Go easy? Or go fast? The HPN Geelong v West Coast Semi Final Preview

HPN Team Ratings

Geelong rate as the best team over the course of the year according to HPN Team Ratings, so going out in straight sets would probably be a bit of an underachievement if it were to eventuate.

The Cats have a particular strength in their defence, which concedes fewer points per opposition entry than any other. They are no slouches in offence as they sit second behind the Eagles in that measure as well. The Eagles have been notably worse in midfield territory, struggling at times with getting enough inside-50s to win games, and their defence has been okay but maybe not premiership contender quality either. For the Eagles, success this year has often been about the sheer productivity of their forward entries.

Keys to the game


  1. Control the ball in the air

As HPN outlined last week, the key to an Eagles win is controlling the ball, especially in the air. In their round 6 match, Geelong were able to win the marking battle 138 to 68, and the kick battle 271 to 181. Without enough of the ball, the Eagles were simply unable to get meaningful scoring opportunities, and they only managed 11 shots on goal for the game.

Last week against Collingwood, Geelong lost both areas badly, partially due to selection decisions and partially due to conditions. The Eagles attack is one of the best forward lines in the league, if not the best when in full flight. If the Cats can stop the Eagles from getting the ball forward, then Kennedy, Darling and co will be taken out of the game,

2. Careful and cautious play

Geelong and West Coast are the two finalists whose wins feature the least game total turnovers, and both teams see more in their losses. Unless someone (probably Geelong) consciously switches up their preferred style, this points to a fairly cautiously paced game where both teams place a premium on retention, patience, and safe ball movement. Don’t be surprised if the game is very cagey and calculated, with effective forward forays at a premium.

In the Qualifying Final, intercepts for Geelong were down across the board, with only Stewart and Henry among the core defenders making their season average. Against the Eagles in the big win in round 6, the turnover game was all over the park rather than just in defence. Geelong were able to secure a +17 turnover differential. Gaff, a key Eagles ball mover, had 11 turnovers in that game, while Shuey had seven and Hickey and Darling both managed an unusually high six.

3. Control territory

It’s pretty obvious – control where the ball is and you’ll be more likely to win. Of all the statistics that HPN looks at regularly, Metres Gained has the biggest correlation with score margin (other than goals and the actual score). So the fact that Geelong gain a lot more territory in top 8 wins (+424m) than top 8 losses (-246m) or across all games (+321m) is not a huge shock.

But it still is important. West Coast is the only finalist who has a negative MG differential in all games this year (-33m), and can damage teams with less opportunity. For them, territory is important, but perhaps less important than anyone else. This may provide Geelong with an opportunity to control where the battle is fought.

West Coast have a breaking point – as do all teams. If Geelong can dominate the inside 50s (+22) and the general territory battle (+896m) as they did in round 6, the Eagles won’t have the opportunity to score enough to win.

What HPN said last week

Instead of playing to their strengths last week, Geelong appeared to get a little too cute and lost a game that they probably should have won.

❌ Keeping Dangerfield on the outside – Dangerfield played an inside heavy game, a statistical profile which fits far more with Geelong losses against good sides than wins. This indicates that Geelong was trying to stop the bleeding around the contest. Dangerfield was good, but Geelong lost the war.

❌ Blicavs down back again – Almost immediately after HPN noted positively how the return of Stanley would help Blicavs go back and be the versatile glue that ties the Cats’ backline together, a late change saw Stanley withdrawn and Blicavs sent into the ruck. Eventually, Ratugolea took some of the ruck load, but at the start of the game the Cats were shaky down back.

❌ Difficult, dirty ball – Geelong ended up losing the turnover battle by eight, in a match where there were more total turnovers (140) than is typical in a Cats game (131). The Cats were also well beaten in stoppage clearances.

West Coast

  1. Keep the turnovers low

As noted above, Geelong killed the Eagles in the area of turnovers in round 6, in one of their worst losses of the year. Indeed, in most of the Eagles’ bad losses they’ve had both a lopsided turnover differential and those have been in games that also saw quite a high number of total turnovers. The two tend to correlate – the Eagles generally do not prosper in a chaotic scrap, and if the number of turnovers gets into the mid-130s, it’s usually the Eagles giving more of them up.

Critical to this game will be how both teams mitigate their turnovers. Neither seems to rely on a large positive turnover differential like Richmond, so the Eagles don’t need to deploy pressure and force the Cats to cough it up so much as they need simply to retain the ball when they have it. One danger for the Eagles may be if the Cats seek to switch up their style and play as fast as possible, because the Cats are a better and more dangerous team than the Bombers who tend to play that way by default.

2. Find the Rioli replacement

Yesterday afternoon the news broke that Willie Rioli had been provisionally suspended due to a provisional doping test tampering sanction, and is likely to miss the rest of the season (and perhaps a fair bit more). Rioli’s brilliance is easily apparent to any casual observer, but if you look closely his numbers leap off the page as well.

Like his cousin Cyril, Willie’s stats defy the most basic analysis, but shine when looking at more advanced stats. Willie Rioli led West Coast this year for Score Involvements per game, and has been critical in wins against good sides with 9 SIs per game in top 8 wins against a season average of 6. When he gets the ball, something usually happens, with about half of his disposals a part of scoring chains.

With Rioli this year, the Eagles were 10-4. Without Rioli, they went 5-3. Jack Petruccelle comes into the side as Rioli’s notional replacement, but it will have to be a concerted effort from the rest of the forward line to make up for his absence.

3. Finding Kennedy and Darling in the air, and in front of goals

Most players do better in wins than in losses, but the West Coast forward line (particularly Kennedy) have gained a reputation as “flat track bullies”. HPN even wrote about the issue two websites ago. But feeding the two key forwards for West Coast has been a critical difference between success and failure this year, especially against top sides.

In wins against top 8 sides this year, Kennedy and Darling have averaged 6 goals, 4 behinds, 12 marks, 8.3 marks inside 50, 3.3 contested marks and 15.3 score involvements per game. In losses against top 8 sides, Kennedy and Darling have averaged 3.1 goals, 2.1 behinds, 6 marks, 3.1 marks inside 50, 2.6 contested marks and 8 score involvements per game.

It is imperative that the upfield West Coast players can put ball in positions that the effective Cats defence can’t get to, and that they get Kennedy and Darling get involved early and often.

What HPN said last week

West Coast did almost everything that HPN indicated were keys to victory for them last week, with the exception of winning the stoppage battle.

✔️ Marking Battle – West Coast, as they generally have done in wins against top sides, dominated Essendon in contested and uncontested marks. Seventeen contested marks to eight was the third biggest differential they have recorded in a game this year, and 33 was the fourth largest overall positive mark differential for them.

✔️ Avoiding chaos ball – West Coast had 64 turnovers to Essendon’s 77, with most Eagles defenders (McGovern, Hurn, Jetta, Barrass and Schofield) getting half a dozen intercepts each. While 141 turnovers is in that above-mentioned danger zone for an Eagles game, the count was more down to Essendon’s frantic attack.

❌ Winning the stoppages – The stoppage battle was actually pretty even in this game, with West Coast losing by two overall. They had -5 stoppage clearances and +3 centre clearances, which stands in contrast to both teams’ respective season long strengths. The different look provided by Naitanui in centre bounces improved the Eagles performance there as as he and Shuey combined for 8 centre clearances.


Note: the HPN tipping model this year was bad. Don’t gamble, especially not with this information. Look at the work of Squiggle for a variety of better performing models. Mild boast – HPN was the only model to pick all four results last week. It probably won’t happen again.

Geelong by 14.

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