Tonight is the night that the two teams that have answered all challenges so far face off in a battle to be top dog. Essendon and Geelong will go head to head when they face-off in a blockbuster match at Etihad Stadium. Both currently sitting on an unbeaten 6-0 run, this clash will decide who will sit at the top of the ladder at the conclusion of round seven.
However at the start of the season, most people did not pre-empt either team being top four contenders, let alone Premiership contenders. Even though it is still early and there is a long journey ahead, both Essendon and Geelong are showing positive signs that they will make a definitive mark come September.
Geelong, who have won a Premiership on every odd year since 2007, were viewed as having a team were too old, too slow and that would suffer from losing key players integral to its past premiership campaigns such as Matthew Scarlett through retirement.
Critics couldn’t be more wrong with the Cats having lifted their game to an entirely new level. The 2013 Cats team is rife with midfielders such as Allen Christensen, Billy Smedts, Matthew Stokes, Mitch Duncan, Jimmy Bartel and Joel Selwood, who are all developing into goal-kickers as well as ball-getters. This has allowed for greater versatility within the team and less of a reliance on forwards such as Tom Hawkins to kick goals.
The Cats have been highly competitive in 2013, escaping narrow defeat and emerging winners against genuine finals contenders; most notably against Hawthorn in round one and an upset at the SCG against Sydney in round four. They are currently ranked first, second and third in handballs, disposals and marks respectively. Those stats are outstanding for a club that was written off by many and considered to have its premiership window firmly shut.
Geelong’s opponent tonight, Essendon, have also defied the expectations placed upon them for 2013. Before the start of the season, allegations emerged that Essendon had used peptides to gain a performance advantage in 2012. With all of the external distractions regarding the alleged scandal and the media circus that has surrounded the club, it is very surprising that the Bombers have been able to keep their composure and sit where they at now.
The injection of new recruit Brendon Goddard into the Bombers side, a running defender who is averaging disposals in the mid twenties per game, has been nothing short of beneficial. On top of this, the 2012 Brownlow medallist Jobe Watson, as well as Dyson Heppell, Brent Stanton and Michael Hibberd, have enhanced their form significantly since 2012.
The Bombers have met and defeated finals hopefuls, including Adelaide, Fremantle and particularly Collingwood on ANZAC Day by a hefty margin. They are currently ranked first in all of kicks, disposals and marks in the league, showing no signs that the outside influences are impacting upon their game plan and their mentality going into contests.
What is apparent is that tonight, both teams have something to play for, something that they want to prove to the footballing world. Geelong want to prove that it is a genuine contender and that it is here for the long haul. On the other side of the table, Essendon will show up to tonight’s game, showing that it will not let the alleged drug scandal impact on its playing performance in 2013.
Last time these two teams met, Geelong thumped Essendon by a whopping 67 points. There is the expectation that tonight’s game will be a very close game, but like with every AFL game, there are no certainties. The only expectation that Geelong and Essendon can have, is that only one team will sit at the top of the ladder undefeated when the final siren sounds.