Geelong’s premiership era appears over, but their future is still bright. West Coast was cruelled by injury in 2012, but has the ingredients of a premiership team.
Win/loss record: 15-7
Ladder position: 6th (Lost to Fremantle in the Second Elimination Final)
Geelong entered the 2012 season as an unknown quantity. Could the Cats continue this incredible era, or would they struggle with their ageing list and key retirements? These were the key questions going into 2012.
Captain Cameron Ling, their permanent ruck in Brad Ottens and club veterans Cameron Mooney and Darren Milburn all retired at the end of the 2011 season. This ushered in a new era for Geelong, forcing coach Chris Scott to blood 10 new players this season, using a total of 38 players on their list.
A number of these youngsters showed real promise for the future, including Jordan Murdoch, Cameron Guthrie, Billie Smedts and George Horlin-Smith.
Trent West was solid in the ruck after the departure of Brad Ottens, but struggled without the on-field leadership and tagging ability of Cameron Ling.
Ling was the Cats’ key tagger all season in 2011, and managed to quell the influence of the opposition’s best onballers, while also winning his own ball. Geelong played the 2012 season without an elite tagger for the majority of the season. Joel Selwood took on the captaincy and looked comfortable in this new role, but missed the experience of Ling on the field.
The biggest thing the Cats can take out of their 2012 season is the rapid improvement of Tom Hawkins. Hawkins blew the 2011 Grand Final apart and continued this form in 2012. He kicked 62 goals, 35 more than he kicked in 2011. He managed to get rid of the yips in front of goal and became one of the best contested marks in the competition. His form was rewarded with his first All-Australian selection, being named in the full forward position, beating out the likes of Matthew Pavlich, Jack Riewoldt and Taylor Walker.
The Cats started the season very slowly with a win/loss record of only 4-4 after 8 rounds and sitting in 10th position. From this position, they managed to win 11 of the next 14 games to enter the finals series in hot form. Geelong finished the home and away series in sixth position and earned a home elimination final against Fremantle.
The media and football public were salivating at the prospect of seeing Hawthorn take on Geelong in the Preliminary Final, with many declaring Geelong as second favourite for the flag.
All of this was killed off quickly, with the Fremantle Dockers playing arguably their best game in the club’s history to cause a massive finals upset at the MCG. The Dockers suffocated the Cats, putting huge pressure on the opposition and using the ball to perfection. Pavlich put on a show, kicking six goals to end Geelong’s season.
Looking forward to 2013
The retirement of Matthew Scarlett will leave a huge hole in defence, so the Cats will need to develop someone from within the club, draft with an eye on key position defenders or go to the trade table to replace the best fullback from the modern era.
It’s difficult to write the Cats off, but they are no longer the same team that won three premierships in five years. They have too much class to miss the top eight, but with so many inexperienced players playing in the senior side, their premiership era has probably passed them.
However, the future is still bright, and with Stephen Wells in charge of recruiting, it won’t be long until they are fighting for a premiership again.
West Coast Eagles
Win/loss record: 15-7
Ladder position: 5th (Lost to Collingwood in the First Semi-Final)
West Coast’s rise up the ladder from 2010 to 2011 was something to behold. The Eagles managed to rise from last to fourth in one season, losing in a Preliminary Final to eventual premiers Geelong.
Their season was so impressive that many were unsure if this could be repeated in 2012. Their 2012 campaign was put in serious jeopardy, losing a number of key players to serious injuries very early in the year. Mark LeCras did his ACL in February, Mark Nicoski tore his hamstring in March, Josh Kennedy did his Achilles in Round 5 and Andrew Embley suffered a shoulder injury in Round 2. The Eagles looked like they were able to cover these long-term injuries, playing some stunning football in the first half of 2012.
West Coast made the NAB Cup Grand Final and then went on to win their first six games of the year. At the halfway mark of the year, the Eagles had a 9-2 win/loss record and maintained top spot on the ladder.
Despite a solid start, the long-term injuries incurred at the start of the year started to catch up on them. This resulted in a bad patch of form from Round 16, losing three of the next four games at an average of 55 points. This saw them drop from a likely top two finish to battling for a top six spot.
The Eagles regained their best form in the final rounds of the year, finishing in fifth spot and earning a home Elimination Final. They dismantled a tired North Melbourne outfit at Patersons Stadium and were given a huge chance of knocking off the Magpies at the MCG in the Semi-Final.
Collingwood battled its own poor form, as well as the loss of former teammate John McCarthy, to defeat the Eagles by 13 points.
Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui will form the best ruck combination for a number of years to come. Both won themselves All-Australian selection this season, with Naitanui names as the starting ruckman.
West Coast’s midfield continued to develop, with Scott Selwood moving to another level, increasing his output in winning the ball while also stopping his direct opponent. Andrew Gaff delivered a fantastic output on the wing, while Priddis and Shuey provided extra class in the midfield. Kerr doesn’t look like he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
The Eagles’ defence stood up throughout the year, with Beau Waters and Darren Glass winning All-Australian selection. Waters and his partner in crime Shannon Hurn provided excellent rebound from the defensive half.
Their forward line of Quinten Lynch, Jack Darling and the rotation of Cox/Naitanui provided headaches for the entire competition. Josh Hill revitalized his career with the Eagles after moving from the Western Bulldogs and provided an extra avenue to goal. He contributed 36 goals in 2012, which was important considering the loss of their two best small forwards early in the year.
Looking forward to 2013
West Coast has all the ingredients to become a premiership team; a rock solid defence, the best ruck combo in the competition, a dangerous forward line mix of excellent talls and classy smalls, and a midfield filled with great contested ball winners and outside runners.
With LeCras and Nicoski returning to the line-up for 2013, as well as their key forward Josh Kennedy getting back to full fitness, the Eagles are likely to be contending for the flag in 2013. If they can get lucky with injuries, a spot in the top four awaits them.
The Eagles wear down teams by consistently applying pressure all over the field. If a similar output is provided in 2013, a finals spot is guaranteed.