If round 23 was a teaser for what’s in store in Friday night’s preliminary final, buckle up.
Can Melbourne live up to the hype?
Or will Geelong book their place in a second consecutive grand final?
Last time they met
It’s hard to forget to the last encounter between Melbourne and Geelong. Not only was it recent, but it was a blockbuster.
Just weeks ago in round 23, Melbourne needed to beat Geelong to secure the minor premiership, but trailed by 44 points midway through the third quarter.
What unfolded next was the stuff of legends.
The Demons were unstoppable in the final term, kicking six unanswered goals including Max Gawn’s after-the-siren winner to clinch a 12.9 (81) to 12.5 (77) victory.
Gawn was monumental throughout the encounter, finishing with 25 disposals and 39 hit outs, while Clayton Oliver (39 disposals, nine clearances, two goals), Christian Petracca (26 disposals, six clearances) and Kysaiah Pickett (three goals) were also among Melbourne’s best.
Hawkins slotted four majors and was strong for the Cats, while Cam Guthrie (30 disposals) and Joel Selwood (28 disposals) were also impressive.
The injured Joel Smith is set to be replaced by veteran Michael Hibberd for Melbourne, while James Jordon will line up as the Medical Sub.
For Geelong, the hamstrung Brandon Parfitt is the only out, and the Medical Sub will be one of Luke Dalhaus, Sam Simpson, Darcy Fort and Shaun Higgins.
Why Melbourne can win
The Dees are thriving.
They’re peaking, they’re confident, they’re hungry. It’ll take a serious performance to beat them.
And not only are they playing scintillating football, but they’re enjoying themselves and having fun off the field. All the ingredients are there for a fairytale flag.
With the stunning round 23 comeback fresh in their minds, the Dees also have an unwavering self-belief, especially against their preliminary final opponents. No matter how far Geelong can pull ahead, they won’t be safe.
The removal of the pre-finals bye also plays into Melbourne’s hands. History shows that 88% of qualifying final winners made the grand final before the pre-finals bye, with that figure dropping to 40% since its introduction.
It’d take a brave soul to tip against Melbourne.
Why Geelong can win
Last week’s semi final was our first look this season at a Geelong team with all of Esava Ratugolea, Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron, Gary Rohan, Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley. It didn’t disappoint.
On face value, Ratugolea may have seemed quiet against GWS, but his mere presence was crucial. Hawkins and Cameron kicked seven majors between them, buoyed by the fact a third Giants key defender was engaged in a one-on-one contest.
Translate this to the Melbourne game, and it means Jake Lever has to man an opponent one-on-one instead of floating and picking off intercepts with ease. In turn giving greater opportunity to Hawkins and Cameron.
It’s also worth noting the Cats are 8-1 with Ratugolea, Hawkins and Cameron in the same forward line.
Not so much a why Geelong can win, but a how, is their contested ball. In round four, Geelong lost to Melbourne by 25 points and lost the contested possession count by 19. In round 23, the Cats lost by just four and tied the possession count. You’d suggest if they can win the contested possession count, it’ll go a long way to swinging the scores in their favour. But that’s easier said than done against an on-ball brigade as formidable as Melbourne’s.
If the Cats were good enough to get 44 points ahead of the Demons just weeks ago, they have the potential to beat them, and will believe that they can.
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Players to watch
If the Cats want to win, they simply have to win the contested possession count, and the trio of Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Max Holmes will be vital. When you think of Geelong’s decisive players, Holmes isn’t a name that springs to mind, but he’s consistently among their top contested possession getters, and will be a key cog.
And following his semi final blitz, eyes will be firmly fixed on Irishman Zach Tuohy, who had his own Sherrin against GWS and uses the ball clinically.
Already a potent pairing, Hawkins and Cameron have been gifted a greater leg rope thanks to Ratugolea’s introduction. That being said, they still have to contend with 2021 All Australian backmen in Lever and Steven May. The game could hinge on those matchups. Must Watch.
The Demons tend to share their goals around, with Kysaiah Pickett, Bayley Fritsch and Christian Petracca often damaging. But if they could get at least three from Tom McDonald or Ben Brown, it’d be a big boost.
There's a strong case for Geelong, and they'll be up for the fight. You can count on one of Hawkins or Cameron to get on the end of a few.
But Melbourne’s just unbeatable at the moment. Even with an extra tall to account for, their defence is clinical, and their selfless brand wins finals.