GEELONG captain Joel Selwood's hamstring injury dulled the Cats' hard-fought 13-point win over Melbourne in their NAB Challenge clash at TIO Traeger Park in Alice Springs on Friday night.
Geelong defender Billie Smedts was also reported for collecting Melbourne midfielder Jimmy Toumpas in the head after a spoiling attempt gone wrong during the third quarter. Demons players were quick to remonstrate with the Cats defender, suggesting he could be set for a stint on the sidelines.
Despite the concerns, the Cats ran out 0.14.13 (97) to 3.9.3 (84) winners.
Cats coach Chris Scott said Smedts found himself in a tricky position.
"It's really difficult when you're spoiling and sometimes you can be unfortunate to make contact high and sort of flush guys, which appears might have happened," he said after the match.
"But I'll defy anyone to spoil in that position and not make any contact at all."
Geelong managed to break cleanly out of the blocks and led by 23 points at quarter-time. From there, many presumed the game would be dead and buried.
But to their credit, the Demons – unlike in previous years – fought back with purpose and actually led by a point late in the second term.
"It's all a learning curve for our guys and we've got to remain positive, and understand that we are a developing team," Demons coach Paul Roos said after the game.
"Tonight was another step forward and at times we were able to control the game, which was good.
Melbourne midfielders Bernie Vince and Dom Tyson were central to their team's regeneration.
Vince did as he pleased through the middle of the ground, helping himself to a game-high 34-disposals and a classy supergoal.
Tyson was clinical around congested situations, underlining his class and proving why the Demons swapped pick No.2 as part of a deal to acquire him from Greater Western Sydney.
However, the Cats' class eventually told as they rattled off four goals in six minutes in the third term to grab the upper hand. It was their run and spread – led by Mitch Duncan and Josh Caddy – that did the damage.
One of the beneficiaries up forward for the Cats was Mitch Brown.
Brown put his hand up for Nathan Vardy's forward spot with an impressive performance. Vardy's season is over after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament at training last Saturday.
After training with the defensive group during the pre-season, Brown – who was originally drafted as a forward – capitalised on his opportunity.
The 23-year-old's accurate set-shot kicking in swirly conditions was a feature, while he also showed an ability to attract the ball on the lead.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Melbourne: The Demons now have the capability to halt an opposition's scoring charge. For much of last season, Melbourne's defenders were swamped and, as such, failed to cope with a rush of inside 50s. But against the Cats, Melbourne had the right mindset to hang tough and eventually hit the front at the 19-minute mark of the second term. Geelong's class eventually won out, but Paul Roos would certainly have been pleased with his players' desire to fight back.
Geelong: In the wake of Nathan Vardy's knee injury, the Cats saw the game against the Demons as an opportunity to trial a bunch of forward setups. Mitch Brown was given every chance to prove his worth, while Harry Taylor spent much of the second half deep in attack. With round one just under three weeks away, a spot as Tom Hawkins' sidekick is there for someone to claim.
Melbourne: Young midfielder Dom Tyson was the pick of the bunch. Roaming through the midfield, the former Giant helped himself to 29 disposals. But it was his clean hands in traffic and decision-making under pressure that were the standouts. Jesse Hogan also showed some positive signs in his first match for the year, clunking seven marks and booting a goal before being starved for opportunity for much of the second half.
Geelong: Cats ruckman Hamish McIntosh made it through his long-awaited Geelong debut without much bother. He was limited to a half and finished with 10 hit-outs and six possessions. Jarrad Jansen threw his body around in packs in his first game for the Cats. Jordan Murdoch and Jackson Thurlow – both playing their first games for the year – also impressed.
MELBOURNE 0.3.0 2.5.0 2.7.1 3.9.3 (84)
GEELONG 0.6.5 0.8.6 0.14.9 0.14.13 (97)
Melbourne: Michie, Vince, Jones
Melbourne: Howe 2, Hogan, Toumpas, Bail, Trengove, Michie, Cross, N. Jones
Geelong: Brown 3, Duncan 2, Bartel 2, Taylor 2, Horlin-Smith, Caddy, Hawkins, Varcoe, Walker
Melbourne: Vince, Tyson, N. Jones, Cross, Dunn, Michie
Geelong: Duncan, Caddy, Johnson, Bartel, Horlin-Smith, Rivers
Melbourne: Toumpas (head)
Geelong: Selwood (hamstring)
Reports: Billie Smedts (Geelong) for striking on Jimmy Toumpas (Melbourne) in the third quarter
Umpires: Fleer, Wenn, Deboy
Official crowd: 5378 at TIO Traeger Park in Alice Springs