Premiership Odds: $8.50

Prediction: 4th

2015 was an odd year for Geelong and its fans as they missed out finals for the first time since 2006, with coach Chris Scott branding his side’s performance in 2015 as average as the Cats finished a disappointing 10th.

One word to describe Geelong’s season was ‘inconsistent’ with the club recording decent wins over Sydney, Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs, however they faulted against lower opposition in Melbourne and St Kilda as we saw the best and worst of Geelong.

The highlight of the year would have to be the return of injured duo Nathan Vardy and Daniel Menzel with the latter’s return arguably taking home the prize as football’s feel good story for the year. Along with those returns, saw the development of key young cats in the form of Corey Gregson, Darcy Lang, Jake Kolodjashnij and Jackson Thurlow. Josh Caddy, Cam Guthrie and Steven Motlop also matured quite well throughout 2015.

Losing dynamic tall Rhys Stanley in the win over Port cost the Cats dearly as it was he and Mark Blicavs who showed what a deadly combination they can be in the centre-circle and around stoppages. Blicavs was forced to take over ruck duties on a full-time basis – a position Geelong ideally don’t want him to be playing in – and surprisingly but so deserving, took home the club’s best and fairest award at season’s end.

The Cats had a shocking year in terms of clearances and contested possessions, with the club ranking last for stoppages and recording similar stats in contested ball. In 2015, Geelong conceded the 11th most points in the league and conceded more than 120 points on five occasions against sides that either finished in the four or made a prelim.

Looking towards 2016 and the Cats have been the big money spenders in the off-season bringing prized recruit Patrick Dangerfield as well as former Carlton swingman Lachie Henderson, ruckman Zac Smith and Joel Selwood’s younger brother Scott.

They parted ways with Steve Johnson (GWS), James Kelly (Essendon) and Matthew Stokes (Essendon). Hamish McIntosh, Jared Rivers, Brad Hartman and James Toohey all retired while Josh Walker, Dawson Simpson and Jarrad Jansen were all seen as surplus to requirements.

In the draft, recruitment manager Steven Wells hopes he’s pulled off some more gems out his hat of tricks with the recruitments of former rookie-listed Hawk and Docker, Sam Menegola, Wylie Buzza from Queensland, Matthew Hayball from South Australia and Ryan Gardner from Tasmania. The 2015 VFL best and fairest winner Tom Ruggles was upgraded to the senior list and should see some game time in 2016. All draftees are from interstate, continuing Geelong’s commitment to look outside of Victoria.

Off-season recruitments mean that the pass mark for the Cats this year must be finals, but with the list looking as good as it is on paper, they should be really winning 15 to 16 games this year and breaking back in to the top four.

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They’ll miss young defender Jackson Thurlow, who is out for the year due to a ruptured ACL. His rebound defending off half-back, coupled with his brilliant foot skills will leave a whole in the Geelong defence as he missed just five games last season.

Josh Caddy and Mitch Duncan should fly under the radar this year with all the attention on Selwood and Dangerfield, while Lincoln McCarthy could get his shot in round 1 against the Hawks after showing some promising pre-season form.

Chris Scott has absolutely no excuses now and his side must deliver in 2016 to have any chance of challenging Hawthorn and West Coast in the premiership race. All eyes will be on the Cats this year.

Key Ins:

Patrick Dangefield, Lachie Henderson, Scott Selwood, Zac Smith, Ryan Gardner, Sam Menegola, Wylie Buzza, Matthew Hayball

Key Outs:

Dean Gore, Jarred Jansen, Dawson Simpson, Steve Johnson, Josh Walker, James Kelly, Sam Blease, Brad Hartman, Hamish McIntosh, Jared Rivers, Matthew Stokes

Key Player: Patrick Dangerfield

For me, all the hype surrounding his move from Adelaide is justified. Based on 2015 form, Geelong now have the second-best player in the competition behind Fyfe in Patrick Dangerfield and are set to benefit hugely from it.

This man is a contested ball machine and accounted for about two thirds of Adelaide’s contested ball stats last season. His ability to explode out of the pack at stoppages is second to none, along with his brilliant knack for kicking three plus goals a game.

With Dangerfield in the side, Geelong can become one of the best midfield teams in the competition. The pressure is now lifted off skipper Selwood, as he now has a partner in crime. Mitch Duncan, who was Geelong’s best player before he succumbed to a season-ending foot injury last year, should almost go totally unnoticed this year, allowing him to develop into an elite level midfielder.

There is a reason, nearly every AFL captain has him pencilled in as the 2016 Brownlow Medal winner. This bloke is a freak.

Rising Star: Jake Kolodjashnij

Absolutely loved this kid’s 2015 season as he is slowly developing into a decent key position defender.

Made his debut against Melbourne last year and played every game for the rest of the season, with is best performance coming in a lockdown role on Adam Goodes, keeping him virtually out of the game.

A tall defender who has shown some really good athleticism and football smarts. He reads the play well and comes off his opponent at the right times to win the ball in the air. An effective rebounding player who is strong overhead and possesses neat foot skills.

Under the tutelage of club legend and premiership winning defender Matthew Scarlett, expect Jake to have another solid year and in the blue and white hoops.

Under the Pump: Andrew Mackie

This is probably down to his importance to the team and the fact he had a disappointing 2015 according to his standards.

Mackie has done it all with Geelong throughout his career, winning three premierships and getting himself into the All-Australian team. What many outsiders don’t know, is that he is extremely held in high regard internally at the club and many within the club itself recognise the job he did on Nick Riewoldt in the 2009 grand final, single handily perhaps, winning the flag for his side.

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He’s class will always be permanent, but form is only temporary and at 31 years old, Geelong need him firing up in the back side, because he is integral to how well the side plays. With the aforementioned Kolodjashnij seen as his future heir, Mackie needs to lift his game in 2016.

Strength: Talls

Geelong have a whopping 14 players on their list that stand over 195cm with nine in contention to start against the Hawks in round 1.

Whether they can all fit in the same team, is something Chris Scott needs to work out, however, Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley don’t play like talls, they’re basically pure midfielders and with their flexibility it leaves Zac Smith and Nathan Vardy fighting for the number one ruck spot.

Lachie Henderson is also a major coup for the Cats, as it allows Harry Taylor now to drop in, instead of playing the man-t0-man role he struggled with last season. Zac Smith is rated above average for contests won and hitouts-to-advantage and provides so much more athleticism, compared to Geelong’s last few ruckman.

Vardy has also shown, he can develop as a key-forward with 24 goals from his 24 games.

Weakness: Backline

It is slow and I have serious doubts over Tom Lonergan and potentially Corey Enright despite his good form in 2015.

They’ve lost speed in Jackson Thurlow and it may now be necessary to chuck Cam Guthrie down their to help with Geelong’s lack of pace in that area of the field.

Four players in that backline are aged over 30 and that spells problems, even for a side that has a prime midfield.

Geelong still need to improve their defensive stats in 2016 and this is their big weakness heading into the new season.

What the fixture looks like: Good

They have the best draw in 2016 and of the 2015 finalists, they play just Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs twice, while they get return matches with GWS, Essendon and Brisbane.

After playing the Hawks on Easter Monday, they play the Giants, Lions and Bombers and then finish the season against the Lions and Demons in the final two rounds.

They have just five six-day breaks and play eight games within the comforts of Simmonds Stadium. While travelling to Adelaide twice but Perth just once. There is very little in this fixture to concern Geelong and it figures to play a huge part in them rocketing back up the ladder this year.

Best 22

B: Cam Guthrie, Lachie Henderson, Corey Enright

HB: Jake Kolodjashnij, Harry Taylor, Andrew Mackie

C: Mark Blicavs, Patrick Dangerfield, Jimmy Bartel

HF: Josh Caddy, Tom Hawkins, Steven Motlop

F: Daniel Menzel, Nathan Vardy, Corey Gregson

R: Rhys Stanley, Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan

I: Scott Selwood, Darcy Lang, Lincoln McCarthy, Zac Smith