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Veteran Geelong champion Joel Selwood celebrates. (Photo: Julian Smith/AAP)

AFL 2022: Geelong Cats season preview

Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a a look at the perennially contending Geelong Cats.

Geelong’s home guernsey.

The Cats are the AFL’s Rorschach test. Do you look at Geelong and admire a team that has been able to stay in premiership contention for well over a decade? Or do you admonish a team that pours everything into winning a premiership, yet continually falls short in September?

For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.

Season 2021

3rd position: 16 wins, 6 losses, 126.7%.

Once again, the Cats imported high priced veteran talent in order to bolster their 2021 premiership push. In the regular season it almost worked, with only Max Gawn’s last gasp goal seeing the Demons pip the Cats to top spot on the ladder.

In the finals, long time coach Chris Scott’s methodical (if we’re being nice; tedious if we’re not) game plan once again came unstuck. The Cats were beaten in the 1st week of the finals by Port Adelaide before eking past the Giants. They then ran into the Demons buzzsaw, getting obliterated by 83 points in the Preliminary final.

Tim Minchin look-alike Cam Guthrie followed up his breakout 2020 campaign with an outstanding 2021 season, averaging 29 possessions a match. Tom Stewart was a pillar of strength in defense and was sorely missed when injured late in the season. High priced acquisition Jeremy Cameron was very good and dovetailed well with veteran full forward Tom Hawkins, who at age 33 had a magnificent season.

In the midfield, the usual suspects stood up: Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan and Zach Tuohy all enjoying very good campaigns. However Patrick Dangerfield had a season he’d rather forget. Beset by injury and suspensions, he was well below his devastating best in 2021.

Ultimately, another finals flame-out sees the pressure ratcheted up on both the veteran stars and coach Scott in 2022.

Key ins: Jonathan Ceglar (Hawthorn), Tyson Stengle (Free Agent), Toby Conway, Mitch Knevitt, James Willis, Flynn Kroeger, Cooper Whyte, Oliver Dempsey (all draft)

Key outs: Jordan Clark (Fremantle), Charlie Constable (Gold Coast), Darcy Fort (Brisbane), Nathan Kreuger (Collingwood), Lachie Henderson, Josh Jenkins (both retired), Oscar Brownless, Ben Jarvis, Cameron Taheny, Stefan Okunbor (all released)

For the eleventyeth season in a row, the Cats have stocked up with veteran talent at the trade table with big man Jon Ceglar coming over from Hawthorn and the troubled but talented former Crow Tyson Stengle arriving at Kardinia Park. They join a team that is loaded with top end talent all over the park.

Selwood, Dangerfield, Duncan, Tuohy and Hawkins are all superstars of the competition. All, however, are on the back end of their careers with Dangerfield (32 in less than a month) the youngest. Their other stars – Stewart, Cameron and Guthrie – are all either 28 or 29 years old. Each in their prime, but without any reasonable development left in them.

This remains the issue for the Cats. With the likes of Jordan Clark, Darcy Fort and Charlie Constable traded away, they possess a diminishing number of potential young stars, so where does the improvement come from? Who is their x-factor?

One to watch is Jack Henry, who stepped into Stewart’s boots well last season. With Lachie Henderson riding off into the sunset there is a key defensive post for Henry to occupy. The bolter could be the 19 year old Max Holmes, who impressed with his combination of skill and blinding pace as a rookie. He will get more of a look in 2022.

The key question for Geelong is this: can/will they alter their game plan?

When Chris Scott won the 2011 premiership in his first year as coach, the argument was that he won with the core of previous coach Mark Thompson’s team. The 10 years since have shown Scott up as somewhat of a one trick pony who’s game plan of cautious, deliberate ball movement and physical defense has been repeatedly shown up by high pressure, counter pressing teams such as the Tigers and Demons – y’know, the last two Premiership winning clubs.

With a roster loaded with veteran talent, a high pressure, frenetic game style might not suit the Cats playing list, but Scott needs to change something. Right now he’s a good in-season coach who hasn’t shown the ability to adjust against the best in the competition.

One positional change to look for is Dangerfield spending more time forward in 2022. The champion is slowing down, though is a powerful build and still explosive. Alongside Cameron and Hawkins as well as the inconsistent though occasionally brilliant Gary Rohan, Dangerfield might draw the 4th best opposition defender. If the Cats midfield gets on top, they could be feeding the best forward line in the AFL.

This is likely the final season for club legend Selwood, with Hawkins and Tuohy perhaps in the same boat. The club will surely want to see their champions off with a premiership. Can they do it? With some tactical tweaks, a few youngsters emerging and a little bit of luck, they might just about get there.

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Prediction: 5th

Once again, it’s Premiership or bust in Geelong. The team has passed on large swathes of it’s future in the past few seasons, to bring in ready made talent, with no silverware to show for it. To that end, a regular season prediction seems redundant given that Geelong will be assessed on their September successes/failures.

Chris Scott can be obstinate when it comes to his game plan. If he’s ever going to experiment, then this has to be the time. An ageing list and a devastating finals campaign mean that something has to change.

If the Cats do experiment through the regular season, expect the Cats to take a step back as they find what works and what to shelve. If they don’t change, expect a slight drop off due to the looming presence of Father Time.

Either way, the Cats finish just outside the top four.

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