Geelong has long struggled to find a suitable partner in crime for key forward Tom Hawkins.
This was no more evident than in 2016, when the Cats had countless more inside 50s than their opponents on a plethora of occasions, yet failed to dominate the scoreboard.
In their 37-point preliminary final loss to Sydney, the Cats had 72 inside 50s compared to Sydney’s 40, yet had less marks inside 50 and less shots on goal and were ultimately soundly beaten by their far superior opponents.
While this can also be due to poor inside 50 entry from Geelong’s midfield, the point also remains that Hawkins was the only real target inside the forward line.
After losing fringe players Shane Kersten and Nathan Vardy, the problem looks to have only been exacerbated this year.
Hawkins kicked 55 goals in 2016, with the Cats’ next best Steven Motlop with 38.
However, the Cats actually have a ready made player who can combine perfectly with Hawkins in 2017.
All-Australian defender Harry Taylor has been training as a forward this pre-season and he looms as an instrumental part of the side’s ability to be a success this season.
Taylor has one of the best sets of hands in the game and, coming from defence, will know all of the tricks of the trade to use on his opponents.
The 30-year-old should be used deep in the forward line due to his brilliant one on one contested marking. This will allow Hawkins to play slightly higher up the ground, where his strong contested marking can be a dominant aspect of the Cats’ link up play between the midfield and the forward line.
While Taylor has not played as a permanent forward before, he has bags of five and six goals at AFL level, showing he can kick a goal when thrown forward. After a full pre-season in the forward line learning the caper and learning the synergies with his fellow forwards, a player of the talent of Taylor will be ready to go.
Not many sides will possess two dominant big, key backmen good enough to stop both Hawkins and Taylor in the air. Add Rhys Stanley and Zac Smith when they rest up forward and the forward is looking very imposing.
Throw in Daniel Menzel, who got back on the park for a full season in 2016, kicking 33 goals, as well small forward Lincoln McCarthy and the Cats will have a front third which will be very difficult to match up on.
The question now is, who will replace Harry Taylor in defence.
Fortunately for the Cats, they have a bevy of tall timber in the backline.
Tom Lonergan and Lachie Henderson headline that list and will take the top two key forwards from the opposition.
Young defender Jake Kolodjashnij, standing at 193cm tall, can take a third tall, while veteran Andrew Mackie (192cm) can play on either a small or a tall. It is very rare that a side will possess three tall forwards to worry the Cats, in which case, Taylor can pinch hit down back.
With the addition of ex-Blue Zach Tuohy, plus young gun Jackson Thurlow, who is returning from a knee reconstruction, Geelong will also have a talented and pacey half back line.
While Hawkins and Taylor will no doubt take time to gel, it is a partnership that has the potential to tear games apart.
While the Cats still have the likes of Mackie and Lonergan at their disposal, for what will probably be their last seasons, they must persist with Taylor up forward as they push for another premiership.
The biggest issue coach Chris Scott now faces is how to ensure the second tier midfielders step up to help captain Joel Selwood and Brownlow Medalist Patrick Dangerfield in the midfield.
Geelong was smashed in the middle of the ground by the Swans in the preliminary final and regardless of how dominant the Hawkins/Taylor combination can be, the midfielders need to get first use of the ball and ensure quality possession going forward.