The 6 keys to Geelong’s premiership chances
Geelong had Richmond cold at halftime of last year's Grand Final before the Cats' dreams went south and again they are seen as the team most likely to take the throne from the Tigers. Especially after a post-season recruiting spree.
Take a look into our club deep dive to see how the year ahead might play out.
Jon Ralph's six people who will define Geelong in 2021.
How can we ignore the obvious, when a player arrives at a premiership contender only 12 months after winning the Coleman Medal?
"Jezza" had a poor year in 2020 but says he has already made himself at home down the Princes Highway. Look for a big bounce-back year.
At Greater Western Sydney he was seen to be moving away from his strengths if he pushed high up the ground given it affected his goalscoring power.
But at Geelong he can draw multiple opponents with hard leads and then wheel and go to hit Tom Hawkins on the lead, or bomb long where the Cats veteran can monster opponents in one-on-one contests.
Cameron and the Cats look like a match made in heaven.
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Was Dangerfield's groin issue a real concern in the Grand Final?
Should he have been played in the midfield when the game was slipping away?
Whatever the answers to those questions, Dangerfield was a non-factor in the Grand Final with 12 disposals and only one of those playing deep forward as the Tigers roared back into the game in that decisive third term.
He has the fourth-most Brownlow Medal votes in history and is a likely Hall of Famer but where Dustin Martin has won a trio of Norm Smith Medals, Dangerfield's single focus will be holding up the premiership cup at year's end.
He enters the year having managed that groin issue over summer, so whether it's resting him sporadically or not, a player who turns 31 in April will want to peak in the season's final game.
New Cats president Craig Drummond said the club's behaviour had been exemplary in the hub in 2020 but the breakdown of Rohan's relationship and new romance with a Cats staffer led to months of whispers and a distraction that a team chasing a flag didn't need.
It didn't help that Rohan put in another quiet Grand Final - five disposals and no goals after three majors in the prelim - so he and the Cats will be keen to explode out of the blocks to ensure he maintains his form and the team's harmony is as it should be.
There is a big role for the hard-tackling Rohan as a player who exerts forward pressure in a Cats forward line that could still have three big talls in Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron and at times Esava Ratugolea.
There have been times Geelong fans have wondered at Scott's tactics after finals failures - but this time no one is blaming the senior coach.
Dustin Martin's brilliance and a Richmond side that just overran Geelong in the second half were the decisive factors, even if the likes of Gary Ablett have admitted the Cats should have been braver with their ball movement when the game was up for grabs.
To that point, Geelong has replaced one of the best users in the game with a pair of veterans who use the Sherrin as well as anyone.
In match simulation, the ball use and running power of Shaun Higgins and Isaac Smith have already come to the fore as they hit up the club's power forwards.
Ball use is about the will to take on risky kicks but also the ability to execute them.
Scott not only has football's most dangerous forward duo but elite ball users such as Smith, Higgins, Mitch Duncan and Brandan Parfitt to service them.
Rhys Stanley was one of Geelong's best handful of players in the Grand Final as Ratugolea watched the finals from the sidelines.
Then as the Cats pushed hard to trade Jeremy Cameron the raw-boned Ratugolea decided to stay despite his attacking opportunities seemingly dwindling through the acquisition of the 2019 Coleman medallist.
So clearly Ratugolea believes he can make his name for the Cats as a ruck-forward.
Stanley's best is elite but a lack of consistency and injuries continue to hamper his career, meaning there will be chances for the Fijian in the centre square.
As football boss Simon Lloyd told the Herald Sun this month, Geelong's only concern with Ratugolea this summer has been holding him back at training so he doesn't injure his teammates with his attack on the ball.
Can he be the star ruckman the Cats have been searching for since Brad Ottens?
Clark's injury problems didn't help him but the No. 15 draft pick clearly fell out of favour at selection last year, playing only three AFL games after 18 in his debut season.
He is training as a wingman and onballer and clearly has a role to play with his pace and strong ball use.
The Cats plan to play Mark Blicavs in defence but Isaac Smith and Sam Menegola might be the starting wingmen, so can Clark break into a strong onball unit?
If players such as Clark, Charlie Constable, Sam De Koning and Sam Simpson can keep earning games in a team stacked with star power it will only add to Geelong's depth and give Chris Scott more options to rest veterans to get them peaking for the business end of the year after his astute man management in 2020.
BEST 22 FOR ROUND 1
B: Jack Henry, Mark Blicavs, Jed Bews
HB: Mark O'Connor, Tom Stewart, Jake Kolodjashnij
C: Sam Menegola, Cam Guthrie, Mitch Duncan
HF: Shaun Higgins, Jeremy Cameron, Isaac Smith
F: Gary Rohan, Tom Hawkins, Brandan Parfitt
R: Rhys Stanley, Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood
Int: Jordan Clark, Lachie Henderson, Gryan Miers, Zach Tuohy
INS & OUTS
INS: Jeremy Cameron, Shaun Higgins (both trade); Isaac Smith (unrestricted free agent); Paul Tsapatolis (3yr Non Reg).
OUTS: Gary Ablett, Jack Steven, Harry Taylor (all retired); Nakia Cockatoo, Lachlan Fogarty (both trade); Jacob Kennerley, James Parsons, Jake Tarca (all delisted); Blake Schlensog (not retained).
The good: The Cats ranked No. 1 for disposal differential, contested possession differential and uncontested possession differential in 2020.
The bad: Geelong conceded the most points from an opposition centre-bounce clearance.
PREDICTION AFTER SIX ROUNDS
Six wins, no losses
R1 v Adelaide (AO) - W
R2 v Brisbane Lions (GMHBA) - W
R3 v Hawthorn (MCG) - W
R4 v Melbourne (MCG) - W
R5 v North Melbourne (GMHBA) - W
R6 v West Coast (GMHBA) - W
The Cats play only two finalists from last year in the opening six rounds - both of them at home - and take on injury-hit Hawthorn when Jack Gunston is still likely to be sidelined. They would expect to be at least 4-2 in that early stretch and potentially 6-0 to set up the season.
With a star-studded line-up, another healthy dose of GMHBA Stadium home games and the fire in the belly from a missed Grand Final opportunity, only a top-four finish and another deep finals run will satisfy.
Just as Richmond added Tom Lynch then immediately won the flag, why can't the Cats with Jeremy Cameron partnering Tom Hawkins?
ROBBO'S LIKES AND DISLIKES
Herald Sun chief football writer Mark Robinson tackles the Cats.
Will start 2021 in better nick than they left 2020, although Patrick Dangerfield's groin is an issue, seeing as it apparently hampered him late last season. Three months on it's still not right. Hmmm. Reckon Isaac Smith will be the best of the recruits, best because his run can put the Cats on the move. Shaun Higgins gave up last year and he will be much better performed this season. And who knows what Jeremy Cameron can do. Jezza likes the ball inside fast and in space, and can gallop around wherever Tom Hawkins plants himself. Harry Taylor was a champ, but cumbersome at the end, and so, too, was Lachie Henderson. The remainder of the team looks top notch.
Agree with Tom Stewart's comments, it's not "premiership or bust", but there are very high expectations on Geelong. When isn't there? The Cats contend almost every year and this won't be any different. Not sure Gary Rohan remains a best‑22 player. He just doesn't get it done when needed. Higgins can replace him in the F50 and more goals from the other small forwards would be handy. A little concerned at the back. Taylor was slow but experienced and now someone has to take the big boys. Is that Henderson?
See you in September.
BURNING QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Herald Sun chief football writer Mark Robinson joins Fox Footy experts Nick Riewoldt, David King, Leigh Montagna and Jordan Lewis to give their 2021 predictions for Geelong.
ROBBO: It is one of the great clichés in football, Joey, but is Geelong all in?
JOEY: *laughs* Are they all in? They are chips all in. And I like the courage to let everyone know it. They were 15 points up at halftime in a grand final and I thought the way they were playing they couldn't lose, up until when Dustin Martin came out after halftime. We know where they're at, they're all in. The fascination will be how the combination works with Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins. We just all presume it'll all work really well. For so long Geelong have relied on Hawkins as their focal point. Does that take a bit of time to adjust?
ROOEY: I think it'll work fine. What it does for Hawkins is it allows him I think to continue to do what he did so well in 2020, which is to roam. Gary Rohan as a forward target, he had moments last season but I don't think he is the type of player you can rely on every week. Whereas when Cameron is feeling it, you can see it within him. I think we're about to see the best of Jeremy Cameron. We've seen some pretty special things over the past half a dozen years, but his arrival at a big football club now with the players and the leadership around him, I think we're about to see him explode. It shapes as such a difficult forward line to cover now. I love what they've done and I'd love to be a Geelong supporter because every year they're trying to win a flag.
ROBBO: How much of a loss will Harry Taylor be if anything?
JOEY: I think they'll cover him fine and I think they've got a pretty good key defender in Mark Blicavs, who should go back to fullback. I know they keep playing him on the wing and as a second ruck. I still think he is a key defender.
JORDAN: Not with Isaac Smith coming in, when you've got a genuine winger who can play nearly 120 minutes. You don't need Blicavs there, and this allows him to go into defence.
KINGY: I think the most important player at Geelong is Jordan Clark. We know Geelong are there, but speed off the half back flank is what they haven't had. They haven't had a game changer and someone who threatens corridors. I think Chris Scott needs to take the brakes off this year.
ROOEY: Boys, how hard is it for a coach when you play a certain way and it's gotten you so close? How hard is it to not back yourself in or to shift to where you potentially need to go?
JORDAN: Geelong's game plan feels to me like it's the most complete game plan in the competition. They have added other ways to score in 2020 so they can score multiple ways. I think you tinker with it. Their midfield has probably been not the greatest because they've had to rejig their forward line because Rohan doesn't perform regularly enough. So you've had to throw Dangerfield down there and take him out of the middle. With Cameron coming in, you'd expect Danger to now play more midfield time and that X-factor in there that they've lacked.
ROBBO: Verdict, Jordan?
JORDAN: I think they're top two. I think the reason why Cameron and Hawkins will work is there is no ego. If you're the key figure in a forward line and you get another key figure from another side who is their main forward, Hawkins realises this is his chance to win another flag.
Originally published as The 6 keys to Geelong's premiership chances