GEELONG had to work until deep into the final term to see off a plucky North Melbourne on Saturday afternoon to win by 20 points and maintain its spot in the top two.
After the Kangaroos led narrowly at quarter-time, the Cats slowly edged their way in front and held the 'home' team at arm's length to win 8.14 (62) to 6.6 (42) at Hobart's Blundstone Arena.
KANGAROOS v CATS Full match coverage and stats
North was within two goals late in the last quarter, but after being beaten by Ben McKay for most of the day, Geelong champion Tom Hawkins threaded the needle from the left boundary line to seal victory.
The Cats had the better of possession and seemed to control the tempo, generating 60 inside 50s to 34, but the Kangaroos were relentless with their pressure and willingness to attack when they got the ball.
The weight of numbers just proved too much as Geelong collected a valuable four premiership points.
Cam Guthrie continued his magnificent season, gathering 28 disposals and kicking two goals, while his younger brother Zach had the best game of his career after being a late inclusion.
The lanky defender took six intercept marks in the first half and finished with a career-high 28 disposals as an integral part of Geelong's frugal defence.
Isaac Smith (26) and Zach Tuohy (26) were also instrumental in victory, as was Tom Stewart (24).
As it has for the entire second half of the season, North made things difficult though, particularly during the first quarter.
They looked to attack the corridor at every opportunity, and although turning the ball over on a couple of occasions to put their defence under pressure, took a four-point lead to the first change.
Geelong ground their way back to the lead by half-time as Zach Guthrie and Stewart set up a defensive wall at half-back and Mark Blicavs and Gary Rohan converted difficult set shots.
A day of firsts for the Kangaroos
It was always going to be a battle to kick goals against Geelong's stingy defence, but two young Roos had moments they will never forget. Both Atu Bosenavulagi and Eddie Ford kicked the first goals of their young careers, much to the delight of their teammates. Bosenavulagi smothered a Sam Menegola handpass midway through the first term, burst into the clear and then drilled his shot on the run from 40m. And after two misses earlier in the match, Ford kept his team in the hunt early in the last quarter when he snapped from close range on the right boot.
The late inclusion that worked out perfectly for Geelong
When Tom Atkins was a late scratching with a back injury, Geelong rushed Zach Guthrie into the 22 – and what an impact the young defender had. From the opening quarter Guthrie played assertively in the back half, getting in front of his opponent to break up North Melbourne's forward forays. He had six intercept marks in the first half alone and ended up with 28 disposals for the day -a career high. He also had a match high 11 intercepts all up.
The young midfielders that continue to impress
Without contested bull Ben Cunnington to lead its midfield charge, the question was always going to be which North Melbourne players could step up to carry the load. It was little surprise that Luke Davies-Uniacke and Jy Simpkin would be those men, continuing seasons of huge development for both. Davies-Uniacke started his day with a blistering 55m goal and finished with 23 disposals while Simpkin was terrific around the contest with his 29. They had 13 clearances between them to help mitigate the absence of Cunnington.
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.2 4.4 5.6 6.6 (42)
GEELONG 2.4 5.6 6.11 8.14 (62)
North Melbourne: Larkey 2, Bosenavulagi, Davies-Uniacke, Ford, Taylor
Geelong: C.Guthrie 2, Rohan 2, Blicavs, Hawkins, Higgins, Narkle
North Melbourne: Davies-Uniacke, Simpkin, McKay, Hall, Ziebell, Goldstein
Geelong: C.Guthrie, Z.Guthrie, Tuohy, Bews, Close, Stewart, Smith
North Melbourne: Nil
Geelong: Tom Atkins (back) replaced in selected side by Zach Guthrie;
North Melbourne: Shaun Atley (unused)
Geelong: Jordan Clark (unused)
Crowd: TBC at Blundstone Arena