Geelong 2012 Season Preview

INS: Jed Bews (father-son selection), Joel Hamling (national draft), Shane Kersten (national draft), Jordan Murdoch (national draft), Lincoln McCarthy (national draft), Orren Stephenson (national draft).

OUTS: Mark Blake (retired), Marcus Drum (retired), Cameron Ling (retired), Darren Milburn (retired), Cameron Mooney (retired), Brad Ottens (retired).

YEAR IN REVIEW: Geelong’s 2011 put them into a position where they were recognised as one of the greatest teams of the modern era. The Cats, in Chris Scott’ first year at the helm, won a third flag in five years. All this despite losing the league’s No.1 player, Gary Ablett, to a big-money deal at Gold Coast Suns. They dropped three matches for the season but defeated runners-up Collingwood on as many occasions. Matthew Scarlett, Corey Enright and James Kelly made the All Australian team. Enright won the best and fairest from Joel Corey, Jimmy Bartel and retiring captain Cameron Ling.

GAME BREAKER: Expect a fit-again Paul Chapman to grab contests by the throat and swing them in Geelong’s favour. Three flags haven’t satisfied his hunger for success. He is a champion.

RISING STAR: The pre-season form of Steven Motlop suggests he’s ready to step up. He showed glimpses in four games during the middle of last season and there’s a place in this side for the clever forward if he wants it. Injuries have curtailed his progress since being the No.39 choice at the 2008 national draft.

KEY ARRIVAL: Out Brad Ottens, in Orren Stephenson. The Cats had a hit with mature-age selection James Podsiadly in 2010 and would love the North Ballarat big man to follow the same path. He has been on the AFL fringes in the past and trained with Hawthorn and St Kilda. Stephenson, 29, is the the oldest first-time draftee in the talent pool’s 25-year history. With Nathan Vardy and Dawson Simpson both battling injury he’ll be offered opportunities early.

COACH FACTOR: How easy is this caper? Chris Scott must be pinching himself after just 25 matches in the top job at Geelong. He boasts 22 wins, a premiership, and a team capable of going back to back. The former Brisbane Lions defender and Fremantle assistant coach tweaked the Geelong style and made the tough call on a few veterans to land the Cats their ninth flag. He was the first coach since Alan Joyce at Hawthorn in 1988 to win a premiership in his first season. Scott was humble and paid credit to his players but it was clear they enjoyed the change.

STATS THAT MATTER: The Cats did a few things differently in 2011 after their highly-successful run under Mark Thompson. Chris Scott primed his players for their September run by upping rotations and resting them for a week here and there. Geelong went from an average of 106 interchanges per game in 2010 (16th in the AFL) to 135 per week (No.1). With the finals in sight, the Cats took man management to a new level. From rounds 14-24 the averaged 4.6 changes to their team per week. Again, that was a competition high.

THE VERDICT: 2nd. Write off the Cats as a premiership contender and the chance to go back-to-back for the first time at your peril. They love to prove the doubters wrong. Selwood’s rise to captain will have a profound influence on any of the teams who think three flags in five years is enough. He is the fiercest competitor in the game. Ottens will be a loss but Stephenson is the logical choice to fill the void as first ruck with West as his deputy. There is enough talent among Christensen, Motlop, Brown and Smedts to ensure their improvement keeps pace with the rest of the competition.

BEST 22

B: J.Hunt Scarlett Taylor

HB: Mackie Lonergan Enright

C: Kelly Bartel Wojcinski

HF: Chapman Podsiadly Johnson

F: Stokes Hawkins Motlop

Foll: Stephenson Selwood Corey

I/C: Christensen, T.Hunt, Smedts

SUB: Duncan

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