Geelong will look to extend its winning streak to 11 games when it faces a Saints side fighting to stay in the top eight on Saturday night.
The Cats (15-4, 135.5%) sit at the top of the ladder and look as primed as ever for a genuine flag tilt as they welcome back Rhys Stanley.
Meanwhile the Saints (11-8, 104.3%) have been in up and down form, but currently sit eighth on the ladder in a must-win game for Brett Ratten’s side, boosted by Dougal Howard’s return.
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Geelong pulled two late changes, with Jonathon Ceglar and Mark Blicavs coming out of the 22, the former named medical sub. Then there were concerns over Patrick Dangerfield, who reported low level calf tightness in the warm-up. The Cats then made a conservative call alongside the medical team and withdrew Dangerfield from the game, with Luke Dahlhaus coming into the side.
Dangerfield confirmed he’d felt tightness in the same spot in the same calf he’d had issues with earlier in the season.
“It just got a bit tight — and then given the last time I reaggravated my calf, to be honest I just didn’t trust myself to make the right decision so close to game time. At this time of the year, given the situation we’re in, the conservative route is the best path forward.
“It’d been a bit tight during the week, even though I trained fully, so I was confident in that regard. But then a bit on deceleration tonight, it just didn’t feel right. In the back of your mind it’s just … around making the mature decision around where we’re at and where the season’s at.
“It is (frustrating), but it’s almost a relief to be honest because at the time it’s so close to game time, the crowd’s started rolling in and the emotion around wanting to be involved in that. But then there’s the practicalities around making a good decision when it’s just not quite right.”
Zak Jones was the sub for St Kilda, which made no late changes.
Asked if the Cats outs swung his tip, Channel 7’s Jobe Watson said: “I’ve got the feeling of an upset.”
This match gets underway at 7.25pm AEST from GMHBA Stadium.
Watch it live on Fox Footy (channel 504) from 7.20pm AEST.
QUARTER-BY-QUARTER MATCH REPORT
The Saints got the fast start, with Jack Sinclair kicking the first goal of the game within the opening two minutes.
But Geelong quickly clicked into gear and responded at the other end from a forward 50 stoppage, with Zach Tuohy snapping a clever goal.
“It’s weight of numbers at the minute, they’re holding position so well,” triple Melbourne best and fairest winner Nathan Jones told Channel 7.
“Their quality ball use on the rebound is so slick.”
However the Cats couldn’t capitalise on the scoreboard, kicking three straight behinds, including a seemingly easy set-shot attempt for Brad Close. Tom Hawkins then broke the drought, taking a strong contested mark and snapping his club’s second major as the Cats had 10 of the first 11 inside 50s of the game.
Tyson Stengle then booted his first of the night thanks to some brilliant ball movement from his teammates up the field before Hawkins converted a set-shot opportunity to kick his second and extend the lead to 21 points.
At one stage, Saints goalkicker Tim Membrey moved into defence to try and stem the bleeding.
The Saints got one against the grain late in the first term, with Jack Higgins earning a free kick for a trip then snapping a set-shot goal.
But the Cats continued to put the foot on the throat, surging the ball forward where swingman jack Henry marked, earned a 50m penalty and kicked the major.
The Saints were able to get back into the contest after matching the Cats at clearances, with Mason Wood winning a free kick for a high tackle and flushing his set-shot.
But Mitch Duncan delivered a big blow on the quarter-time siren, nailing a long-range set-shot attempt to give the Cats a 22-point advantage at the first change.
The Cats had nine marks inside 50 in the first quarter alone, prompting triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown to tell Fox Footy: “This is unbelievable … They’d be starting to have nightmares, those St Kilda defenders.”
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