WHERE AND WHEN: Simonds Stadium, Saturday September 1, 1.45pm
TV & RADIO: Fox Footy (live), Channel 7 3pm – ABC 774, 3aw, Triple M
BETTING: Geelong $1.71, Sydney $2.32
WEATHER: Min 6, Max 14 – Cloudy. Scattered showers, easing later in the afternoon. Winds west to southwesterly 20 to 30 km/h tending south to southwesterly and becoming light in the afternoon.
In a round in which we’re spoilt for quality options, the Geelong versus Sydney game on Saturday is most deserving of match of the round status.
Despite a thrilling loss to Hawthorn last week, the Swans are producing the best standard of hard, aggressive football they’ve produced in years. Can they maintain the rage and emulate the intensity we saw against the Hawks, or will there be a letdown after playing so well without any reward?
In contrast Geelong are a champion team who are yet to hit top gear. They should be fresher this week after a comparatively less demanding encounter than Sydney had, however are experienced enough to understand that they must improve on the form of the last fortnight if they are to challenge in September.
The Swans are already assured of the double chance, however the all-important home ground advantage is most likely riding on the result of this match. Presuming Hawthorn defeat West Coast in Melbourne and Adelaide get over the Gold Coast, the equation is simple…win and host Adelaide in week one of the finals, or lose and face the daunting task of travelling to the City of Churches and playing in front of 50,000 hostile Crows supporters.
The biggest challenge to the Sydney game style is usually to restrict the opposition from opening up space. Geelong also being an inside styled unit have not presented such problems to the Swans in their last two encounters, with Sydney taking the points on both occasions.
Importantly the venues of these last two encounters, the SCG this year and Kardinia Park late last year, are two of the smaller playing surfaces in the league. This is perfect for the Swans and will no doubt give them a better opportunity to play the style they prefer than they’ll get if these teams meet in September, where the venue would be the vaster spaces of either ANZ or the MCG.
The ramifications of this contest are a little less clear for Geelong as their percentage is so close to Fremantle and North Melbourne. This much is certain: a win guarantees Geelong a home final first up. A loss however brings with it the very real possibility that they will have to travel to Perth to face the Eagles.
The Cats will welcome back Joel Selwood, Matthew Scarlett and Taylor Hunt, however the most intriguing selection will be the second ruck option. Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke are a physical and in form combination. They are every chance to dominate if Trent West isn’t provided appropriate cover.
Josh Walker is a young, promising forward who has been backing up in the ruck in recent weeks. He has shown potential, however still has a lot of development ahead of him and is likely to be replaced by Orren Stephenson or Nathan Vardy.
Stephenson struggled to hold down a regular spot for much of the year, however provides a mature body and found some fantastic form just prior to missing the last fortnight through injury.
Vardy on the other hand is probably a better ruckman and certainly a better forward than Stephenson, yet is coming off a much longer lay off and is more of a risk. He played 70% game time in the VFL last week and by all reports moved well. Given more time he would be Geelong’s preference of the two, and after all some risks must be taken for a side to win a flag from outside the top four. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
This is a fascinating contest, and is simply too close to call. If the weather remains relatively dry the Sydney key forwards may just have the height to stretch Geelong’s defence, and if the rain is a factor it’s hard to go past the best wet weather team in the land.
If there was ever a game to select as a draw, this would be it.