Hawkins under wraps at the other. It became a scrap, which is probably what David Noble would have wanted, but this Geelong team can scrap with the best of them, and ultimately, they scrapped better than North Melbourne in this outing.

For North, the form of Bailey Scott, Will Phillips and Ben McKay, as well as a very good first genuine game from Eddie Ford, would give them something to smile about, particularly with a couple of veterans not performing up to standard.

 

CAN WE USE THE “DOESN’T HURT” ARGUMENT AGAINST AARON HALL?

I’ll start by asking this question – would he get a run at Geelong?

I genuinely don’t think he would, and though Aaron Hall is collecting a ton of footy at the moment, and continued his run of big numbers in this game (35 touches, 12 rebound 50s), there is a strong argument that he doesn’t actually do a hell of a lot with the footy.

I’ll put this out there – he has kicked the footy out on the full as many times this season as he has executed legitimately damaging disposals from half back. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hall rarely gets a touch forward of centre, which means he is getting a heap of the footy deep in defence, whether that is on the deck, or as part of a clearing chain from defensive fifty. He is more or less doing what Jack Ziebell did for the team for the first ten or so games of the season.

So, does that mean he is not worth persisting with in the role? No… he needs time to develop the confidence to bite off tough kicks and actually make them. I mean, he’s 30… I’m not sure you can teach an old Kangaroo new tricks at this stage. He tends to seem relaxed when able to use the safety of the boundary as an ally, but when it is time to bite off a really risky, but potentially rewarding kick, there always seems to be some second guessing. Maybe that is a directive from David Noble, but you cannot praise sheer numbers when the results of all those touches don’t amount to much. No inside 50s and just two score involvements indicate that his possessions did not equate to scoring opportunities anywhere near often enough.

 

BRAD CLOSE COULD KEEP GRYAN MIERS OUT OF THIS SIDE

Maybe the word “could” might be supplanted by the word “should” given Close’s efforts.

There are a few non-negotiables for me in footy, and one is that small forwards must bring the heat, and that is exactly what Close does for the Cats. In a forward six that sees everyone contribute something, Close is never going to be the number one, two, or three target. Sometimes he may go a whole game without being targeted at all, so his job is to create opportunity for himself, and that’s what he has really started to do.

Close had 20 touches in this game, patrolling up to the wings to generate inside 50 delivery for his team on five occasions. I’ve watched him closely for the past three weeks, now, and Close is starting to really understand his role in the team and where his chances will come from. He remains agile around stoppages, hits the ball at speed and fires out handballs that rarely miss the target.

However, the thing he does better than Gryan, is stick tackles. Whilst there have been games where Miers ends up with a single tackle… or less, Close has done that just once in 2021. That’s from a sample size of 15 games. From 11 games, Miers has done that five times.

Offensively, Miers is probably a little more polished, but unless the Cats are going to throw Tom Atkins into the forward half to generate pressure again, Close is doing the things that could very well see him playing finals and making an impact.

If it comes down to Miers, Close and Dahlhaus, I’m sorry Mr Miers with the poor spelling, you’re the odd one out at the moment.

 

TRENT DUMONT AND JARED POLEC HAVE BEEN A BIT OF A LETDOWN

The return of senior players to the Kangaroos line up has been a boon for their overall competitive impact in games, but there are a couple of blokes I am not sold on.

Trent Dumont was a player I thought would add some real bite from the wing. What we’re getting at the moment is more akin to a nibble. He had 19 touches in this game, working back into defence to help his back six, but his execution by foot remained something of concern. He made a couple of errors in this one that, though seemingly small, were the type that causes teammates to drop their heads.

Jared Polec remains the big problem.

I was a Polec believer after Rhyce Shaw left the club. I figured that he and Polec had a bit of a personality clash and that the former Power half back would find form against once there was a switch in the coaching box.

But that has not happened.

Before writing this I wanted to make sure I was not wearing teal-coloured glasses, so I went and looked back at some footage of him running around for Port. He looked like a greyhound out there, chewing up the turf as he sliced through half back and down the wing.

What we see now at North is a heavier, slower version of that player. The difference is quite stark when you look back at what was.

 

I reckon 2022 is his make or break season. He had 11 touches in this game and was a non-factor. North paid good money for this bloke, and so far, the return on the investment has been pretty damn low.

 

DID BEN MCKAY DO A GREAT JOB ON TOM HAWKINS

He got a lot of help – mainly from Robbie Tarrant, who will likely get little credit, but for the most part, it seemed Geelong just had one of those days where they were unable to find the right connection with their big man.

When he did get it, Hawkins was his usually damaging self. The goal from the boundary to ice the game will be the takeaway for most, but his inboard kick to Dahlhaus in the first quarter was pinpoint and deserved a better result than the miss his teammate conjured.

To his credit, McKay worked very hard, and started to present as an option for the release kick at points, looking less tentative about doing so. Could he make a good forward in his own right? I wonder how many North fans watch his brother clunking big marks and think about Ben McKay as a partner in crime with Larkey?

Hawkins finished with just the one goal from four shots, but there were a couple of instances where he made good position and the kick just wasn’t good enough to give him the chance. Holding Hawkins to a single goal, albeit an important one, is a feather in his cap. Wear it proudly, young man.

 

ZACH TUOHY IS THE BEST SWINGMAN IN THE GAME

Not the best swinger… I don’t know if he throws his keys in a jar on weekends or not.

But when it comes to positions… lookout ladies!!!

Zach can play anywhere. Half back? No worries – he’ll lock down a player and run off him all day. Throw him on the wing? Absolutely, and he’ll run harder with and without the ball than his opponent, plus he’ll be stronger than 90% of them. How about as a forward? Well, he’s kicked goals in seven games this season… and he hasn’t even lined up forward of centre. The guy is a freak.

People often talk about the most underrated players in the game, and if you leave Tuohy out of the equation, you’re doing your argument no favours. He is the most versatile player in the league and he does it without the pomp and circumstance (I remember you, Randy Savage) that others seem to thrive on.

He had another 26 touches in this game as his sure hands and composure made life easier for the teammates around him.

And if he heads out tonight and throws his keys in a jar… good luck to the lady that plucks them out.

 

ARE LDU AND JY SIMPKIN THE REAL DEAL?

They will be.. and they almost are.

Simpkin is combative, but he is still a slight frame when compared to other mids. He looks like he is better suited to life on the outside, but like a lifer, he wants to be on the inside.

LDU does some special things, but he is still at that point in his career where he is doing the special things, but doesn’t do the rudimentary things as often. What he does do is create, and that aspect of his game is a rarity in modern footy where the safe option is always the best option.

They both missed Cunnington – I reckon he makes everyone else on this team walk a little taller, but we’re not doing “ifs and buts” in this review, and if we start pondering what Cunners could have meant to North, we have to go down Jeremy Cameron street as well.

 

WAS THERE A POTENTIAL 50 METRE PENALTY IN THE FOURTH QUARTER? AND COULD IT HAVE CHANGED MOMENTUM?

Yes, there was a potential 50 metre penalty, that would have given North a shot at goal, but no… it would not have changed the momentum.

Despite North’s… pluckiness, I never once felt that Geelong were losing control of the game. They were measured when they had to be, and though North demonstrated some patience of their own with the footy (the mark-kick game is something that has allowed them to take the sting out of the game at times this season), this was Geelong’s game to win, and you just feel that they would wrestle the ball forward and respond.

I purposely don’t look around the footy sites or social media before writing reviews as I don’t want to be influenced, but my guess is that North fans may be lamenting that chance gone begging.

Don’t. I cannot see that being the factor that decided this contest. Geelong were a better team and North are on the way up, That about sums it up in a nutshell.

 

And that might just about do it for me. However, before I go, I just checked the Tassie covid numbers. Zero cases… none in the whole state. Why the hell was everyone masking-up outdoors? I cannot understand it.

North are currently scheduled to tangle with the Tigers next week, whilst the Cats will look to crush the hopes of the Giants. Fingers crossed, eh?

Massive thanks to our members for supporting us, and hats off to those Tassie supporters that attending the game, sat there in the cold with masks on and tolerated a pretty rubbishy game of football. You guys are the real heroes, today – HB

 

*The crowd was restricted to 10K

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