ISAAC Smith sees tall teammate Esava Ratugolea shaping as a central figure in Geelong’s AFL preliminary final bid to circumvent the Melbourne defensive duo that made them “look like fools” last time they met.
Ratugolea was dropped for the Round-23 fixture that decided the minor premiership as the Demons engineered a remarkable turnaround in erasing a 44-point deficit to secure victory after the siren.
All Australian defenders Jake Lever and Steven May were influential that night, with former Adelaide back-man Lever claiming 12 intercept possessions.
Ratugolea was also left out of Geelong’s qualifying loss to Port Adelaide the following week when Aliir Aliir – another All Australian defender – cut off a series of Cats attacking raids.
Geelong are likely to take a slightly different look into Friday night’s meeting at Optus Stadium, having enjoyed success playing Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron and Ratugolea together in a tall attacking set-up against GWS last week.
Ratugolea, who has played 14 games since recovering from a fractured leg in May, kicked one goal against the Giants and added ruck support for Rhys Stanley.
“Going off his performance on the weekend, I’d expect him to play (against Melbourne),” Smith said on Monday.
“He showed on the weekend that he can bust the packs open and he adds another dimension to our team.
“We’ve got two or three other big fellas down forward as well and hopefully they’ll be a fair bit to handle on Friday night.”
Smith said working a way around Lever and May will be crucial to Geelong’s chances of advancing to a second straight grand final.
“(Melbourne) have got an unbelievable midfield so it’s going to be won and lost in the contest, like most games of football, but they also set up the ground so well defensively,” Smith said.
“Lever and May certainly made us look like fools in round 23.
“(It’s about) how you enter the forward line and don’t kick it straight to Lever.”
Smith denied Melbourne will have an advantage from enjoying a week off after advancing directly to the preliminary final, declaring the Cats’ semi-final performance against GWS last week beneficial in their flag pursuit.
“I thought our last two or three weeks in the home-and-away season was pretty average, so it was nice to be able to get out there and just play a really solid brand of football,” Smith said.
“We had a pretty interesting week leading into the Port Adelaide game (qualifying final) and probably didn’t get our preparation exactly how we wanted to, so for us last week was really good.”
(C) AAP 2021