Tom Stewart was handed a four-week suspension by the AFL Tribunal on Tuesday night for his late hit on Richmond’s Dion Prestia, generating debate as to its effect on Geelong’s finals aspirations going forward.

In one of the more disturbing bumps in recent time, Stewart knew immediately he was in trouble, as Prestia struggled to find his feet battling concussion.

Tigers fans didn’t take lightly to the incident, booing and hurling obscenities at the three-time All-Australian as his fate was almost sealed straight after.

Stewart is well on his way to his fourth AA jacket, but the four weeks away from the game could cause more issues for his club, creating a void in the defensive lineup that may not be filled.

The Cats have arguably been one of the most successful teams over nearly two decades in terms of total wins, being a contender each year and missing the finals only once since 2007.

Stewart’s inclusion to the side as a mature-age draft pick has added to the staggering statistic since his debut in 2017.

The star defender’s 119 games in the navy and white hoops has resulted in 80 career wins and an impressive 67 per cent winning rate, rivalling his skipper Joel Selwood’s 72 per cent (highest among current players).

However, despite the sample not being too large, Stewart has missed 14 games since his first outing and the Cats haven’t performed as well as they’d hope, especially at the back end of 2021.

Stewart missed from round 22, including the finals campaign, with a lisfranc injury and sat on the sideline as Geelong lost two finals (Port Adelaide and Melbourne), ultimately missing out on premiership glory.

Geelong are a 50 per cent chance (seven wins) to win without the 29-year-old and haven’t performed when it’s mattered most, hinting at the requirement of other players to step up over the next month in Stewart’s absence.

Otherwise a top two or four spot may slip away.

So, what does this mean for Geelong?

Geelong’s formidable backline

Chris Scott’s backline relies heavily upon some of their up-and-coming young stars, including Sam De Koning and Zach Guthrie, who have been thrown in the deep-end with some of their tasks against opposition sides and will do so more without the 2021 Carji Greeves Medal winner.

Jack Henry was trialled up forward to stretch the Richmond defence, but will almost be exclusively in the defensive end due to Stewart’s absence and will be gifted freedom to peel off and intercept as a means of replacing the 29-year-old.

Mark Blicavs – who normally pinch hits in the ruck from centre half-back – will now be required to play more in the back half, forcing Rhys Stanley and Tom Hawkins to share the stoppage duties.

Jake Kolodjashnij will need to lift his output and not only lock down his opponent, but will need to start looking to force turnovers from opposition forward 50 entries.

Geelong’s mid-tier ranking of intercept, averaging just under 70 a game, was largely produced by Stewart’s work.

However, a damning stat is that the Cats rank last in rebound 50s (36 per game) and usually look to their no.44 for assistance.

Zach Tuohy’s role could be altered even more so, being a more-at-home rebounding defender to fill the void left by the 29 -year-old.

Scott could also look at putting Max Holmes to the half back line to increase their running ability out of defence, as the speedster has shown his pace along the wing.

Mitch Duncan is another calm-headed option that the Cats could deploy as a good ball-user.

A player of Stewart’s calibre will cause a ripple effect when he’s not a part of the 22, but just how much impact will it have?

Geelong’s top two chances

Tom Stewart’s form in 2022 has been nothing short of outstanding, averaging 25 disposals (85 per cent efficiency), eight marks, nine intercept possessions and five score involvements in his best year for Geelong.

However, Stewart’s four-week suspension means he’ll miss games against North Melbourne, Melbourne, Carlton and Port Adelaide.

The Cats go into two of those matches (Kangaroos and Port Adelaide) as strong favourites, although they face the Power at Adelaide Oval, which poses as a danger game.

The next month without Stewart will determine whether or not Geelong will finish top two – with three wins to definitely keep them in touch.

Carlton’s forward line presents a problem for the Stewart-less Cats, with Harry McKay, Charlie Curnow and a fleet of small forwards causing issues for oppositions.

The Demons look like they’re ready to bounce back into clear premiership favouritism, with an emphatic victory over the Lions and a return to their relentless game style.

Port Adelaide in Adelaide is always a difficult task, with history leaning towards the Power. 

Ken Hinkley’s men could cause some carnage for some teams leading into September, but may also be playing for their season.

So, can the Cats hang on until Stewart returns? Or will they slip and miss a golden opportunity for a top two finish?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *