>> For all the player stats, go to Match Centre on the AFL Live Official App
GEELONG recruit Jack Steven proved he was ready to assume Tim Kelly's vacant midfield role with a stunning debut in Cats colours on Sunday.
After nursing a calf complaint through January, the former Saint showed signs of his explosive best, as a permanent onballer but it wasn't enough to stop a four-point loss to Essendon in Colac.
It capped a perfect Marsh Community Series for the Bombers, with a four-goal third term showcasing their run-and-gun style that exposed the Cats on the wide ground.
Andrew McGrath (32 disposals) continued his impressive pre-season as an inside midfielder, teaming with Zach Merrett (26) and Dylan Shiel (23) in the 9.11 (65) to 9.7 (61) win.
The Bombers led by as much as 25 points during the third term, before the Cats rallied late with a Jack Henry goal with 10 seconds remaining setting up a frantic finish.
DONS EDGE CATS Full match coverage
They won the centre clearance and kicked inside 50m as the final siren sounded, only to fall to their second pre-season loss.
Steven finished with 26 disposals in full game time and was among the Cats' best alongside Patrick Dangerfield (33 disposals), who again did all the heavy lifting through midfield.
Fringe Cats ruckman Darcy Fort gave the Cats hierarchy plenty to ponder with a strong first-half performance before he was replaced in the second half by incumbent No.1 Rhys Stanley.
Mark Blicavs delivered the highlight of the first half with a high-flying hanger over Bombers recruit Jacob Townsend.
Bomber Darcy Parish, who hails from the neighbouring Winchelsea, gave the Colac fans plenty to cheer with three goals in a dominant third-term.
He played mostly in the front-half alongside Townsend (three goals) and Devon Smith (10 tackles) who impressed with his forward pressure.
The Bombers played with five rotations in the first half after Conor McKenna and Jake Stringer withdrew, while Brayden Ham played only the second half and swapped with Tom Cutler.
Veteran midfielder David Zaharakis then reduced the Bombers to four rotations after the main break after succumbing to a corked thigh.
Cats spearhead Tom Hawkins threatened to tear the game wide open early, before he was well held by 21-year-old key defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and sat out the final term.
Josh Jenkins, Jack Henry, Jacob Kennerley and Stanley watched on in the first half as the Cats went with five rotations, while the Cats rested Fort, Sam Menegola and Mark O'Connor after half-time.
Geelong: Ex-Crow Josh Jenkins sat out the opening half before operating in a three-tall forward set-up alongside Tom Hawkins and Esava Ratugolea after the main break. Second-year running machine Jacob Kennerley also watched the first half before assuming a wing role, while Jack Steven proved he was ready for round one.
Essendon: Former Tiger Jacob Townsend did it in the air and on the ground, proving a difficult match-up for the Cats. Ex-Lion Tom Cutler (11 disposals) played the first half between wing and half-back after also playing the second half in the VFL practice match curtain-raiser.
Geelong: Skipper Joel Selwood (hamstring) will need to pass match simulation on Saturday in order to play round one. He sat out with Mitch Duncan (hip), Cameron Guthrie (managed), Jake Kolodjashnij (hip) and Nakia Cockatoo (hamstring). Lachie Fogarty (ankle) played his first minutes of the summer in the VFL curtain-raiser alongside first-round pick Cooper Stephens and midfielder Charlie Constable.
Essendon: Jake Stringer (personal reasons) was a late withdrawal after also missing the first pre-season clash against West Coast. Cale Hooker (hip) is targeting a return in rounds 3-5 and missed with Tom Bellchambers (knee), Dyson Heppell (foot), Joe Daniher (groin), Patrick Ambrose (knee), Sam Draper (knee) and James Stewart (groin). Conor McKenna played a full match, switching between attack and defence in the VFL.
Jack Steven (MID/FWD, $653,000) gave his owners confidence he'll be cherry ripe for round one with a strong display as a permanent onballer. Devon Smith (MID/FWD, $720,000) played mostly in attack and collected 22 disposals, leaving the bulk of the centre bounces to Andrew McGrath, Dylan Shiel and Zach Merrett.
The Cats will stage match simulation at training on Saturday, seven days out from their round one clash against Greater Western Sydney. The Bombers will also have a big session on Saturday before they tackle Fremantle in their season opener a week later.
GEELONG 2.2 3.3 5.4 9.7 (61)
ESSENDON 2.3 3.6 7.11 9.11 (65)
Geelong: Miers 3, Hawkins, Tuohy, Atkins, Dangerfield, Jenkins, Henry
Essendon: Townsend 3, Parish 3, McKernan, Laverde, Fantasia
Geelong: Dangerfield, Steven, Miers, Tuohy, Narkle
Essendon: Merrett, McGrath, Parish, Zerk-Thatcher, Hurley, Saad
Geelong: Menegola (corked thigh)
Essendon: Zaharakis (corked thigh)
Umpires: Foot, Harris, Ryan, Nicholls
Official crowd: 7598 at Central Reserve, Colac