WHERE AND WHEN: MCG, Saturday September 8, 7.45pm
LAST TIME: Fremantle 16.9 (105) d Geelong 15.11 (101), round one, 2012, at Patersons Stadium
Reigning Premiers Geelong will kick off its sixth consecutive finals campaign at the MCG on Saturday Night when they face Ross Lyon’s defensive Dockers.
Coming from sixth this year, the Cats are in the unfamiliar territory of an elimination final after a superb five top four finishes.
They’ll be away from their home turf, with the currently re-developing Simonds Stadium being put on ice until next year.
The turf-disadvantage that Geelong faces at finals time will be a major motivational point for Lyon, having solidified his Freo side in a finals position after a superb finish to the year.
The Dockers missed out on the finals last year, but it all seems to be going right for them at the moment: Aaron Sandilands is back and in dominant form, and while they missed a potentially scinitillating Western Derby by leapfrogging North Melbourne, they face the reigning Premiers on neutral turf.
What Geelong Will Want to See:
The Cats have reinvented themselves this year under the tutelage of Chris Scott, with a host of younger bodies being introduced into the side to increase the longevity of some of the senior brigade.
With a long and arduous home and away season behind them, it will be up to the likes of Jordan Murdoch, Steve Motlop and Nathan Vardy to make up for the likely tired legs of Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman and James Podsiadly.
Despite Tom Hawkins missing out on the Coleman Medal to a rampant Jack Riewoldt last Sunday, he will relish re entering the stage where he made his name last year. Along with his captain, Joel Selwood, he’ll be crucial to kicking the Cats away against Fremantle.
Tom Lonergan and Harry Taylor will be required to be at their best to combat Matthew Pavlich and whoever Fremantle select as their second ruckman out of Jon Griffen and Zac Clarke.
This could be Matthew Scarlett’s last game in a stellar career, and the Cats will be looking to lift one final time to see him through.
What Fremantle Will Want to See:
Matthew Pavlich drew level with Hawkins in the goal kicking this season; also missing out thanks to Riewoldt’s last day splurge. The evergreen forward will have to be at his very best to help find the defensively-orientated Fremantle an avenue to goal.
At his feet, Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Walters will need to capitalise on the ground ball against a rather tall Cats defence.
David Mundy, Michael Barlow, Nat Fyfe and Stephen Hill all form part of a varied and hyped Fremantle midfield. They’ll need to do what they do at a top level if the Dockers are any chance of causing an upset. Ryan Crowley was effective on Nathan Jones in last weeks match and will likely tag another Premier midfielder in Selwood.
Luke McPharlin is a huge loss down back after injuring his knee against Melbourne, so Zac Dawson, and whoever Ross Lyon throws his weight behind to replace their star centre half-back (be it Alex Silvagni or even the retiring Antoni Grover), will surely have a big job to do against Hawkins and Podsiadly.
The Fremantle press will have to be at its very best to lock down a fast-moving Cats midfield, and it will involve commitment from every Dockers play on the field.
Geelong have done this before. September is as much a part of the annual working year as March is. Fremantle, on the other hand, are entering their fourth finals series in their short existance.
Ross Lyon coached St Kilda to five consecutive finals series, but guiding the Dockers through will be a whole new challenge. Chris Scott is a second year coach, but the cattle around him are seasoned and he’s held up four Premiership cups as a player/coach in a glittering career.
Geelong are a great side with some great players, but Fremantle have more than a bit of X factor about them. Having said that, the Cats should be simply too strong for a teething Freo and expect that to show for most of the match.
Geelong by 40.