Underlining the importance of the battle is the fact that only three teams have scored more points from stoppages than Collingwood and the Cats’ work in that area lost them the game against the Brisbane Lions in round 22.
Grundy is strong and likes to grab the ball from the ruck while Stanley has some pace and can bound from centre clearances if given any space.
Grundy is stronger in the air so it will be Stanley’s job to bring the ball to ground as well as pushing forward at every opportunity to make the Magpies ruckman accountable.
Does Jordan Roughead play forward or back?
It will be a big question for both teams with the Cats marking power inside 50 troubling the Magpies in round one as they took 14 grabs in the forward arc. Roughead trained forward during match simulation last Friday night indicating the Magpies want to keep their structure ahead of the ball with Brody Mihocek – who has been brilliant – needing some support over what could be three or four tough finals.
That leaves Darcy Moore on Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Howe on Esava Ratugolea, which makes the midfield battle crucial.
The Cats have a different issue with the Magpies’ forward line full of dangerous ground-level players with Jack Henry, Mark O’Connor and Jed Bews to have massive roles curbing their influence.
Does Levi Greenwood tag Tim Kelly?
Greenwood did not play in round one and Kelly ran riot to be clearly best on ground. The question is whether the Magpies want to assign either Greenwood or Jack Crisp to Kelly in an attempt to curb his influence around the ball.
It’s more likely the Magpies will go head to head in the midfield and be conscious of stopping the Cats running out of the front of stoppages with Greenwood annoying uber-dangerous small forward Gary Ablett. If Kelly catches fire however Greenwood or Crisp will be called upon to douse the flame.
The other option might be to use Greenwood in a familiar role of annoying Joel Selwood on the basis that Selwood sets a tone for the Cats and his frustration may lead to the team being distracted.
Can Geelong perform in a big final at the MCG?
In three of their past four finals at the MCG the Cats have failed to kick a goal in the opening quarter, forcing them on the back foot and putting pressure on their system for the remainder of the match.
However the Cats have started much better in 2019 than previous seasons winning 15 first quarters this year compared to 11 in 2018 and 10 the year before. They have also played well at the MCG this season with an 80 per cent winning record and although it’s harder to defend the ground, they managed to restrict their opposition to a measly 66.2 points per game at the venue.
The finals record is explainable but regardless of the logic everyone knows the pressure will come on the football department if the Cats have another average performance this September.
It’s worth noting that for all the focus on Chris Scott’s record of three finals wins from 12 appearances since the premiership in 2011, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has won just three from eight finals in the same period.
Who wins the forward-half battle?
The Cats are a much better forward-half team in 2019 with tackling machines Dahlhaus and Tom Atkins (if he plays) making a huge difference with Dahlhaus’s energy and joy in the success of teammates infectious. Ablett is laying tackles in bigger numbers too while Gary Rohan and Ratugolea have given Hawkins the second and third forward he cried out for last season.
However Collingwood’s pace inside 50 and ability to win ground balls will trouble the Cats who don’t like opponents with too many smalls. Jordan De Goey, Jaidyn Stephenson, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Jamie Elliott are all dangerous and don’t have obvious match ups at the Cats. It makes the midfield war the key to deciding the game as both teams like locking the ball forward aiming for repeat entries until they kick a goal.
Prediction: Geelong by three points
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.