THIS time last year Geelong forward Tom Hawkins could barely bend down to pick the ball up; it was a different story in the Cats' two-point NAB Challenge win over Collingwood at Simonds Stadium on Wednesday night.
Hawkins appeared uninhibited for the first time in a long time, as he booted four goals to steer the Cats home.
The key forward, considered by many to be Geelong's most important player, received a big tick from coach Chris Scott.
"I thought he was pretty good. He could've even taken a few more chances, but hopefully we're pretty balanced with Hawk," Scott said after the game.
"We're not saying he's perfect, but we're not saying he's terrible either.
"He's done the pre-season we were looking for from him and he looked pretty solid tonight.
"We've got to be careful to avoid the comparisons to this time last year. Let's just move forward, based on what's presenting at the time and the indications from tonight are pretty positive."
George Burbury's jaw injury soured an otherwise impressive night for the Cats.
Geelong played a near full-strength side on Wednesday night – with Joel Selwood, Steven Motlop and Allen Christensen the notable omissions.
Their absences gave a number of Cats players a chance to strut their stuff in different positions. Travis Varcoe spent time on the wing, Billie Smedts deep in defence and Josh Caddy and Cameron Guthrie played onball.
Varcoe looked damaging in patches, scooting through packs in characteristic style to finish with 21 disposals and six tackles.
"I guess the theory with Trav (playing up the ground) is he's such a damaging player outside the contest. If we can get him inside the contest a little bit more he might be able to get a little bit more of the ball. The idea is the same quality of impact for 20 possessions rather than 12."
Scott said the Cats decided not to risk bringing substitute Jesse Stringer on to the ground after he complained of hamstring tightness in the warm-up.
Ahead of their clash with Melbourne in Alice Springs on February 28, Scott said the Cats are unlikely to make any significant changes as the club sees the pre-season competition as a good opportunity for preparation for round one.
"We have 16 days until NAB two in Alice Springs, It's going to be difficult for us to leave guys out without good reason … most of those guys are going to be pretty keen to get another game of footy under their belt," Scott said.
Our side will be different, a few we'll hold back. But we have four or five first-year players who we'd have loved to play tonight, but unfortunately the incumbents get priority. NAB two, we'll still play a pretty experienced side because we want to get footy into them ahead of round one."