Rucking hell: what on earth does Cats coach do now?
GEELONG has four ruckmen on its list and none of them were trusted to take on Collingwood superstar Brodie Grundy.
So, with the club's season on the line, what on earth does coach Chris Scott do against West Coast's Nic Naitanui?
Will he turn to the out-of-contract Zac Smith, who has played just six games in the past two years and is likely to be delisted? Surely not.
Could Darcy Fort - the 25-year-old who has played just three games - come in? Unlikely. What about Ryan Abbott, who hasn't been seen since May? You wouldn't have thought so.
It quickly becomes obvious why the Cats have been linked to Todd Goldstein, but the North Melbourne free agent won't be of any use sitting in his lounge room next Friday night.
That leaves fullback Mark Blicavs, marking forward Esava Ratugolea and omitted utility Rhys Stanley as the human hurdles Nic Nat could look to leap over.
SCROLL DOWN TO READ WHAT CHRIS SCOTT SAID AFTER THE GAME
Dual All-Australian Tom Stewart said Stanley was a "logical" inclusion and that's fair enough, given Scott's meteorology shortcoming was the only reason he was a late out against Collingwood.
The Cats were anticipating rain and wanted another runner and so, in an embarrassing blunder, Stanley sat on the sidelines as Blicavs battled Grundy in pristine conditions.
It appeared costly. The Magpies' four first-quarter goals were all sourced from stoppages and Grundy then collected seven disposals and four hit-outs to advantage in the first 15 minutes of the second quarter.
Scott said he would reserve judgment on Grundy's impact, but there was no doubting Naitanui's eye-popping influence against Essendon on Thursday night.
In just his fourth game since Round 17 last year, Naitanui roamed Perth Stadium with a presence the other 43 players on the grass could only dream of.
The Eagles slotted seven goals from centre bounces - yes, seven goals - with their spring-heeled big man completely transforming the reigning premiers.
"He's probably the player with the biggest influence in our side," coach Adam Simpson said.
"We've all moved on from, he doesn't take enough marks or he doesn't do this. I think we all now understand what he can produce, especially with the 6-6-6 rule, and all these things that have come in.
"He doesn't have to have a lot of possessions to have an influence."
Stewart expects to play on either Liam Ryan or Willie Rioli and you suspect key pillars Harry Taylor, Jake Kolodashnij and Jack Henry might like some support from Blicavs in manning Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling.
That would see Stanley return, a move Matthew Lloyd has already predicted.
"Blicavs has been smashed in the ruck. I'd rather him in defence, he's had one kick," Lloyd said
Former St Kilda champion Nick Dal Santo said the Cats midfielders had to start paying Grundy respect because he was "putting it down player's throats".
On Tuesday, before Scott was misled by the forecast, he backed Stanley as the ideal athlete to run with Grundy.
"With the around the ground stuff and Rhys' athleticism, I think he's probably one of the few players who could challenge Grundy over a long period of time in terms of speed, strength and endurance," Scott said.
Nic Nat shapes as a different proposition but a similar challenge, and if the Cats can't solve it they could be the first minor premier that fails to win a final in 36 years.
GEELONG SINCE ROUND 11: WLWLWLWLWLWL
FIVE CATS WHO MUST FIRE NEXT FRIDAY NIGHT
For the first time in nine years the 2019 All-Australian has travelled three-straight games without kicking a goal, which is the equal-longest streak of his 255-game career.
This was the sort of blockbuster final Ablett spent nine years wanting to play, yet he lacked his usual zip. Is there just one game left in the little master's glorious career?
The Cats' goal-kicking accuracy has been a hallmark of their season, but Rohan's out-on-the-full shank in the first quarter foreshadowed a rare wasteful night for the minor premier. Finished the game with a sore knee.
The Cats might mark Blicavs differently for his job on Brodie Grundy, but one kick and little impact doesn't read too kindly. Players were told on Thursday he would be rucking and you get the feeling defensive coach Matthew Scarlett wouldn't mind him heading back this week.
Will overtake Jason Akermanis, Adam Goodes and Jimmy Bartel when he plays his 29th final next Friday night. The inspirational skipper will be desperate to make the sort of impact Brownlow medallists are known for.
COLLINGWOOD - HOW THE PIES CONQUERED CATS
DEFENCE WINS FLAGS
How often have we heard the phrase "defence wins premiership"?
Well, right now Collingwood's defence is the best in the competition by some way.
Over the final four rounds of the season, the Magpies conceded a measly 217 points to their opposition.
The next best defence on form was a Hawthorn side that missed the top eight (230 points), with Richmond at 242 points and Geelong 245 points.
On Friday night, the Magpies' backline was again brilliant - conceding just seven goals.
Jordan Roughead spent 103 minutes on dangerous Cats forward Tom Hawkins, restricting him to just 10 disposals and keeping him goalless.
According to Champion Data, Darcy Moore spent 98 minutes opposed to four Cats opponents in Gary Rohan, Esava Ratugolea, Harry Taylor and Tom Hawkins.
Moore, whose famous father Peter was proudly watching on from a New York bar, logged 17 disposals, seven rebound 50s, seven intercept marks and eight effective spoils.
Between them, the four Cats had a combined one disposal during that 98 minutes.
The list goes on, with aerial specialist Jeremy Howe grabbing 13 marks and having the better of his opponents, and Brayden Maynard ensuring Garry Ablett did not get off the leash for a large period of the match.
Then there was John Noble, a mid-season recruit who in just his fourth AFL game did not look out of place coming off half-back at the MCG.
"They've been a strong group. They're just getting better and better," Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said of his side's defence.
"But they are a part of what is a defensive performance that takes all 18 players on the field."
ADAMS STEPS UP
Some players are good home and away performers and fall flat on the big stage in September.
Others rise to the occasion when it matters most.
Collingwood's Taylor Adams is in the second camp.
On the back of a quality finals campaign last year, Adams produced again for the Magpies on Friday night to give a further boost to his growing reputation.
The onballer and Magpies' vice-captain set the tone early for his side with his fierce attack on the ball and had eight disposals and a goal to his name by quarter-time.
He finished with 26 disposals (16 contested), a game-high nine clearances, nine tackles, 403 metres gained and two goals to be the third-ranked player on the ground at the final siren by Champion Data's measurement.
The match was Adams' fifth final - having previously played four last year.
In 126 career home-and-away matches, Adams averages 25 disposals and 0.35 goals a game.
In his five finals, he has now averaged 28.6 and has kicked five goals.
"Tay's growth over the last couple of years has been profound," Buckley said.
"He's a really strong leader. He's a strong contested ball player and he seizes moments and his finals record's really starting to stack up. He likes the big games, he likes the big moments and he performs when it matters most."
You have to respect players who step up in finals like that.
COMETH THE MOMENT, COMETH THE MAN
THE best ever player from Collingwood discussion might just need a re-think by the end of the month.
As football fans, we've become so used to Magpies' skipper Scott Pendlebury consistently performing at an incredibly high level over so many years that we take it for granted.
But Pendlebury is a genuine star of the competition and, at 31 years old, doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
In his 300th game on Friday night, Pendlebury again delivered the goods.
He finished with 24 disposals, eight marks and nine tackles.
He also went head-to-head with Geelong's Patrick Dangerfield for a large portion of the game - and won.
But it was his goal during time-on in the third quarter that will be remembered most, the major steadying the ship for the Magpies' just when the game was on a knife's edge.
Pendlebury's performance came a week after he was crowed an All-Australian for the sixth time.
He has won five club best-and-fairests, is a three-time Anzac Day medallist and a 2010 Norm Smith Medal winner.
If Pendlebury can secure a second premiership medal this year to join his 2010 piece this year, his resume will be further glittered in gold.
Pendlebury should become the Collingwood games' record- holder by the mid-way point of next season, eclipsing the only two other Magpies to reach 300 games - Gordon Coventry (306) and Tony Shaw (313).
You can't rule out the prospect of him extending further to join the elusive 350-game club.
WHY DID CATS LEAVE STANLEY OUT?
A botched weather report was the reason Geelong left Stanley out of last night's qualifying final.
Chris Scott admitted they'd expected wet and slippery conditions which was why they elected to play regular defender Mark Blicavs against All-Australian ruckman Brodie Grundy.
With Stanley missing, Grundy played a pivotal role in the Pies' 10-point victory and dominated the hit-outs 49 to 26.
"We will agonise over whether it was the right decision," Scott said.
"I'll reserve my judgment on the impact Grundy had, the objective figures don't point to dominance except the hit-outs.
"If we had thought it was a dry day, would we have made the decision? Probably not."
Scott had no explanation for the Cats slow start which has become a habit for them in finals over recent years.
Collingwood kicked the opening three goals of the game with Geelong's first inside 50m entry not coming until midway through the term.
"The start of the game was poor for us," Scott said. "From the 14-minute mark of the first quarter we were probably on top.
"We went in three goals down (at quarter time), it wasn't a disaster but we also missed a couple of sodas.
"They were pretty sharp, they've got good leg speed and marked the ball way too much.
"On a night we expected it to be wet and slippery, the conditions were as good as you'll get at 9.30pm in Melbourne on a Friday night."
The Cats will be without midfielder Mitch Duncan for next Friday night's semi-final against West Coast.
Duncan came off late in the second term with a medial ligament injury while a number of other Cats were sore including Jed Bews and Gary Rohan.
Despite another finals failure Scott is confident his team can pick themselves up and be ready to take on the reigning premiers next week.
"We should be confident, after a bad patch we only lost by 10 points," Scott said. "West Coast were good last night (against Essendon) but weren't so good before that so we'll see."
Stanley was replaced by Sam Menegola.
- Scott Gullan
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