The Geelong Football Club. My nemesis. Famous for disingenuous late withdrawals, petulant team selection sheets and deliberately misleading injury reports, Geelong redeemed themselves by giving fantasy coaches and DFS degenerates plenty going the other way in 2020.
The perfect figures of 1st in Points For and 18th in Points Conceded means you always knew where you stood on a Geelong slate. With rankings of 1st in Kicks, Marks, Goals, Marks Inside 50, and conceding the least Turnovers of any team, the secret formula wasn’t so secret – prioritise Cats, and fade the poor suckers who have to play against them.
With those numbers I just rattled off above, it’s no surprise to see the Cats push deep into the finals series with a Grand Final berth. Taking the next step up from the 2019 season and onto the penultimate rung was due to maturity from above and improvement from within.
The maturity came from realising that the Cats many stars didn’t have to shine every game – they didn’t even have to glitter in the sky at all on some nights. Joel Selwood treated himself to a nice month-long break tapering into the finals, while Ablett finally fully accepted his small forward role. Dangerfield became more comfortable with the idea that he didn’t have to become Superman in the midfield each week, and that quality in the forward 50 is often more damaging than quantity between the arcs. Tuohy accepted his new high half-forward role with grace, and Blicavs was ever the professional in plugging the holes wherever they popped up. This was a club that finally bought into the old saying “champion team, versus a team of champions”, and they were rewarded with an even chance at a flag.
The improvement flowed on from that crucial mindset, most of it from within Geelong’s ranks. Cam Guthrie elevated himself in front of our eyes with an incredible 10th year break-out, capped off with a maiden All-Australian berth. The similarly understated Menegola joined him in the 40-man All-Australian squad with a peerless season off a wing. But perhaps the biggest driver of Geelong’s season was the masterclass from veteran Tom Hawkins, whose career-best season was summed up perfectly by this quirky (and quite honestly, unbelievable) stat: he won the Coleman Medal whilst also leading the league in Goal Assists.
It was a massive 2020 season from the Cats, but as you can see from their high-profile recruits, they’re not finished yet.
Cockatoo, Fogarty [trades, free agency]
Ablett, Taylor, Steven [retired]
Kennerley, Parsons, Tarca [delisted]
Cameron (GWS), S. Higgins (NTH), I. Smith (HAW).
Talk about not being here to fornicate with spiders.
The retirements of the modern GOAT in Gary Ablett, a generational key defender in Harry Taylor and a genuine gun (when up and running) in Jack Steven would be enough to cripple most clubs. It might tip others headfirst into a rebuild. Not this club. They took out their pocketbooks and, armed with a scrapbook filled with photos of their remote “oasis” (which is how Geelong is revered in the media. I’ve been there – it’s two crossroads and a train station), they enticed 3 names, just as big, to join their cause.
The crown jewel is Jeremy Cameron, of course, being 2020’s highest paid player in the competition. Adding someone of his ilk (the 2019 Coleman Medallist) to a forward line boasting the reigning Coleman Medallist in Hawkins and his goal assists co-leader in Dangerfield makes the mouth water. Isaac Smith oozes class and fills a need with Blicavs vacating a wing to cover Harry Taylor’s key post. Meanwhile, Higgins will pick up where Gaz left off with his elite smarts and skills in the forward half. Huge haul.
The highly-rated Cockatoo and Fogarty are purely collateral damage heading to new homes, a necessity given the hefty contracts coming in and the reduced list sizes. They might not feel too disappointed with the switch, though; Geelong’s ‘best 22’ goes about 28 players deep and the competition for spots this year will be fierce.
Grand Finalists, by definition, have a shorter off-season. But with COVID-19 pushing back the climax of the season almost a full month until October 24, the Cats are coming off the most stunted pre-season in history. And they’re feeling it. Dangerfield is on a heavily modified program with last year’s groin concern. Duncan is in doubt for Round 1 after multiple calf issues this pre-season. Cameron (hamstring niggle) is back into full training and Stewart (quad) will soon join him, but the news isn’t as positive for Simpson (shoulder), Dahlhaus (groin) and Fort (knee).
#20 Max Holmes – M/F – 55 avg from 1 game in 2019 NAB League
Cracking Geelong’s 22 is going to be a daunting task even for the established players on the list, so they leaned into that with their selections by going for high upside or needs-based picks. Holmes is the former with the Cats even trading next year’s first rounder in order to secure him, so they must like what they see in the draft bolter. Another athletics convert, they’ll be looking at him for a wing role in the future – but probably after their current Premiership window swings shut.
#33 Shannon Neale – R/F – 74 avg from 8 games in WAFL Colts
The ruck stocks were looking thin behind Fort and part-timer Ratugolea, so Geelong dipped into the WA talent pool and plucked out a promising project player. Athletic at 202cm, Neale could be anything… with plenty of time and development.
#47 Nicholas Stevens – D – 54 avg from 6 games in 2019 NAB League
With their last pick the Cats pick up local talent Nick Stevens, who started out as a skillful half-back but enjoyed a late growth spurt and now stands at 192cm. This puts him in frame to help replace the retired Harry Taylor as a tall in defence, with Stevens singled out by both Assistant Coach Matthew Scarlett and backline general Tom Stewart for his impressive work this pre-season. It’s hard to get too excited about him in DFS if he’ll be selected with a defense-first role in mind, but we’ll reassess if it looks like he’s playing with a more attacking mindset based on team balance.
If you wanted to score against Cats you had to do it the hard way. While they conceded the least Disposals and least Marks of any club, they were nice enough to concede the 2nd-most Tackles along the way. Which is just probably just symptomatic of the other team never having possession, I guess. Grim stats for the outside types who were basically doomed in these match-ups before the ball was even bounced.
Unsurprisingly, this expertly-executed ball-control style translated to some nasty DvP numbers. The Cats ranked hardest for Key DEF’s, General DEF’s and Key FWD’s; plus 3rd-hardest for General FWD’s and 5th-hardest for MID’s. Even RUC’s, which have traditionally been a tender underbelly for Geelong, tightened up from 2nd-easiest in the first half of 2020 to 3rd-hardest in the latter half of the year.
Basically: Don’t f**k with Cats.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Patrick Dangerfield
Through a combination of last year’s success and this year’s diminished pre-season, I think it’s fair to assume that Dangerfield will be filling a hybrid M/F role again this season. Which dulls his appeal significantly, because while the extra forward time wasn’t a death sentence by any means, he averaged 12 points less when he attended less than 50% of CBA’s last year. At his price point, that’s a big deal in DFS.
So I’m happy to wait and see on Danger this year. There are a lot of moving pieces which could affect his role from both angles – we have an injured Duncan and a veteran Selwood who is preparing to play a lot of odd roles this year, plus another big banana down near the goal sticks with Jeremy Cameron in the mix. Throw in the dodgy groin, and it’s hard to justify his selection at an elevated price on a 4-game slate in Round 1.
2. Mark Blicavs
The obvious replacement for Harry Taylor externally, all the messaging out of Geelong this pre-season confirms what we expected with Blicavs training in a return to a key defensive post. Great news for the Cats, who can just casually slip a two-time B&F winner into an area of need.
Not so great for his fantasy output though. Blicavs averaged just 59 AF (adjusted) playing in defence in 2020, before a Round 8 switch up the ground boosted him up to 87 AF from that point onwards. Blitz would have won a lot of astute DFS punters a lot of money last year with the casuals missing his move to a wing/ruck role, so it’ll be sad to see him return to relative fantasy irrelevance in 2021.
3. Tom Stewart
Not all defenders are created equal. While Blicavs is quelling the opposition’s best defender, Tom Stewart is free to do what he does best – peel off his opponent and launch counter-attacks. This is the foundation of his fantasy scoring, his absolute bread and butter; Stewart ranked 4th in Kicks, 2nd in Marks and 3rd in Rebound 50’s per game in 2020, for a total (adjusted and uninjured) average of 102 AF.
Picking the right match-ups is crucial with defenders in DFS, and Stewart is no different. Against the 8 leakiest teams for Gen DEF’s in DvP last year, the late blo0mer averaged a massive 9 marks and 116 AF, with a lowest score of 100 across those outings. Smash him in the right spots all over again in 2021.
4. Mitch Duncan
Calves. An old man’s injury, and hard to shake – just ask Duncan, who’s had two niggles on the same calf this pre-season. His latest setback rules out any chance of AAMI Community Series involvement and puts his Round 1 prospects in doubt. Not ideal preparation.
But let’s pretend for a minute that he’s fully fit, which presumably becomes true at some point in the season. With Dangerfield spending significant time up forward and Selwood preparing for a mixture of roles, the CBA’s open up once again for Duncan. No slouch as an outside player with a 110-point trajectory in that role, that figure turbocharged to 130 AF in his 6 games with more than 50% CBA presence in 2020.
Duncan averaged 131 AF in his 68% CBA share over the Finals Series last year, so it’s on the cards – if and when his calves allow it.
5. Jordan Clark
Clark’s name popped up during the trade period once again during the off-season, with words like ‘disgruntled’, ‘home-sick’ and ‘more opportunity’ thrown around. Whether there was substance to it or whether it was just whispers in the wind, it doesn’t matter now – he’s at Geelong this year and apparently he’s come back in ripping nick. Personal bests in time trials type of nick.
Breaking through for that senior spot is the next hurdle. Isaac Smith claims Blicavs’ vacated wing spot and will do the honours predominantly with Menegola, and Clark’s best fantasy output has historically come in that wing role. But can he nail down a spot on Geelong’s half-back line? They don’t really have a ball-user out of defence outside of Tom Stewart, with O’Connor the closest thing as more of a line-breaker.
There’s a niche there, in my opinion. If the Cats want to keep Tuohy as a high half-forward, then Clark has the scope to not only crack the senior team, but to flourish in fantasy when he does. Look for him at a modest price with DEF status on Draftstars this year.
- Isaac Smith will set up a tent on a wing and focus on being more class than accumulation for the Cats. He’s hovered around the 80-90 average mark in the last half decade and despite the Cats’ style being more fantasy-friendly for wingmen, that’s where I expect him to operate. Target in strong outside match-ups but a GPP-only guy for mine.
- I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, but Selwood has already thrown up a couple of red flags this pre-season. As if the preparing-to-play-multiple-roles revelation wasn’t bad enough, the “I’d be surprised if anyone plays the full season” soundbite is a shocker for fantasy. I have little interest in Selwood if he’s not a full-time inside midfielder, so track his CBA’s in early 2021.
- The Cats haven’t explicitly revealed the role of recruit Shaun Higgins outside of targeting him to replace the huge void left by Ablett. But will that be a straight implantation into Gazza’s forward-only role, or will it include the midfield time that Higgins is capable of and was fulfilling at North (95 adjusted average with a mixture of inside, wing and half-back roles) last year? There’s no doubt Higgins’ DFS appeal is greater with the midfield time included, so monitor this closely.
- Parfitt is perennially ready for that next midfield step, and 2021 is no different. Like Cam Guthrie last year, Parfitt has another gear or two left in him, and it’ll come from the KPI’s – he can do much better than the 71% TOG and 50% CBA share he received in 2020.
- Miers was a big GPP player last year with 8 scores over 80 (including monsters of 100, 109 and 130) and that was with mere scraps. Room to grow if he can get more involved in the play.
- Tuohy’s role is far from clear. He’s on the record as saying he prefers that half-back job, but if he couldn’t crack the bloated 8-man rotation last year, I’m not sure much changes for the Irishman this year. A GPP-only pick with the high variance high half forward role, but I’ll take a much closer look if he slots back onto a HBF.
- Stanley is set to remain the nominal #1 ruckman following the recent knee injury to Darcy Fort who, by all reports, was coming for his spot hard. Always worth a look in DFS as a solo ruckman, just buckle yourself in for the roller-coaster of emotions along the way.
- Cooper Stephens was an emergency 5 times in 2020 but looks to have taken a quantifiable leap over the off-season. He’s in Round 1 calculations apparently, and that was before Duncan’s calf news filtered through. Very, very interested in the inside midfielder if he gets his chance this year.
- It’ll be an uphill battle to crack the 22 again for Narkle and Simpson (shoulder), but they both get midfield time when they do. DFS relevant when the price is right.
- We haven’t seen the highly athletic Kreuger at AFL level yet, but an off-season switch from attack to defence could pave the way for a debut. We have no exposed form for his typical output as a defender, so it’s a wait-and-see approach here.
- Same goes for De Koning and Nick Stevens, who are both also in the mix for a defensive role as we approach the pre-season hitouts. The AAMI Community Series will reveal more.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.