With their defence and a trade steal firing, the Cats lead the ladder. The next three weeks will tell us if they really deserve to


Has there ever been a team more “quietly” unbeaten and on top of the ladder, like Geelong this year? The Cats are a game and percentage clear of second spot, but you wouldn’t know it based on the commentary surrounding the AFL over the first seven rounds.

Sydney and GWS have captured the most notices as early premiership favourites, Carlton have made headlines, Port have shown their usual capacity to dazzle and disappoint, while last year’s grand finalists Collingwood and Brisbane have mostly been in the news for the wrong reasons.

Partly, the ridiculous stop-start nature of the season is to blame. Four teams had played two games before half the competition had played one. Sporadic bye rounds have been littered throughout the early part of the year. It’s been hard to get a handle on who sits where.

Also, Geelong have played five of the bottom seven teams, on a ladder that finally shows us all clubs having played an equal amount of games. The six teams the Cats have beaten have won only nine games between them.

The next three weeks will tell us a lot more about where Chris Scott’s men sit, taking on Carlton, Melbourne and Port Adelaide, all expected to be in premiership contention, or at least a threat to be there on preliminary final weekend.

Geelong are no doubt a good side, but they’re not 6-0 good. They are yet to put together a true four quarter performance, even against weaker sides. What they have been able to do is withstand some strong opposition pushes late in games, and still gone onto secure victory. At various times they were challenged by St Kilda, Adelaide, the Western Bulldogs, and even Hawthorn to some extent.

Last year, when finishing 12th, they were losing those games.

As is usually the case, the Cats game is built around defence. They have a great mix of hybrid players that can play tall or small, intercept, mark, play tight when need be, are effective when the ball is on the ground, and can run and rebound. Zach Guthrie really became a player across 2022-23, and he’s gone to another level this year.

The defence needs to be strong, because Geelong are still getting well beaten, and sometimes obliterated, in clearances. Patrick Dangerfield has missed three games, and Cam Guthrie hasn’t played yet, so a lot falls to those two. Tanner Bruhn has been cracking in hard, and it’s worth remembering that he’s still only 21, while Brandon Parfitt has recaptured some form at just the right time after two years in the wilderness where he was often the sub.

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Bruhn and Parfitt are good pointers to the Cats depth. Tom Atkins finished second in the best and fairest last year, yet has been squeezed out of the midfield due to the emergence of those two. Jack Bowes and teenager Jhye Clark have been getting games. The young ruckman Toby Conway has been given a couple of looks. Other youngsters like Connor O’Sullivan, Shannon Neale and Mitch Knevitt, have had minor gametime.

The forward-line is functioning very well, without anything particularly scintillating from Jeremy Cameron or Tom Hawkins. The latter hasn’t kicked a goal in his last two games, and while the former had a day out against North Melbourne, he’s been pushing further upfield to be that link player.

Ollie Henry will prove to be one of the biggest steals in trade history, it’s completely unforgiveable that Collingwood let him go for pick 28. He’s been good for two goals a game since he arrived last year, and is the perfect emerging young tall as Cameron and Hawkins advance in years.

Oliver Henry of the Cats celebrates with fans during the round nine AFL match between Brisbane Lions and Geelong Cats at The Gabba, on April 20, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Ollie Dempsey has been a revelation, and while a very different player to Gryan Miers, he does have similar attributes in his work rate and good decision making. Tyson Stengle has been looking more like his All Australian form from 2022, rather than the disappointment of last season.

It’s easy enough to look good against minnows like North Melbourne, Hawthorn and St Kilda, or a side that’s badly out-of-form like Adelaide, but the Geelong have used their soft opening to the season to manage their team, get players into form, and get their confidence up.

The next phase of their season starts now – before May is out, they’ll have played Carlton and Melbourne at the MCG, hosted Port and GWS at GMHBA Stadium, and also been diverted up to Darwin against a tricky Gold Coast outfit. We shouldn’t be surprised if they still hold onto top spot by then.

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