Geelong will be looking to extend their winning streak to 11 games when they face a Saints side battling to stay in the top eight on Saturday night.
The Cats (15-4, 135.5%) sit atop the ladder and look more prepared than ever for a real flag tilt as they welcome Rhys Stanley.
Meanwhile, the Saints (11-8, 104.3%) have had their ups and downs but currently sit eighth in the standings in a must-win game for Brett Ratten’s side, boosted by the return of Dougal Howard.
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Geelong made two late changes, with Jonathon Ceglar and Mark Blicavs stepping out of 22, the former named medical submarine. Then there were concerns over Patrick Dangerfield, who reported low calf strain during the warm-up. The Cats then made a conservative call alongside the medical team and removed Dangerfield from the game, with Luke Dahlhaus coming in from the side.
Dangerfield confirmed he felt a tightness in the same spot of the same calf he had trouble with earlier in the season.
“It just got a little tight – and considering the last time I aggravated my calf, to be honest, I didn’t trust myself to make the right decision so close to playtime. At that time of the year, given the situation in which we find ourselves, the conservative path is the best way to go.
“It’s been a bit tight during the week, even though I’ve been training hard, so I was confident in that regard. But then, a little decelerating tonight, it didn’t feel right to me. In the back of your mind, it’s just about… making a mature decision about where we are and where the season is.
“It’s (frustrating) but it’s almost a relief to be honest because at that point it’s so close to game time the crowds started coming in and the emotion around of wanting to be in. But then there are the practicalities of making a good decision when it just isn’t quite right.
Zak Jones was St Kilda’s substitute, who made no late changes.
Asked if the Cats’ outs swayed his tip, Channel 7’s Jobe Watson replied: “I feel upset.”
This match kicks off at 7:25 p.m. AEST from GMHBA Stadium.
Watch it live on Fox Footy (channel 504) starting at 7:20 p.m. AEST.
QUARTER BY QUARTER MATCH REPORT
The Saints got off to a fast start, with Jack Sinclair scoring the game’s first goal in the opening two minutes.
But Geelong quickly snapped in and responded at the other end from a save from 50 forward, with Zach Tuohy scoring a smart goal.
“It’s the weight of numbers per minute, they hold their ground so well,” Melbourne’s three-time best and fairest winner Nathan Jones told Channel 7.
“Their use of the quality ball on the rebound is so smooth.”
However, the Cats couldn’t capitalize on the scorecard, delivering three straight kicks, including a seemingly easy set-piece attempt for Brad Close. Tom Hawkins then broke the drought, taking a strong contested mark and breaking his club’s second major as the Cats had 10 of the first 11 under 50 in the game.
Tyson Stengle then started his first of the night with brilliant ball movement from his teammates downfield before Hawkins converted a set piece opportunity to kick in his second and extend the lead to 21 points.
At one point, Saints kicker Tim Membery went on defense to try to stem the bleeding.
The Saints got one against the grain at the end of the first term, Jack Higgins getting a free kick for a trip and then scoring a goal from set play.
But the Cats continued to put their foot on the throat, pushing the ball forward where swingman Jack Henry scored, earned a 50m penalty and kicked the middle finger.
The Saints were able to return to the competition after leveling the Cats on clearances, with Mason Wood winning a free kick for a high tackle and rinsing off his set piece.
But Mitch Duncan landed a big blow on the quartertime siren, nailing a long-range saved-shot attempt to give the Cats a 22-point advantage on the first substitution.
The Cats had nine marks under 50 in the first quarter alone, prompting three-time Lion Premier Jonathan Brown to tell Fox Footy: “It’s unbelievable… They would start having nightmares, those defenders. of St. Kilda.”
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