Round 12 Showdown – Reigning Cats and Dogs

It may seem like hyperbole to some. After all, Geelong are the reigning premiers and have made a habit out of proving those who jump to conclusions incorrect, but as we hit the halfway point of the season, the Cats find themselves in a very precarious position.

Sitting in tenth place on the ladder as they prepare for a date with the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium, a loss could see the defending champions at risk of missing the top eight.

That’s not hyperbole. That’s a cold, hard fact.

With a 5-6 record heading into Round 12, we’re starting to approach a period of the season where things go from mildly concerning to panic stations. Geelong aren’t there just yet, but they’re not far off, either.

How many of you saw this coming?

I’ll go on record as saying I still expect the Cats to have a big say in how the 2023 season plays out. Their injury list over the last three or four weeks has rivalled that of any other team in the league. Not that this is an excuse of any sort – not at all. But if we cut Sydney some slack for the funk they found themselves in after losing the majority of their defence, then we should probably do the same for Geelong, given their substantial injuries.

However, excuses don’t win games, and they sure as hell don’t win flags.


The mob from Sleepy Hollow had the following players unavailable for their Round 11 loss to the Giants at home.

Patrick Dangerfield

Mitch Duncan

Jack Bowes

Max Holmes

Gary Rohan

Rhy Stanley

Cam Guthrie

Add to that Esava Ratugolea, who has been a solid contributor in defence this season (I say this because he has been both great and pretty bloody ordinary at times) and you get a picture of how much the Cats have lost.

Their loss of form has coincided with a drop in the productivity of Jeremy Cameron. After 33 goals in his first eight games, prompting some to speculate that he was going to kick 100 goals for the season, the former Coleman Medallist has added just three to his tally in the last three weeks.

The dreams of 100 goals quickly faded.

And the result of those last three games – loss, loss, loss; the second time this season the Cats have suffered three successive losses.

Geelong have also been forced to deal with the absences of Sam De Koning and Tyson Stengle, and you have a list that is asking a lot of the players left. And they have not been able to cover the losses.

The Cats head into the bye the week following the game against the Dogs and they desperately need it. More to the point, they need to head into that break with a win. Coming out the other side, they have a run home befitting the reigning champs, with just one game against a bottom-four club in the mix (v North Melbourne in Round 17).

They get Port Adelaide twice, have the Lions, Dees, Pies, and Dockers to deal with, amongst others hovering around the top eight. Their mettle will be tested and it makes this game against the Dogs all the more important.

Simply put – if they lose this, the club may start to fall too far off the pace to make a serious challenge. They may end up making up the numbers, or worse… not making it at all.

And the Dogs should really sense some blood in the water, here. They can snuff out the challenge of a powerful rival.

Coming off a hard-fought loss against the Suns in the slippery Darwin conditions, the Western Bulldogs had that slight dip in form after rattling off five straight wins. Their form line is good, and sitting in sixth position, they have the tools that could just about finish the Cats’ hopes of a top-four finish.

The recruitment of Liam Jones is paying huge dividends, with the prodigal son beginning to recapture the form that made him so potent when he was part of the Carlton defence. Jones’ efforts over the past two weeks have resulted in commanding defensive performances and whilst it is difficult to see anyone being able to match strength with Tom Hawkins, Jones is one that can use his reach and underrated closing speed to keep the big Cat quiet.

The midfield is where the Dogs should have it all over the Cats. Assuming Dangerfield does not play, Geelong head into this game with Tanner Bruhn, Tom Atkins, and Mark Blicavs as their possible starting three onballers.

Yeah… I’m as impressed with that lineup as you are.

The Dogs should feast on this midfield matchup. With Jonathon Ceglar as the number one ruckman for the Cats, the in-form, and probable All-Australian ruckman, Tim English should run him into the ground and give his midfielders plenty of opportunity to break from the centre. Unless Geelong can pull something out of the bag, the Dogs could make a mess of the Cats in the middle. Of course, the Dogs have been accused of having a heap of the footy and not doing much with it, so it won’t be which teams has the most disposals (that’ll be the Dogs). No, it’ll be which team takes risks and makes the kicks that count.

Then we head up forward.

The trio of Aaron Naughton, Rory Lobb, and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan will be glad to be back under the roof and not trying to glove a footy resembling a cake of soap, and without the Big Sav to worry about, a huge responsibility falls on the shoulders of De Koning or Jack Henry, as one of the two looks to stifle Jamarra. Jed Bews will likely attempt to curtail Cody Weightman, but Artie Jones is providing headaches aplenty for teams. He is balanced, rarely loses his feet, and makes things happen – not always good things, but you can’t knock the bloke for trying!

I know I am painting a scenario of doom and gloom here for the Cats, and if you’re a realist, you probably agree with me. However, there is something about this Geelong team that makes me wary of them. They always seem to find a way to keep themselves in the bloody game!

It doesn’t seem to matter how poor the Cats are playing collectively, there is a point in the game where they’re a chance to win. They may have been dominated in every aspect of the game, and you look up at the scoreboard and they’re somehow two goals down. It’s an incredible ability – staying in the game when you have no business doing it.

They got knocked over by the Pies in Round One, but halfway through the last quarter, it was a one-kick game.

The Blues managed to beat them by eight points.

The Suns got them by 19, the Tigers by 24, and the Dockers by 29. Last week, the Giants got up by seven. The median losing margin is just on three goals. This is a team that knows how to hang around. They’re just falling slightly short. That can turn around in a hurry.

I know there is a long way to go in the season. I know that teams can fire off a four or five-game streak and all of a sudden the worries they had seem to evaporate – hell, the Dogs did just that after an ordinary start of their own, but this weekend seems to me as though it is one of those games that’ll be looked at as pivotal in the Geelong season.

To head into the bye at 6-6 gives a team hope.

To head into the bye at 5-7… it leaves a lot of teams in front of the Cats.

They could potentially be 13th at the conclusion of Round 12. And if they find themselves there, it may well be curtains for their premiership defence.

Do they run Jeremy Cameron through the middle to give them some power of their own in the guts? If the mids cannot get the footy and deliver it to him, he may need to go find it, himself. Does Tom Atkins tackle everything that moves and create chaos at stoppages to quell the impact of the Dogs’ elite mids?

Everything in my head says that the Bulldogs walk away with the win, yet there is a little man on my shoulder that is telling me the same thing he told me when people were writing off Trent Cotchin a few weeks back and he responded with three goals to help Richmond get over the line against this Geelong team.

Never doubt the heart of a champion.

I have a feeling the Cats may just find a way.

Great teams always do.



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