THE LEVELS of intrigue attached to the 2022 premiership pushes of Geelong and Richmond run very deep.
Both, clearly, are all chips in on their flag pushes. Both don't care for the views of others, which pre-season focused on them being too old, too slow and too 'yesterday's heroes' to be serious contenders.
The too-old facet is arguably the most intriguing part of their stories. Three all-time greats in Joel Selwood (debut in 2007), Trent Cotchin (2008) and Jack Riewoldt (2007) are probably entering the final three-month phases of extraordinary careers. Selwood was rested in round 16, Cotchin was out injured, Riewoldt kicked three of his side's 20 goals against West Coast.
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All three have at times this season appeared to be just hanging on, and yet on just as many other occasions all three have produced crucial, match-shaping play. Selwood has missed three games this year, and loathes being told by Cats officials to sit a game out. But his match management is looming as a key strategy in this very real premiership push.
He will probably be told to miss at least one more, maybe two, of the remaining seven matches. If the Cats finish, as expected, with a finals double chance, the weekend off after round 23 will benefit him as much as any player in the entire competition. And then another week off would present itself if Geelong was to win a qualifying final.
On Saturday night, the 11-4 Cats barely raised a sweat in winning a game of football by 112 points. They would have had more taxing training sessions this year than their home ground match against North Melbourne. That they were able to pulverise the Roos importantly increased their percentage by 10 points, to 135.6, which is in the zone of the only team ahead of them on the ladder, Melbourne (12-3, 139.6).
If we thought the round 15 Melbourne-Brisbane match was a 2022 Grand Final preview, we had cause for a rethink after the Demons were barely troubled by the Lions. This Thursday's Geelong-Melbourne match now looms with that status. Selwood will be back, refreshed, to terrorise – within the rules – Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney. Cannot wait.
Cotchin is likely to miss at least one more match with a broken collarbone. Like the Cats in round 16, the Tigers were simply expected to win, against second-last West Coast. They did, again impressively, by 35 points.
Another oldie, Dustin Martin, was subbed out with a hamstring complaint. While he is contracted for two more years, I wouldn't be surprised if he asks for a trade to one of the Sydney clubs at season's end. So, he too, may be in the final three-month patch with the club with which he debuted in 2010.
Selwood, Cotchin, Riewoldt. Maybe Dusty as well. They've all secured three flags. All remain as crucial as ever in their teams' hopes for what only four months ago seemed highly unlikely.
Why 'nearly' might be enough for Dew
Gold Coast is doing nearly everything right. Nearly. It is competitive on a weekly basis, its best can trouble the very best.
But the club's past fortnight hasn't produced a win, which will almost certainly cost it a first finals appearance.
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The Suns were typically gallant in those losses – by five points to Collingwood on Saturday night, and by two points against Port Adelaide in round 15. Had they managed a goal extra in both games, they'd be equal on premiership points with seventh-placed Richmond, the team they play on Saturday night at Metricon Stadium.
Finals will be officially out if they lose to the Tigers. But right now, there is still a form of hope.
Weirdly, the losses of the past two weeks have probably enhanced the chances of Stuart Dew being re-contracted as coach. As I have been arguing for some time while seemingly everyone else has been calling for an instant announcement of that new deal, Gold Coast should let the season play out right to the end, wherever that point is.
The remaining seven matches are very important to this exercise. Right now, with seven wins, he is equal with his previous best result, the 2021 season. Dew has had five seasons. He can clearly coach. I hope he is given a fresh deal, I like the way he has done things his way, particularly this season after his X-factor Ben King broke down before even a match had been played.
But the remaining seven matches need to be part of the picture. Dew can't afford to let his team slide.