Arguably the two best teams over the past 15 seasons are finally meeting in a grand final. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Since 2005, Geelong have won three flags and missed finals just twice, while Sydney have won two flags and missed finals on only three occasions.
In recent times they’ve been equally as impressive, with Geelong unbeaten since round nine, and the Swans are unbeaten since round 16, making them the two most in-form teams in the competition.
Will this group of mature age Cats finally go all the way after so many unsuccessful finals campaigns?
Or is it the year of the young and the fearless?
Last time they met
It’s hard to get a read on the form guide for this one, as Geelong and Sydney haven’t met since back in round 2. That match sticks out for one particular reason, as it was the game Buddy slotted his 1000th goal and was swamped by the masses. Although it was overshadowed by the occasion, there was actually a game of footy to be won, and the Swans toppled Geelong by 30 points - 17.5 (107) to 10.17 (77).
Goal-kicking accuracy was a sore point for the Cats, as they kicked 12 behinds as opposed to Sydney’s three (excluding rushed behinds). Both of the Cats’ key talls - who would be so dominant all season - struggled, with Cameron and Hawkins managing just one goal between them. Cameron however had been hospitalised just six days earlier after a sickening collision in round one, and still got his hands on the footy with 17 disposals and three behinds. It was an uncharacteristically quiet outing for Patrick Dangerfield, who managed just 13 disposals. Brad Close on the other hand was a shining light for the Cats, kicking four majors from 18 touches.
While the Cats forwards struggled, the same couldn’t be said of the Sydney’s, with 1000-goal man Lance Franklin and Isaac Heeney booting nine goals between them. Callum Mills - who’s been a standout midfielder for the Swans this season - also impressed with a game-high 29 disposals and 12 contested possessions.
Geelong have named an unchanged team heading into the clash, meaning Max Holmes has overcome a hamstring scare to prove himself fit for the decider. Mark O’Connor will be the medical sub.
Sydney on the other hand have made a selection shock, dropping Logan McDonald (who played 17 games this year) for Hayden McLean (who hasn’t played since round eight). Braeden Campbell has been named as Sydney’s medical sub. Sam Reid, who was also an under injury cloud, proved himself fit.
Why Geelong can win
The reality is that this is Geelong’s premiership to lose.
The Cats have won 15 on the trot, going undefeated since round nine, and finished the home and away season with an ominous percentage of 144.2.
For the preliminary final their emergency list included Sam Menegola, Brandon Parfitt and Mark O’Connor, which speaks volumes of their depth. This is a serious team.
They’ve evolved their play style in 2022, looking to handball far more frequently which has added a potent edge of speed to their otherwise considered kick and mark approach. It’s arguable that’s been a big reason for the Cats enhanced credentials this season.
At the end of the day, the Cats have won 15 in a row, and despite their lack of recent premierships are tremendously experienced finals campaigners. If Geelong play the game on their terms and withstand Sydney’s pressure they should be feeling very confident.
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Why Sydney can win
Sydney are the number one pressure side in the competition. Why is this so relevant? Geelong are 15-0 when their opponent’s pressure rating is below 180, and 5-4 when it’s above 180. The Swans pressure rating in their victory over Collingwood? 208. Oh, and they’re the number one pressure team in the competition. If Sydney are to pull off an upset, they must bring the heat around the contest.
And much has been made of Geelong’s 15 straight wins, but let's not forget Sydney have won nine in a row themselves, going undefeated since round 16.
Yes it’s a grand final, but the underdog tag can be considered an advantage as they have less to lose, and the Swans have been fearless all season, there’s no reason that’ll change on Saturday.
Sydney also has plenty of x-factor, players like Isaac Heeney and Lance Franklin are game-breakers, they can win the match off their own boot. They did it last time they met the Cats, combining for nine goals. Who’s to say they won’t do it again? Plus they have a bloke named Tom Papley floating a round y in their forward line.
Players to watch
The midfield battle in this clash is mouth-watering. Selwood, Tuohy, Dangerfield and Guthrie meet Mills, Warner, Rowbottom, Parker. Two of the best midfields in the league going head-to-head. Get excited.
Selwood will be playing in his 42nd final, seeing him overtake the legendary Michael Tuck for the most finals played. While Patrick Dangerfield, one of the greatest players of the modern era, could truly establish his legacy with a premiership. He missed his chance in 2020, and will be determined to make amends. Danger was also quiet last time Geelong met the Cats with 13 disposals, copping some attention from Callum Mills, so that could be a match-up to keep an eye on.
Up forward for the Cats, two of the biggest names in the game will no doubt capture plenty of attention. Jeremy Cameron has had a season to remember and was comfortably Geelong’s leading vote-getter at Sunday night’s Brownlow - an extraordinary effort from a key forward in a team worthy of the minor premiership - and with good reason. He’s had a season to remember and his influence extends far beyond goals scored, ranking elite for both disposals (16.1) and score involvements (8). If Cameron’s on it will go a long way to sealing victory for Geelong. Likewise, the seasoned Tom Hawkins is a two-time premiership player that’s aged like a fine wine, he equalled Cameron’s 59 home and away goals and knows how to make use of the space, but more importantly knows how to score goals and win games.
So who stops them? The McCartin brothers. After Paddy’s lengthy and challenging battle with concussion that saw his career seemingly over, he now has the chance to become a premiership player, and will be doing it alongside brother Tom. It’s likely the pair will be tasked with stopping Cameron and Hawkins. Probably one of the hardest asks in football, but what a story if the brother’s pull it off.
While the tall forwards can often steal the limelight, the smalls can’t be forgotten, namely Brad Close - who will likely be donning the long sleeves. Often creating space with his extraordinary tank, Close had a career-best outing with four majors last time Geelong met Sydney, and will be hoping to repeat the effort on Saturday.
The redemption of Tyson Stengle has been remarkable, becoming the first delisted free agent to become an All-Australian. Capping it off with a premiership would be undeniably special. The livewire is likely to get on the end of a few. One to watch at the foot of the contest.
The Swans however aren’t short on weapons up front either. Three names in particular stand out: Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, Isaac Heeney, and Tom Papley. Buddy is Buddy, and has featured in five grand finals, but for all his greatness is yet to put in a seriously defining performance that he’s so capable of. Will certainly be looking to change that on Saturday. As for Heeney, he arguably plays the challenging high half-forward role as well as anyone in the game. Expect to see his name on the scoresheet. Tom Papley is never far from the goals either, and has x-factor in spades.
The decisive names down back for the Cats will be young star Sam de Koning, intercept machine Tom Stewart, and diverse ruckman Rhys Stanley. The Cats like to play a loose defensive system in terms of one-on-one manning, with one of de Koning, Stewart, or Stanley playing as the spare defender at any given time, while the other two will take Franklin and Reid. Defence has been so pivotal in Geelong’s rise to the top, and this trio of top-shelf backmen must be on-song if Geelong are to secure that elusive flag.
Sydney’s Sam Reid and Geelong’s Max Holmes have been named despite significant injury clouds, if either breaks down during the game, it could prove costly.
To be concise: Sydney by less than a goal.
Who doesn’t love an underdog story?
This youthful Swans outfit is a pressure machine, and throughout the duration of their 15-game unbeaten streak, Geelong haven’t faced a serious pressure test. If Sydney brings the heat, which they should, they can topple the Cats just like they did way back in round two.
Curbing the influence of Cameron and Hawkins may be Sydney’s biggest challenge, but they have a sound defensive system that’s done it before.
That being said, the Cats are no pushover, as most of the competition has come to discover. If Sydney are to win, it’ll be by the skin of their teeth.
Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills are two very good shouts for the Norm Smith medal.