Geelong passes test of character

IF September is the big show, the regular season is the rehearsal and that makes the NAB Cup the audition stage. Step under the spotlight and show what you have for us. For the up-and-comers, it is a chance to showcase their talents. For the stereotyped veterans, it is a time to try out for a different role.

Geelong’s pre-season campaign rolled on against North Melbourne in stifling conditions at Simonds Stadium on Saturday with a gritty 12-point win.

If this time of the year is more about the process than the result, then the Cats passed the test of character. But with only one practice match left before the Easter Monday blockbuster against Hawthorn, the wide open casting call for spots in the season premiere is narrowing to a shortlist.

There will be spots vacant, with Steve Johnson and James Kelly serving suspensions, while the under-studies to the ruckmen are patiently waiting in the wings for perhaps a last-minute call-up.

Those who pushed their name to the shortlist against the Kangaroos were Jordan Murdoch and George Horlin-Smith. Murdoch played eight senior games last year, including the elimination final against Fremantle, but looks closer to cementing a regular spot in 2013. He seemed lively in the forward half all afternoon, rounding out his game with a goal in the opening minutes of both the second and third quarters. Horlin-Smith played only three games last year – two early in the season and another mid-year – but his name should be in the mix for a midfield berth against the Hawks. He collected 15 possessions – as many or more than all but two North Melbourne players – and chipped in with two score assists.

Another of the youngsters to standout was last year’s top pick Jackson Thurlow. He’s a medium-sized defender who uses the ball well and looks like he won’t be out of place in the senior team before too long.

Joel Corey, a rock of the Cats’ midfield for a decade, played across half-back in perhaps a pointer to a combined role for the new season.

The part-time ruckmen in Josh Walker and Mark Blicavs were dominated in the air by Daniel Currie – who had 39 hitouts compared with the Geelong duo’s combined 15. But that advantage lessened the further away from the contest the ball went. The clearances went North’s way 35-28, and Geelong won the inside 50 count 49-40.

In the end, it was the old hands of Joel Selwood, Kelly and, particularly, Paul Chapman, whose three-goal final term effort got the Cats over the line.