New faces repay Scott’s off-season faith
THERE were plenty of raised eyebrows when Geelong failed to re-contract Daniel Menzel last year.
Offensively, the four-time knee reconstruction victim could kick a goal from anywhere, but for Geelong to close the gap on rivals, there had to be an overhaul of sorts in attack.
More speed, more tackle pressure and more bite at ground level.
And to Chris Scott's credit, his faith in a bunch of new faces including VFL product Tom Atkins and second-year livewire Gryan Miers and recycled pair Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan has been rewarded in the early part of the season.
On Monday against Hawthorn, the Cats will pose a huge threat at ground level in the front half of the ground. After four rounds, they rank No. 1 in the competition for groundball differential (+18) in the forward 50m.
The key statistic indicates how well the team is winning the ball off the carpet, close to goal, where the magic happens.
And Gary Ablett, spearhead Tom Hawkins and Dahlhaus all rank elite in this area according to Champion Data. Miers is above average, which is another big tick.
As much as the Hawks are trying to patch things up in the midfield to cover a shocking injury run this season, their backline will also be up against it on the deck.
The Hawks ranked 13th for groundballs won in the defensive 50m last season, and have inched up to 11th this year.
The theory goes that while Ben Stratton and James Sicily are excellent in the air, the Hawks can be tested at ground level.
Small defenders Jarman Impey, Blake Hardwick and Harry Morrison face a big test combatting the Geelong threat.
The forward-line revamp is more clever list management from the Cats, as both clubs look to defy predictions they would fall outside the eight this season.
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said he has admired for a long time how the Cats have been able to stay in contention, without much access to talent at the top end of the national draft order.
"There's a number of clubs, Sydney have been able to do it over a long period of time, Hawthorn, Geelong, have been able to defy the (equalisation) cycle in a sense," Clarkson said.
"They have been able to select players through the draft or trade or free agency which continues to give you an opportunity to challenge.
"Geelong have done that particularly well, they have injected some new players from other clubs in to their side as well as get some young players into their side, as well.
"They have been a quality outfit for a long period of time because they can continue to try and bring talent intro their footy club that compliments the group they've already got."