The stage is set for one of the biggest Grand Final showdowns in recent memory as Geelong and Sydney square off.
And both clubs must overcome key issues if they’re to be holding up the silverware on Saturday.
Here’s three burning questions for each club ahead of the grand final and the Fox Footy commentators in our ultimate weekly preview: The Blowtorch!
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AFL 2022 GRAND FINAL (All times AEST)
GEELONG CATS v SYDNEY SWANS
Saturday September 24, 2:30pm at the MCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 9am, including the Grand Final Breakfast, Fox Footy’s Longest Kick from 11am, and then full pre-game, half-time and post-game analysis from Brad Johnson, Cameron Mooney, David King, Garry Lyon, Jonathan Brown, Jordan Lewis, Kath Loughnan, Leigh Montagna, Jason Dunstall, Ben Dixon, Nathan Buckley, Nick Riewoldt and Sarah Jones.
Cats burning question: Can they match Sydney’s pressure?
The Swans have been the first-quarter pressure kings of the AFL in the back half of the season, ranking first in the league with a 201 pressure rating in opening terms since Round 17. The Magpies showed in their qualifying final clash against Geelong that applying intense heat is key to challenging the Cats as Craig McRae’s side posted an insane 207 pressure rating (the average is 180) in the first quarter to take control of the game. So has it created a blueprint of how to really test the Cats?
“It’s not so much a chink in Geelong’s armoury, but it’s the time we’ve seen them most vulnerable over the hot streak they’ve been on in the first week of the finals against Collingwood,” Saints champion Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy’s On the Couch. “It wasn’t that Geelong didn’t handle it, but they just couldn’t find any time and space … when you don’t bring it, they slice you.”
Cats burning question: Have star forwards met their match?
Tom Hawkins comes up against an opponent who’s had the better of their match-ups in recent times in Tom McCartin. In fact Hawkins has kicked 1, 1 and 2 goals respectively the last three times they’ve played on each other in a potential concern for the Cats star power forward including Paddy McCartin (seven intercept marks) cutting off anything that came their way when the clubs last played in Round 2. Similarly, Dane Rampe has had success playing on Jeremy Cameron, holding him to 0, 1, 3, 1 and 0 goals in their last five meetings dating back to the latter’s days at GWS.
“It does give you confidence, this is one of the few defences that have got the capability to go with arguably the best key forward combination in the league — and two genuine match winners,” triple-premiership winning Lion Jonathan Brown told On the Couch. “We saw last time Tom Hawkins played in a grand final (2011), he tore Collingwood’s heart out in that second half when he got hold of Ben Reid and arguably should’ve won the Norm Smith Medal. We’ve seen Cameron a couple of weeks ago in the first final against Collingwood, he can rip them apart. That gives you some level of confidence if you’re a Sydney Swans supporter they can go with those big boys.”
Cats burning question: Does red-hot Danger have company?
Callum Mills was huge against Collingwood, registering a team-high 27 disposals playing a variety of roles in the midfield (63%), defence (15%) and on the wing (13%) including defensive match-ups on Jack Crisp and Scott Pendlebury. It included the Swans co-captain running back late defensively and committing a game-saving spoil to epitomise his selfless performance. Mills crucially shut down Patrick Dangerfield last time these teams played in Round 2 as the Cats star was held to a 13 disposals — his second worst return this year. And with Dangerfield coming off a best-on-ground preliminary finals performance against Brisbane with 28 disposals and two goals, former Demons skipper Garry Lyon predicted Mills would get the assignment on Dangerfield again to ensure Brownlow medallist won’t be allowed to roam free two weeks in a row.
“I think because it’s not an absolute lockdown, you can,” Lyon said. “Back him if he starts to get hot to close down a bit.”
Brown said of Mills: “He is symbolic of that Bloods culture we’ve seen for 20 years. It’s investment in the team, he’s able to go in a number of different roles across the ground. The great strength for him is he still contributes offensively, he can put time into a player and shut his influence down but still find the footy myself. He’s a Bloods man and that’s why he’s a young captain.”
Swans burning question: How does their forward line restructure if Reid misses?
The Swans face the prospect of being without Sam Reid against the Cats as the veteran forward hopes to overcome an adductor issue. Sydney really struggled after Reid was subbed out at half-time of its preliminary final win over Collingwood, lacking an aerial presence in attack as the Magpies came charging back into the game. Logan McDonald really struggled too, recording no touches in the first half and finishing with just one goal. He’ll clearly need to step up if Reid misses.
“We’ve seen him play great games when Buddy Franklin hasn’t been there. There’s a job to be done on the mind of Logan McDonald if Sam Reid doesn’t play. He’s capable, he can do it, they’ve got to get him involved early,” Lyon said.
Peter Ladhams would’ve been the obvious replacement, but he’s unavailable due to a now costly three-week suspension from the VFL. S0 should the Swans turn to a like-for-like, yet relatively unproven Hayden McLean or Joel Amartey, or restructure with a smaller player? Brown highlighted the significance of selection against Geelong’s elite interceptors in defence.
“They’ve got McLean and Amartey as taller players, or do you just roll with the smaller forward line, try and challenge the Geelong key defenders?” He posed. “Knowing Logan McDonald is more of a hit up player at this stage of his career, and it’s not Buddy’s greatest strength being that being physical beast and competing and bringing the ball to ground.
“It’s going to be critical because those intercepting (Geelong) defenders are a real concern.”
Swans burning question: Do they repeat Lions’ big mistake?
Brisbane was widely criticised last week for allowing Geelong to play with a spare behind the ball, shuffling Rhys Stanley and Mark Blicavs between ruck and defence as Tom Stewart and Sam De Koning played as the loose back. Riewoldt noted that the Swans “know that’s coming” again this week in a key mechanism that sets up everything the minor premiers do. And if Saturday’s decider isn’t played on Sydney’s terms early, John Longmire would be wise to ensure he doesn’t repeat the Lions’ mistake and keep every player on the field accountable. Brown admits it was “disappointing” Brisbane didn’t prioritise shutting down Stewart, and thus taking away Geelong’s number one spare defender, last week.
“Tom Stewart — arguably one of the best defenders of our generation — cannot be allowed to sit behind the ball on his own and set up and get their defensive flow going,” Brown said. “That just didn’t happen. That’s got to be a planning thing and execution thing. They needed to do a far better job of addressing a great strength for the Geelong Football Club.”
Swans burning question: Do they have match-ups for Geelong’s livewire forwards?
While the likes of Jeremy Cameron and Gary Rohan have drawn plenty of praise this finals series, it’s the small forwards that really lit it up in Geelong’s 71-point preliminary final smashing of Brisbane. Gryan Miers (No. 1 ranked overall player against Brisbane), Brad Close (No. 5) and Tyson Stengle (No. 10) were all instrumental in the win to overawe Brisbane’s defence. It ironically comes as Joel Selwood spoke about how playing as a half forward for Geelong used to be such a tough position under their slower game style in a stark contrast to its now thrilling ball movement. And so Brown questioned if the Swans would have the right match-ups for Geelong’s buzzing attack.
“That’ll challenge Sydney … they might be able to run with them, but can they defend them?” He posed. “(Oliver) Florent, (Jake) Lloyd, (Nick) Blakey, those types, can they defend these types of guys? That’ll be a real interesting.”