The balance between attack and defence is always the challenge of coaches and players.
But in the past two decades there has been a shift in mind set of coaches.
Thanks to the AFL clamping down on the arm wrestling, stoppage bash crash which lends itself to the stop-start game that has earned the wrath of footy fans, the game is now opening up like a fresh, green bud on a decaying vine.
Restricting rotations means forwards can’t get down and park in the back 50 to fill the defensive zones before sprinting into attack to catch the Hail Mary pass inside their forward 50.
Then there is the stand rule which has opened up inside ball movement and encouraged the better skilled sides to take on the opposition defence.
Want to pierce a good back line? Move it quick and through the corridor, so a backline can’t get set and the forward has three leads in front of him – corridor, fat side or skinny – at the kicker’s leg.
The modern rules have sped up the game, reducing the long kick down the line causing a slow play, punch over the boundary line, stoppage then repeat yawn fest.
Being brought up in the 6-6-6 era – six defenders, six midfielders and six forwards – defence was the key to success.
In the 1990s, five time the best defensive side made the grand final and four times they won it. They are undeniable odds.
In more recent times, the best defensive teams have made the grand final seven times but only Sydney has held up the cup in 2012.
At the other end of the scale, the best offensive team has won the flag three times out of eight occasions.
The shift towards attacking football also goes hand in hand with your playing list having the skills to execute inside 45 kicks and the experience to know.
There is no question Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir has built his brand on defence, defence, defence, but as Andrew Brayshaw, Caleb Serong and Will Brodie become more experienced and understand what they can and can’t bite off as they dart a kick inside, the coach will loosen the vice-like boundaries on offence.
Game styles generally build from the back. It’s a case of defend first, then learn to counter attack off turn over, which goes in hand with a player’s development: learn to train, learn to compete, then learn to win.
That’s why I’m leaning to the Magpies getting the job done over Fremantle on Saturday night.
They have a marginally more advanced and more rounded game plan.
Nathan Buckley drilled the defensive acumen into the Pies over previous years which has allowed Craig McRae to walk in and preach more attack.
That leads scoreboard nourishment and allows the group to feel much better about themselves.
That said, the remarkable maturity already of both classy Daicos brothers, Nick and Josh, and the subtle positional changes of Scott Pendlebury, who can see the inside kick and most times make it, allow the Magpies instantly more high risk with ball movement but safer given the aforementioned players.
Geelong sit third on both tables – attack and defence.
They are three goals off the most attacking attack in 2022 and less than a goal off Melbourne who is the best team defensively.
Given this profile and the experience, the best layers available and the week off, it’s the Cats if I have to go early.
Back in the Mark Thompson days as Geelong coach you could argue the best form of defence was owning the ball like the Cats did with the little master, Gary Ablett, and co.
It led to sides putting numbers behind the ball, but with the evolution of rules now it’s time to get the ball in deep before the opposition can get back as apposed to kick it around and draw out the defence.
Geelong coach Chris Scott has at his disposal a team of decent ball users in front of two complementary tall forwards the game suggests you need.
Tom Hawkins’ powerful and cut like a marble statue who can wrestle you like Andre the Giant on a slow play or shoot out of the goal square like Superman does out of a phone booth.
Sitting in front of him is Jeremy Cameron who runs like a midfielder, kicks like a midfielder but plays like a tall.
So on a fast play Cameron can help start a possession chain down back then break inside 50 on the same play and kick a steadying goal. Throw in Tyson Stengle for good measure if there is a crumb to pick up, the Cats are the team to beat.