Kangaroo Lachlan Hansen is tackled by Cat Billie Smedts during their round two clash at Etihad Stadium.

Kangaroo Lachlan Hansen is tackled by Cat Billie Smedts during their round two clash at Etihad Stadium. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

IN A NUTSHELL

North Melbourne has troubled Geelong at their past two meetings, one of which they won, but the Cats have a top-four berth on the line and are welcoming back three premiership stars. You get the feeling they will find a way to win, even if headed early. However, North Melbourne shape as the bottom eight team the ladder leaders will least like to face in the run to the finals.

BIG INS

Geelong loses ruckman Dawson Simpson to injury and key forward James Podsiadly to suspension, but should regain Jimmy Bartel and Josh Hunt, and can choose between Josh Walker, Trent West and Mark Blicavs to cover their forward/ruck gaps.

North Melbourne will be hard hit by the loss of captain and clearance warrior Andrew Swallow to a serious achilles injury. Bullish tagger Levi Greenwood, solid utility Ben Jacobs, perennial contender Liam Anthony and former Demons stripling Jordan Gysberts lead the list of potential replacements, but none can fill the void left by the brave skipper.

It is a brave punter who tips against a Geelong team being strengthened by the inclusion of Jimmy Bartel. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

LAST TIME
Rnd 2, 2013
GEELONG
4.0 6.4 13.8 16.16 (112)
NORTH MELBOURNE 7.1 12.3 15.5 17.6 (108)
GOALS Geelong: Christensen 3, Hawkins 3, Chapman 2, Motlop 2, Bartel, Caddy, Podsiadly, Selwood, Duncan, Lonergan. North Melbourne: Thomas 5, Petrie 4, Tarrant 2, Mullett, Wells, Adams, Anthony, Bastinac, Atley.
BEST Geelong: Kelly, Stokes, Enright, Christensen, Selwood, Hawkins, Taylor. North Melbourne: Gibson, Swallow, Thomas, Wells, Bastinac, Goldstein, Petrie. SUBSTITUTES Geelong: Stokes (replaced Brown in Q3). North Melbourne: Jacobs (replaced Harper in Q3).  
CROWD: 34,152 at Etihad Stadium.


"I guess it's slightly intimidating for opposition teams when they know they're playing a team that will never give up."
There would be few die-hard AFL fans, and certainly not any coaches, for whom Geelong coach Chris Scott's post-match declaration would have been a revelation, after his team overcame a 41-point first-half deficit.
- Jesse Hogan, April 8, 2013


Geelong, lacklustre in the first half, booted seven goals to three in the third quarter to reduce the margin to nine points. North fought hard in the final term, and there were only two goals scored in the final 20 minutes, but the redoubtable Cats prevailed. All of Petrie's goals came in the first half, and his influence diminished once Harry Taylor replaced Tom Lonergan as his opponent. Surprising substitute Mathew Stokes had 16 second-half disposals, including seven inside-50s to lead the revival. The game set the tone for both clubs - Geelong repeatedly came from behind to win games in the first half of the season, and North has kept losing close games all season, especially against top eight teams.

HISTORY

LAST FIVE
North Melbourne
1
Geelong 4
North Melbourne stunned Geelong in round 3, 2012, leading throughout and resisting a seven-goal final term to record a 17-point upset. It was heralded as the first sign that midfielders like Ryan Bastinac (26 touches and four goals) and Jack Ziebell (27 disposals and four goals) were feted as having come of age. The clue that North still had further development to experience? Evergreen veteran Brent Harvey had just the 38 possessions. Prior to that, the Cats had toyed with North in seven straight wins stretching back to 2007.

Last 10:
North Melbourne 3
Geelong 7 

Since 2008:
2008 Rnd 11 Cats by 13
2008 Rnd 21 Cats by 3
2009 Rnd 08 Cats by 70
2010 Rnd 14 Cats by 35
2011 Rnd 07 Cats by 66
2012 Rnd 03 Roos by 17
2013 Rnd 02 Cats by 4

Overall:
North Melbourne 59
Geelong 93
Draw 1

Finals:
North Melbourne 3
Geelong 2

Doug Wade played in the 1963 Geelong premiership, and North Melbourne's 1975 triumph, their first-ever flag.

YOU CAN BET ON IT

North Melbourne $3.40
Geelong $1.40

An exotic. For an erratic team, there is consistency to North Melbourne. So often they lead and fail to win. And the Cats are notoriously slow starters who inevitably dominate a latter portion of matches to record their wins. Match made in heaven for the half-time/full-time double ($6.50 at Betstar.)

Quarter-quad suggestions:

North Melbourne win: 1,2,3,4/2,3,4,5/2,3,4/1,2,5
Geelong win: 1,2,3,9/1,2,9,10/1,9,10,11/9,10,13

If you lose and need to gain some perspective: Footy Boots For Kids

THE RECENT FORMLINE

LWWLLW North Melbourne
LWWWLW Geelong

V CURRENT TOP FIVE:
North Melbourne 0-4
Geelong 5-0

VENUE:

North Melbourne are 4-4 against Geelong at Docklands. They beat Geelong here last season in round two. Overall, North has won 81, drawn two and lost 51 matches at Etihad Stadium. They are 5-3 there this year, with a biggest loss of 16 points, against Collingwood in round one.
Geelong have won all four of their games at Etihad Stadium this year, all in tight affairs, against North, Carlton, the Bulldogs and Essendon. They have won 56 of 77 matches played at the roofed arena, and nine of ther past ten games at the venue. 

On Friday nights since 2008:
P W L D WIN%
Geelong 24 wins, 11 losses, 69%
North Melbourne 3 wins, 6 losses 33%

Quite big, not-so-hairy Kangaroo: Cameron Mooney played 11 games, including a grand final, for North Melbourne in 1999. Photo: Ray Kennedy

STAT A FACT?

North Melbourne is in the top four in a slew of statistical categories, leading the league for disposals, effective kicks, uncontested possessions and clearances as compared to their opponents. However, they rank only 10th for inside 50s. On the other hand, they rank a respectable fifth for scores once inside 50. They are the figures of a team that wins and uses the ball well. The most relevant number with North is their eight losses by under three goals. Clearly, this is a team that could easily have won ten or more games, rather than their current seven.
Geelong is the ultimate rebounding specialist, unworried by losing clearances - they rank 17th - or contested possessions (eighth). Two things tell their story - they are first for kicking efficiency differential, and they have the biggest differential in getting the ball inside 50. The Cats' skill, pressure on opponents, and direct ball movement are unsurpassed.

KANGAROOS WIN: North jump out brightly, taking the game on, and forcing error. They win the clearances to keep the pressure on the Cats rebounders and their tall forwards keep the Geelong intercepters honest. Geelong inevitably charges back at them, but finally, the Kangaroos have learnt some defnsive skills which enable them to hold tight.

CATS WIN: The Cats play North at their own game (after all, they invented it), their midfield ball-sharing too skilful and persistent. With a top-four berth on the line, and competition for places in their line-up intensifying, Geelong is methodical, starting better than usual and overcoming every challenge as it appears. Five goals at least.

Big Hairy Cat: Mooney went on to play 210 games for Geelong and won two premierships in the hoops. Photo: Justin McManus

HISTORY IS BUNK

North Melbourne have made a bad habit of suffering massive finals defeats of late. One such occasion was the 2007 Qualifying Final at the MCG, when the 106-point margin was a fair indication that the rising Cats would take out the flag (which they won by 119 points over Port Adelaide). Inaccuracy curtailed the Cats in the first quarter, but they led by 45 points at half-time. Paul Chapman and Cameron Mooney booted five goals for Geelong. North Melbourne had eight players who recorded fewer than ten disposals, including names such as Leigh Brown, Brent Harvey, David Hale, Drew Petrie and Glenn Archer. Remarkably, the Roos regrouped to beat Hawthorn the following week.

North won the previous (Qualifying) Final between the teams, in 1997, when Wayne Carey’s seven goals highlighted a three-goal win at the MCG. North led, but only narrowly, at each change.

Winger Wayne Schimmelbusch nailed six majors in North 33-point win in the 1976 semi-final, which the Kangaroos led all day.

The best and most famous game played between the teams was surely the fondly remembered (by Geelong and neutral fans) preliminary final of 1994. In a brilliant, fast-moving game, North led by three goals at quarter time, trailed by four goals at half-time, and inexorably clawed back the deficit, levelling inside the final minute. Cruelly for the Roos, a mongrel hacked snap from a boundary throw-in by midfielder Leigh Tudor found Gary Ablett right in front, right on the siren. He converted to give the Cats a six-point win, and a berth in their third grand final in five years. Ablett ended with three majors from five disposals. Carey had six goals from 24 possessions and 14 marks.

That game had momentum lurches, but so did the first-ever final between the clubs, the 1950 preliminary final, watched by 73,539 at the MCG. North won through to its first-ever grand final despite trailing 7.3 (45) to 1.0 (6) at quarter time, and not hitting the front until the last term. They eventually won by 17 points, 21-year-old full-forward Jock Spencer booting five goals.

John Burns was a fine, feisty centreman for North Melbourne in the 1970s. That's him being obscured by a match-winning Malcolm Blight grab at Arden Street in 1976. He played his final season at Geelong in 1979.

THE GAME

North Melbourne appears to be a team built on the Geelong model. Draft prudently, rebuild the list with a group of kids who get to play alongside each other for the duration of their careers, and be patient. There will be frustrations, but eventually, the penny will drop once the kids start working hard enough for each other, and the results from a unified, highly skilled group will follow. In Geelong's case, it was the disappointing 2006 season that proved the catalyst for soul-searching that stung the team into becoming a juggernaut.

North has rebuilt with a slew of talented kids, and begun playing in the way of the modern Geelong, taking the game on and flowing through the corridor when possible. But there the comparisons may have to end.

Are Jack Ziebell and Ryan Bastinac potentially the equal of Jimmy Bartel and James Kelly?

Does North collectively have the talent of any of the Geelong teams since 2006?

No.

And it is time for the Kangaroos to forge their own style and history, and provide the unique gameplan that another young team will want to emulate in years to come.

Of all the marks of the Geelong team, two things set them aside from honest imitators like the Kangaroos. 

1. Having achieved through dare and flair for so long, they have the confidence borne of experience to take the game on, not just when the team is on the crest of a wave, but when it is under pressure.

2. They know how to win. The Cats sometimes struggle to get their engines running at the outset, but when pride or position is under threat, they rise to the occasion and redouble their efforts.

North are better than their ladder position suggests, but when the going gets tough, Geelong's self-belief will sustain them.

Leigh Colbert played 105 games for Geelong and 104 macthes for North Melbourne. Photo: Tony McDonough.

IRRELEVANT BUT NOTEWORTHY

These two teams seemed to have a player-exchange program going in the past three decades. Perhaps the dual-club success of celebrated full-forward Doug Wade - who won flags with both clubs in the 1960s and 1970s - inspired the fruitful prorgam. Celebrated Roos high-flyer Phil 'The Snake' Baker snuck in nine 1975 games for the Cats between his fifth and sixth seasons for the Kangaroos, but the border crossings didn't start in earnest until the likes of John Mossop made the move in the early 80s. Here's a few of the Kangaroo-Cats or Cat-Roos of note, of late: 

Doug Wade 1961-1975: G 208, NM 59
Phil Baker
1971-1979: NM 97, G 9
John Burns 1973-1979: NM 95, G 17
John Mossop 1979-1989: G 134, NM 37
Darren Steele 1984-1994: NM 119, G 18
Robert Scott 1986-2000: G 157, NM 88
Liam Pickering 1989-1999: NM 22, G 102
Leigh Tudor
1989-1996: NM 8, G 60
Leigh Colbert 1993-2005: G 105, NM 104
Kent Kingsley 1999-2007: NM 12, G 110, (Rich 3)
Cameron Mooney 1999-2011: NM 11, G 210 

Post club-switch games played: Geelong 526; North Melbourne 288. 

Forward Kent Kingsley played 12 games in two seasons with North Melbourne before his six seasons at Geelong. Photo: Vince Caliguiri

FOOLISH FRIDAY FORECASTS

Best chance of an underdog upset:
Fremantle
are $2.08 away to Carlton ($1.77). There is a reason the Dockers are a top-four prospect games ahead of the Blues on the ladder, and they welcome back important small forward Hayden Ballantyne. They have only lost to top four teams and Richmond this season. Carlton has only lost to such opponents.
Essendon ($2.02) has defied off-field troubles all year. It would only have to do so again to overcome Collingwood ($1.82), which is playing extremely poorly.
Adelaide ($2.08) are playing football good enough to trouble the still gutsy, but certainly tiring Port Adelaide ($1.77). The underdog often performs above their station in Showdowns.
Gold Coast ($2.95) has a strong enough midfield to scare the pants off West Coast, even in the west. The Eagles's on-ball cupboard is bare after Chris Masten joined their injury list.

WHEN IN DOUBT, TRUST THE LADDER:

Fremantle's recent form is waning, but they can raise a big enough effort to withstand the experimenting Blues. They just don't lose to bottom-eight teams.