Geelong have survived a surging comeback from the slow-starting Western Bulldogs to escape with a gritty 13-point AFL victory at Marvel Stadium.
The Cats raced out of the blocks by booting the opening six goals of Friday night’s game to completely stun Luke Beveridge’s team.
But after slamming through seven first-quarter goals, Geelong’s attacking options then completely dried up as the Bulldogs chipped away at the 40-point gap.
The Dogs got within five points early in the last quarter but star forward Jeremy Cameron stepped up to kick the decisive goals as Geelong prevailed 12.11 (83) to 10.10 (70).
Cameron was the difference in a contest when goals were hard to come by, slotting three and setting up another in the opening quarter to allow the Cats to storm out to a 33-point lead at the first break.
After going quiet, like his team during the second and third terms, Cameron came alive again in the final quarter to boot another three goals to finish with six.
The nine-time GWS leading goalkicker, who arrived at Geelong ahead of the 2021 season, passed 500 career goals during the first quarter.
Geelong’s crucial win – their eighth of the season – over another finals contender allows them to head into the bye right in top-four contention.
“It was a really good win against a very good opposition who outplayed us for big parts of the night,” Cats coach Chris Scott said.
“The last four-to-six weeks we’ve been really undermanned and we’ve been really impressed as a coaching group with the resilience of the guys that have been out there.”
The Cats’ defensive structure was upset when Tom Stewart was subbed out early in the second quarter after suffering a head knock.
But with Geelong having next week off, Stewart is unlikely to miss an entire match despite being placed into the AFL’s 12-day concussion protocols.
Things got heated after the three-quarter time siren as Bulldogs star Bailey Smith was reported for headbutting Cats defender Zach Tuohy.
After the pair grabbed each other’s jumpers, Tuohy walked away from the wrestle with a minor cut on his forehead.
Geelong’s Rising Star nominee Sam De Koning had the better of his eagerly anticipated battle with Bulldogs forward Aaron Naughton to further stake his claim as one of the year’s breakout players.
Naughton did kick two goals in the final quarter but Geelong would have been delighted with De Koning’s early work.
Midfielder Tom Liberatore was clearly the Bulldogs’ best player, finishing with 30 touches and kicking two goals.
The Bulldogs (6-6) also have the bye next week, with their next assignment a trip to Giants Stadium to face GWS on June 18.
“They were pretty good in the clinches early and we took a backward step from what we’d been producing in that early part of the game,” Beveridge said.
“I was really proud of the boys after that and the way that they dug in and we played some pretty good footy without capitalising.”
Geelong will head to Perth to play embattled West Coast in round 14.