High expectations aside, Cats still have work to do

Thursday, March 27
Geelong Advertiser _ Ken Hinkley

THE hard work has been done. Now the really hard work begins.

In the lead-up to the season opener against the Bullies on Sunday all the running and gym sessions, all the specialist training that the Cats have been through over the past five months will result in the group selected to take the field in round one.

Will the side which takes to the paddock be the 22 the match committee wanted or, better still, needed?

Mark Thompson and his assistants are well aware that this year the town is expecting finals football from the Cats.

The transition to a truly competitive side from last year's approach seems a short time to me in terms of player development.

Players such as James Bartel, Gary Ablett, James Kelly and Steve Johnson will be better players this year, of that I have no doubt, but let's hope for their sakes that we as Cats supporters don't expect them to become instant matchwinners.

In time, perhaps a short time, they will be capable of winning games off their own boots as Voss and Buckley do now.

While we wait for that step up, Geelong will look to the likes of Joel Corey, Cameron Mooney, Matty Scarlett, Cameron Ling, Corey Enright and the others who have been at the club for about three to five years.

As new skipper, Steven King will have to carry the biggest load.

King is the only player at Geelong I believe can have a dramatic effect on the side's fortunes.

I have no doubt this was in the mind of the match committee when the decision was made to replace Ben Graham with King.

The decision already appears to have been a big plus.

It's allowed Ben to just enjoy playing football again.

Now comes the first of many acid tests. Getting a win over the Bulldogs is paramount to setting a platform and all the training and team plans that would have been practised over the pre-season come under the microscope this weekend.

It's worth remembering that every player at every club will be thinking the same.

Tipping winners in this round is a lottery.

Peter Rohde, in his first year as senior coach, will have both his players and himself up and raring to go in order to show the Bulldogs' faithful that good times are ahead.

I watched them play the Cats in the first round of the Wizard Cup at Skilled Stadium and if that was any guide the Cats shouldn't have any problems.

But surely no one is silly enough to think they'll play like that in the season opener when premiership points are on the line.

I was disappointed watching them at Skilled and seeing Chris Grant at centre half-back.

Geelong's backline is its greatest strength and so Rohde needs Grant to play forward and not worry about trying to find an easier spot to play.

A captain must be able to stand up and affect the result of a game, and Grant would be able to do this from centre half-forward.

By making this move the Bulldogs would have a forward line capable of kicking bigger scores.

Rohde's trump card is Nathan Brown, a player of enormous ability. He is difficult to counter and will probably be the Cats' biggest headache on Sunday.

They tried Scarlett on him in the Wizard Cup and he was OK, but Geelong was in control.

Perhaps Bomber will look to someone like Darren Milburn, who doesn't mind letting opponents know he enjoys playing it hard.