WEST Coast turned a corner, but it wasn't enough to see off the experience of Geelong as the Cats climbed back into the top-four with an 18-point win at Optus Stadium on Saturday.
In the week that the Eagles celebrated the 30th anniversary of their inaugural premiership, the team lifted to the occasion, but Geelong steadied late to win 12.9 (81) to 9.9 (63).
EAGLES v CATS Full match coverage and stats
It was a game that felt like it had two winners, with the Cats extending their winning run to four games as they prepare to make an assault on the premiership, and the Eagles proving they will be a different proposition in the second-half of the season.
Only 11 points separated the teams halfway through the final term when West Coast midfielder Connor West converted a long set shot to give the last-placed Eagles a sense of hope.
But it was star Geelong forward Tom Hawkins who settled the result, however, when he held his nerve to cap off a day in which he kicked his 700th career goal, becoming only the 26th VFL/AFL player to achieve the milestone.
Geelong midfielders Cameron Guthrie (25 disposals and 13 tackles) and Joel Selwood (24 and six clearances) were strong performers, while small forward Tyson Stengle booted three goals to prove the difference in the match.
The Cats also had a significant advantage in the ruck, with Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley combining to give them a 44-26 advantage in hit-outs and 38-29 in clearances.
As much the Eagles had arguably their best team on paper for the season, they lost their best performer pre-game to illness in Tim Kelly, and Jeremy McGovern suffered a rib injury that ended his day before half-time.
From their youngest player in debutant Rhett Bazzo, however, to their oldest in champion forward Josh Kennedy, the Eagles fought and scrapped all day to make the match a contest.
Premiership star Elliot Yeo (22 and 11 rebound 50s) returned to play a new role across half-back and was excellent, with midfield pair Andrew Gaff (27) and Jack Redden (24 and seven clearances) fighting at the coalface.
The hallmarks of an upset were there early as West Coast brought good pressure to the contest and let its ball movement flow from there, taking more risks than it has this season.
The Eagles kept pace with their fancied opponents for the majority of the first term, but three straight goals either side of quarter-time from the Cats saw them break away to a 25-point lead.
It was then that star defender McGovern left the ground after cannoning into Jeremy Cameron's hip, putting the Eagles in a vulnerable position.
The team lifted again, however, going on a thrilling four-goal run, with Kennedy, Jake Waterman and Jamie Cripps all converting set shots in a four-minute burst.
Returning speedster Jack Petruccelle then snapped a brilliant goal in traffic to level scores as half-time approached.
The Cats put their match-winning gap in the game early in the third quarter with a three-goal run, including Hawkins' 700th, which came after a free kick inside 50.
They extended the lead to 24 points deep in the quarter to set too big a challenge for the home side, who didn't stop trying to mount what would have been a thrilling upset.
'Gov' return short-lived
Star defender Jeremy McGovern was sent to hospital after being substituted out in the second quarter, with the Eagles confirming post-match he had suffered a rib injury. The premiership backman, who was the Eagles' best performer up until he suffered a back injury in round 11, was one of five senior players returning from injury on Saturday. Dom Sheed, Elliot Yeo, Willie Rioli and Jack Petruccelle all got through unscathed. Superstar Nic Naitanui is now closing in on his return from a knee injury, with Tim Kelly and Liam Ryan also set to return from a flu next week as the Eagles take on a different look.
Hawkins hits 700
Passing 700 goals seems to be the modern benchmark for champion key forwards, and Geelong star Tom Hawkins booted the two he needed to reach that mark in the third quarter. The moment came in a rush, receiving a free kick for a high tackle inside 50 before quickly playing on to snap around his body. The Geelong veteran reached the mark in his 315th game, and coach Chris Scott made the point post-match that his selfless spearhead would have given away a massive amount over his career. His 701st career goal was a typically steady set shot to ice the game.
Eagles' unwanted record
As much as West Coast turned a corner on Saturday and was able to celebrate its 1992 premiership anniversary with a competitive showing, the Eagles still walked away with their ninth straight loss, setting a new record for the club. After several heavy beatings since their only win for the season in round four, the 18-point margin was enough to lift the Eagles' percentage to 52.2, just 0.1 per cent behind 17th placed North Melbourne. It appears only a matter of time now before those teams swap positions.
WEST COAST 2.3 6.5 8.6 9.9 (63)
GEELONG 4.4 6.5 11.6 12.9 (81)
West Coast: Waterman 2, Kennedy 2, Cripps 2, Petruccelle, Rioli, West
Geelong: Stengle 3, Hawkins 3, Menegola 2, Cameron, Close, Duncan, Smith
West Coast: Yeo, Barrass, Redden, Gaff, Shuey, Cripps
Geelong: Guthrie, Selwood, Stengle, Blicavs, Cameron, Menegola
West Coast: McGovern (ribs)
West Coast: Tim Kelly (illness) replaced in selected side by Jackson Nelson
West Coast: Greg Clark (replaced McGovern in the second quarter)
Geelong: Francis Evans (unused)