The Cats have loaded up over the past couple of seasons, with their premiership window wide open. They went very close in 2020, but as we enter the 2022 season, is that window just starting to close?

Players are older and the club has sacrificed a decent portion of the future for a shot at glory right now. Is 2022 the season they make it happen? It kind of has to be, doesn’t it?

Over the last month and a bit, I have been slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of answers. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these articles were going to be huge. There were simply too many things in need of addressing.

So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next 10-15 are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it is also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to compile the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions regarding the Cats in 2022.

 

IS THIS BACK SIX STILL THE BENCHMARK IN THE AFL?

If it isn’t, it cannot be far off the mark.

Whilst they have lost Lachie Henderson, who was so underrated that I cannot believe they got that type of value out of him for so long, they maintain flexibility with their key positions and some of the best intercept/rebound players in the game.

Tom Stewart is now a three-time All-Australian defender and the reigning Carji Greeves Medallist. I’ve written this before, and it hurts every time I do it – he is the defender I wanted James Sicily to become at Hawthorn.

Ouch… told ya, it hurts me to write that.

He is so solid in the air, strong at ground level and backs his judgment to beat his opponent. When you think about defensive generals, it’s hard to go past what Stewart brings to this team. Any side would love to have him anchoring their defence.

Jack Henry is maturing into a wonderful key defender, surprising many of the league’s big forwards with his ability to find the right spot in a marking contest and being pretty damn tough to move out of the way. He recorded career-highs in one-percenters and intercepts in 2021 and you get the feeling that this was just the beginning for him. He will underpin this defence for years.

Players like Jed Bews are often overlooked. Ditto for Tom Atkins, but their pressure at ground level and ability to play lockdown roles on small-to-mid-sized forwards is key to limiting the opposition.

When you take into account the run and rebound of Zach Tuohy, which is elite, and the potential return of Mark Blicavs to the role of key defender (I’ll get to that), Geelong are as well-stocked in the defensive department as any team in the game, and it will continue to act as the springboard as they make an assault on the 2022 finals.

 

12 MONTHS IN, DOES JEREMY CAMERON OWE THIS TEAM ONE?

I get the feeling he does.

A couple of hamstring injuries reduced his capacity to have a huge impact on this team in 2021, but after 12 months in the system and a second preseason with the Cats, Cameron will be determined to right the wrongs of 2021, particularly when it comes to his last appearance in the hoops.

Cameron wasn’t terrible in 2021 by any stretch, and with a player on a new team, you always give 12 months for them to find their feet. Cameron rebounded from a terrible 2020 season where he looked only moderately interested, to register 2.6 goals per game for the Cats – still a way to go to emulate his feats of 2019, but with Tom Hawkins taking most of the defensive attention, Cameron was afforded the space to work in that he didn’t have at GWS.

His hamstrings didn’t quite cooperate with him, though.

Cameron missed two stints of five weeks each, limiting him to 15 games for the season, but I expect he will be taking his preparation a little more seriously this year. This could be the season he and Hawkins combine to tear the competition apart. A tweak or two to the methodical Geelong game plan and we could see both men at, or close to 60 goals. Hawkins was already there last season and despite his injuries, Cameron was 2.1 short. If he plays a full season, even at his 2021 average, he gets to that mark.

I suppose the logical next question is – if Cameron and Hawkins combine for 120 goals between them… who can stop the Cats?

Though we have heard the stories of several Geelong players being unwell before the Preliminary Final in 2021, Cameron will also be eager to atone for his performance in that game. In 20 years, when people look back on that game, it will be numbers and recollections of a bad day out. Memories of illness will have faded – all that will be left are the numbers – four disposals and two goals.

Unwell or not, that is not a finals performance Cameron will want to be remembered by/. Luckily, if this Geelong list stays healthy in 2022, he will have at least a couple of chances to remedy that.

 

COULD MARK O’CONNOR BECOME THE MOST IMPORTANT MIDFIELDER AT THE CATTERY?

Earmarked as a future leader of this club, O’Connor started the 2021 season looking determined to make a real name for himself as a defensive-minded midfielder. His work on Lachie Neale in Round Two, restricting the reigning Brownlow Medallist to just 16 touches in the Cats’ nail-biting win over the Lions, served notice that there was a new contender for the title of league’s best tagger.

However, injury in Round Four and again in Round Six prevented him from playing again until the second half of the season. When you have an interrupted run like O’Connor did, you end up spending a lot of time playing catch-up to get back to the level you were at prior. And that reduces your impact.

O’Connor struggled through the remainder of the season, not quite able to recapture the momentum he generated early and when he went down in the Qualifying Final, his season was over. Something that promised so much ended up as a disappointment, but 2022 offers O’Connor the opportunity to re-establish his claim on the title of best tagger in the game.

The Cats face off against the Bombers in Round One in what should be a belter, and O’Connor will no doubt make the acquaintance of either Darcy Parish or Zach Merrett – both coming off monster seasons. My money would be on the Cats’ stopper shutting down Parish, which will go a long way to derailing whatever plans the Bombers are formulating to generate runs from clearances.

O’Connor then gets the Swans (Mills? Parker?) and the Pies (Pendles? Adams?) in a three-game stint that could define his season.

After the first three weeks of the season, we will have a great picture of where Mark O’Connor sits in this Geelong team. Yes, they have had stars aplenty over the last decade, but often it is the unsung players that have made Geelong an excellent team. Mark O’Connor may very well be the next one to continue that tradition.

 

DO WE SEE MORE OF DANGER AS A FORWARD IN 2022?

There’s more to this than just moving Danger forward and hoping it all works out.

Firstly, so much depends on who is able to fill the considerable void he would leave in the middle. Dangerfield is still one of the best midfielders in the business – not just on this team. His ability to extract the footy and burst from a pack is not something many in the game can match, so if Chris Scott is looking at using his Brownlow Medallist forward of the ball, he has to have those in the middle that can more than cover his absence.

The combination of Cam Guthrie, Mitch Duncan and Joel Selwood still packs a considerable punch, but it is the presence of Brandan Parfitt that could change the dynamic rapidly, permitting Danger the opportunity to call his own shot and move forward when he feels he needs a rest or senses opportunity – maybe even both.

Much has been written about champion mids going forward later in their career – Danger, Dusty, and Fyfe have all been mooted as potential forwards in the twilight of their careers, but Danger and Dusty are the two with goalkicking runs on the board, already. They have been thrown forward in the past and delivered – to do so again is not reinventing the wheel – it is more like changing tyres.

So, let’s assume that Parfitt plays well, Selwood is able to maintain form, and Duncan stays on the park (I have no concerns with Guthrie at all at the moment) – what does it look like with Danger spending a 60/40 split mid/forward?

Around a week ago, we had Bill Skelton from Useless AFL Stats pen an article for us discussing those who have averaged 20 disposals and two goals per game in a season. It has not been done in ten years – could Danger be the first to break that mark in a decade?

His best effort in a season has been 1.9 goals back in 2017. He has not averaged under 20 disposals per game since 2011. If he is spending 40% of his time inside 50, he could capitalise on the attention paid to Hawkins and Cameron to slip under the guard of defenders, particularly as he makes the switch from midfield to forward. Two goals per game are not beyond him at all.

2021 saw the wear and tear of years at the top impact Danger’s game. He missed the AA team for the first time in seven seasons and played under 20 games for the first time since 2010. His body sent him a message and if he listens, he could become the type of mid/forward teams have been dreaming about for years.

2021 may be remembered by some as the beginning of the end for Dangerfield in terms of his midfield dominance. Hell, maybe they’re right, but I prefer to look at it as the end of the beginning. If he can go forward more and hit the scoreboard, there is a whole new world opening up for the boy from Moggs Creek.

 

IS IT TIME TO PLONK MARK BLICAVS AT FULL-BACK AND LEAVE HIM THERE?

Playtime is over for Chris Scott when it is related to his dual Best and Fairest winning utility… and I use the word “utility” simply because that is the way Mark Blicavs has been used by Scott over the past several seasons.

With Lachie Henderson finally hanging up the boots, the time is right for Blicavs to slot back into the role of full-back in order to strengthen the Geelong back six that, as covered above, is already one of the best combinations in the caper.

Blicavs has been handy as a wingman, serviceable as a mobile ruck, but there is little doubt in my mind that his best position is that of key defender. He is strong, can handle the forwards with a big tank that choose to work up to the wings and double back, and has the type of closing speed that foils what look to be easy marks on the lead for his opponents. The Cats have had the luxury of deploying him in different positions over the last few seasons, but the absence of Henderson, as well as the defection from young defender, Nathan Kreuger, means that Geelong no longer possess the depth when it comes to defensive talls. Playing Blicavs out of position should end here.

However, I get the feeling that Chris Scott is not that easily deterred and it would not strike me as odd to see Rhys Stanley thrown into defence to allow Blicavs to be more expansive this season. Scott obviously enjoys having the freedom to use Blicavs in whatever role he sees fit, and with Jonathon Ceglar coming on board, Geelong find themselves in a position where they have two experienced rucks, as well as Blicavs on the park – either Stanley adapts to a different role, or he will only be playing when Ceglar is hurt.

Ideally, the Geelong defence is bolstered by a full-time return of Blicavs to give them that string, reliable presence on the deepest forward, but I would not rule out seeing Scott trial Stanley there – at least in the preseason – to maintain whatever it is he has built with the game of Blicavs to this point.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 11 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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