GEELONG has locked up a top-four spot with a gritty 14-point win over a gallant St Kilda at GMHBA Stadium.
The Saints had led 31-0 in the first quarter, but a collective seven goals from Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron helped the Cats to the 13.7 (85) to 11.5 (71) victory.
Patrick Dangerfield's powerful contested mark on the goal-line and resulting major sealed the game with three minutes remaining.
St Kilda started the game superbly, following on from last week's win over Sydney with strong pressure across the ground and finding Max King in plenty of space.
The young key forward had the better of his match-up with Jack Henry early, taking five marks and kicking 2.1 in the first term before heading down the race for treatment on his groin.
King showed great fortitude to play out the game, but a combination of less opportunity, closer attention from Mark Blicavs and the injury kept him quiet for the remainder of the game.
Geelong didn't hit the scoreboard until Rhys Stanley converted with less than two minutes remaining in the first, cutting the margin from 31 to 25.
The Cats piled on four straight goals of their own, as Mark O'Connor was moved onto rampant Jack Steele and Dangerfield – showing no ill effects after going to hospital with a bruised larynx injury last week – combined well with Joel Selwood.
Brad Crouch set the tone at the start of the second half, winning a holding-the-ball free close to goal, but the Cats hit the front for the first time courtesy of a Sam Simpson set shot with 10 minutes left in the third, having increased their impact around the contest.
Esava Ratugolea battled a corked quad throughout the game and was replaced late by Quinton Narkle, while the injury-prone Dan Hannebery had 18 touches and four clearances in his first game since last year's semi-final.
The finals picture
Geelong has leapt into top spot (with Melbourne still to play) and has sewn up a top-four spot, no mean feat in the tightest of seasons. With a final-round match against the Demons, a win on Saturday was crucial to securing a double-chance. The Cats can now look ahead to next week's battle which will likely decide the minor premiership. St Kilda's finals hopes are now over.
Life without Tom Stewart
The Cats suffered a huge blow after two-time All Australian Stewart was ruled out with a potentially season-ending foot injury during the week. It required a reshape of the backline without the crucial cog. O'Connor spent time in defence when not tagging Steele, while Blicavs played a key defensive role. Zach Guthrie looked to be the defender moving further up the ground, but the intercepting skills of Stewart as third man across were missed in the first half.
Welcome back, Jezza
The key forward and star recruit was playing his first game since injuring his troublesome hamstring in round 16, and worked into the game beautifully. Locked in an interesting battle with the in-form Callum Wilkie, Cameron was the beneficiary of some great kicks into attack, and was a crucial part of the Cats' second-term comeback. He finished the game with four goals and seven marks from 13 touches.
GEELONG 2.0 6.2 10.5 13.7 (85)
ST KILDA 5.1 7.2 10.3 11.5 (71)
Geelong: Cameron 4, Hawkins 3, Stanley, Menegola, Close, Simpson, Smith, Dangerfield
St Kilda: Membrey 3, King 2, Crouch 2, Sharman 2, Jones, Higgins
Geelong: Dangerfield, Menegola, C. Guthrie, Cameron, Higgins
St Kilda: Steele, Crouch, Sinclair, Membrey, Howard, King
Geelong: Ratugolea (corked quad)
St Kilda: King (groin), Joyce (head knock)
Geelong: Narkle (replaced Ratugolea)
St Kilda: Clavarino (replaced Joyce)