This side has been the benchmark for so much of the last 10 years, but 2015 saw them miss the finals for the first time since 2007 when their historic premiership broke a 44-year drought. They have caught the biggest free agent fish, which when combined with a blend of outstanding veterans an strong youth should ensure their absence from September lasts only 12 months.
Geelong - 6th
B: Lachie Henderson, Tom Lonergan, Jackson Thurlow
HB: Corey Enright, Harry Taylor, Andrew Mackie
C: Josh Caddy, Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan
HF: Jimmy Bartel, Nathan Vardy, Steven Motlop
F: Daniel Menzel, Tom Hawkins, Rhys Stanley
R: Mark Blicavs, Joel Selwood, Cameron Guthrie
I/C: Jordan Murdoch, Nakia Cockatoo, Jake Kolodjashnij, Darcy Lang
Hawkins is one of the few true key forwards left in the game, remaining one of the best one-on-one combatants who has averaged 2.6 goals per game as one of the most consistent forwards since 2012. His ability to remain relevant as a key position player in today’s game is a testament to his skills and he can be expected to flourish again in 2016 as part of a stronger side. In Vardy and Stanley he is flanked by two very intriguing players, one of whom has been ravaged by injury and one who comes to the Cattery with hopes of building on 2015 where he attempted to revive a career that was flagging at St.Kilda. Both are blessed with athleticism and ability; Geelong fans will be hoping they remain fit.
Menzel’s return late in 2015 was one of the season’s truly remarkable stories, as the perennially injured Cat dominated against Collingwood in the penultimate round of the season before playing again in the final round. The fact that he remains on the list despite having had four knee reconstructions says all one needs to know about the esteem in which Menzel is held at Geelong; with a clean bill of health the Cats are in essence gaining a top notch recruit.
Motlop’s best is as good as anyone in the league, and while he showed more glimpses of this brilliance in 2015 than he has previously done the Cats would be hoping he can add consistency to his games and take the next step into the league’s elite in 2016. If he plays mainly as a forward in 2016, 55 goals would not be beyond him.
Forward line – 6/10
Enright will go down as the most understated player of our generation. He is rarely beaten, as tough as teak and as poised and skilled as any back man of the last decade. At 34, one would be forgiven for thinking his performances might slip but he ranked among the league leaders in both rebound 50s and uncontested possessions, so he may produce another season of brilliance before he rides off into the sunset.
While not as accomplished as Enright, both Taylor and Mackie form part of what has been a fantastic backline and continue to be effective players as both also enter the twilight of their career. Taylor’s versatility will allow him to push forward at times, with Henderson providing a solid foil. Coming with plenty of hype but with a largely underwhelming career to date, the former Brisbane and Carlton swingman will be looking to prove his value after being a much sought-after acquisition.
Backline rating – 6/10
Dangerfield ranks in the top 5 players in the competition, and was quite rightly the jewel in the crown that Geelong coveted. Now they have him, they are set to unleash a player who should be in his peak given his age and the fact he has moved home. Having finished in the top five in the last four Brownlow medals and with explosiveness matched by very few, Dangerfield could be set to challenge Nat Fyfe as the competition’s best player in 2016 as he is the prime mix of attacking flair and contested power.
Despite an injury-interrupted pre-season, Selwood will welcome the addition of Dangerfield and the move to being the second midfielder may invigorate his career. His quality, courage and leadership can never be questioned but he is coming off arguably his least effective season in 2015. The statistics were still reasonably impressive, but Selwood has set a very high bar for himself and will be striving to return to his best this season.
Blicavs was the most improved player in the competition in 2015, developing from interesting side show as a former athletics star to a player who ranked among the league leaders in tackles, possessions (among ruckmen) and hitouts while featuring as virtually an extra midfielder. If Stanley or Zac Smith can excel in the ruck, Blicavs offers an intriguing alternative as a tall, running midfielder.
Caddy, Duncan and Guthrie add good depth and will likely rotate through as the third starting midfielder and on the wings, although Duncan may find himself playing a role sweeping across half-back.
Midfield rating – 7/10
In 2016, Geelong has the AFL’s best fixture – it is as simple as that. Of the 2015 finalists they play just Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs twice, while they get return matches with GWS, Essendon and the Brisbane Lions. After playing the Hawks in Round 1 they play the Giants, Lions and Bombers and then finish the season against the Lions and Demons in the final two rounds.
They have just five 6-day breaks and play eight games within the comforts of Simmonds Stadium, while travelling to Adelaide twice but Perth just once. There is very little in this fixture to concern this side and it figures to play a huge part in them rocketing back up the ladder.
Fixture rating – 9/10
Chris Scott won a premiership in his first season, but has gradually performed worse and worse as a coach in each season since then. To say he was handed the plumb job in coaching this side may be harsh, as Scott was a very highly regarded assistant coach. But he comes into 2016 under intense scrutiny as he has yet to prove himself as a consistently good coach; he has recruited strongly and swung the axe on some club favourites in a manner that some might say was premature so making finals would be the minimum expectation.
His ability to further develop Guthrie, Caddy, Duncan and Lang while keeping the veterans fresh enough for a likely finals campaign will play a large role in whether 2016 is a success or not; while his brother Brad may attract more attention as a coach, Chris should be the one under more pressure.
Coaching rating – 6/10
Dangerfield is a huge recruit, and some will say that Henderson, Smith and Scott Selwood are significant additions. The jury remains out on those last three; while they are either versatile, talented or well-drilled none of them figure to make a significant difference to Geelong’s fortunes in 2016.
The improvement should come from the likes of Guthrie, Caddy, Duncan, Murdoch, Lang, Kolodjashnij and Cockatoo while Menzel may well be the second most important ‘recruit’ at the Cats in 2016.
The depth, talent and attacking quality is there for this side to rebound and become a contender again very quickly and so it should see itself playing finals again in 2016.
Predicted finish – 6th