HAWTHORN has one hand on a top-two finish after powering away from Geelong to win by 36-points in a high-octane clash at the MCG on Saturday night.
The Hawks led from start to finish and put their foot down in the third quarter, with star forward Cyril Rioli kicking six goals in the 19.7 (121) to 12.13 (85) win.
The result lifts the reigning premiers into second place on the ladder, where they will remain at the end of the round if ladder leader Fremantle beats West Coast in Sunday's Western Derby.
With matches against Port Adelaide, the Brisbane Lions and Carlton to finish the season, they are in a strong position to earn a home qualifying final, which could set up a fourth straight Grand Final appearance.
With their mojo back after four straight wins, the Cats certainly enjoyed periods of ascendency over the premiers, including a five-goal-to-one run either side of half-time that cut the margin to nine points.
But they were carrying five players with 25 games or less experience, and that became obvious late in the third quarter when Hawthorn made its decisive move.
The fast-paced match suited Rioli, who kicked an equal career-high six goals, including one of the highlights of the match when he blind turned out of a stoppage and snapped truly on his right foot.
He put the exclamation mark on the result with the last two goals of the game, including another masterful snap out of a stoppage.
Hawks captain Luke Hodge was outstanding for the victors, kicking three of his four goals in the first quarter and finishing with 24 possessions and five inside 50s.
The Hawks kicked seven of the first nine goals of the game, which coach Alastair Clarkson said was vital in his team's 14th win of the season.
"It was a game that we were really wary of in terms of having to play some of our best footy," Clarkson said.
"Geelong's been starting games really well this year, particularly over the past month, and to get some scoreboard leeway early in the game was important to us.
"It ebbed and flowed and they got control at different stages of the game … (but) we were just a little bit more efficient with the ball."
Joel Selwood was inspiring for the Cats with 12 clearances and 25 possessions, while Cam Guthrie booted three goals and had 30 disposals, lifting when the Cats made their run either side of half-time to cut the margin to nine points.
Playing his 250th match, Steve Johnson took just four minutes to add to his bulging highlight reel, marking in the pocket and snapping Geelong's first goal around his body.
The Cats went with Hawthorn early, but it was a question of how long they could last in a shootout, with both teams given room to take the game on.
The Hawks looked to have broken the game open in a sublime 10-minute burst that saw Hodge kick a curling drop punt goal from the boundary line 18 minutes into the game.
Hawthorn's lead blew out to 31 points halfway through the second term, but Johnson lifted again with 11 possessions and 1.1 for the quarter.
When Guthrie kicked a magnificent right-foot snap from the boundary line in traffic, the margin was cut to 14 points and the Cats entered the main break with momentum and a chance.
But experience and class told in the second half as the Hawks tuned up for what is ahead and Geelong counted the cost.
Potentially six points outside the top eight if Richmond beats Gold Coast on Sunday, their chances of returning to the finals are slim and they'll likely be trying to reach September without James Kelly, who suffered an ankle injury late on Saturday night.
At 31 and out of contract, the setback could spell the end of the triple premiership Cat's career.
"I'll spend a fair bit of time on where we can improve and we're pretty clear on that," Geelong coach Chris Scott said after the game.
"If we take the positive view of the game, after an average start, the game was relatively close after that.
"We had a crazy chance in the last quarter but we missed some easy shots."
Steve Johnson and Brian Lake get to grips with each other at the MCG. Picture: AFL Media
GEELONG 3.2 6.7 10.8 12.13 (85)
HAWTHORN 7.2 9.4 15.7 19.7 (121)
Geelong: Guthrie 3, Hawkins 2, Johnson 2, Selwood, Lang, Cockatoo, Lang, Walker
Hawthorn: Rioli 6, Hodge 4, Breust 3, Roughead 2, Shiels, Gunston, Smith, Puopolo
Geelong: Guthrie, Selwood, Enright, Johnson, Hawkins, Lang
Hawthorn: Rioli, Hodge, Mitchell, Shiels, Breust, Birchall, McEvoy, Puopolo
Geelong: Tom Lonergan (illness) replaced in selected side by Jared Rivers, James Kelly (ankle)
Geelong: James Kelly (ankle) replaced by Nakia Cockatoo in the third quarter
Hawthorn: David Hale replaced by Daniel Howe in the fourth quarter
Umpires: Rosebury, Hosking, Meredith
Official crowd: 55,802 at the MCG