Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has warned Geelong has returned to its best in the run to the finals now they have regained key players and confidence.
The Cats will carry a four-match winning streak into Saturday night's must-win match against the Hawks at the MCG. The Cats are eighth on the ladder only through percentage, while the Hawks have the lure of a home qualifying final, as they sit two points behind second-placed West Coast with four rounds left. "We're starting to see that over the last four weeks, that they're starting to play the Geelong way," Clarkson said. "For a period of time there, when some of those guys were out, they were trying to play the Geelong way, but they just weren't capable. "They just didn't have either the quality or experience in their side." Geelong beat Hawthorn in 11 straight matches from 2009 to 2013, a streak nicknamed the 'Kennett Curse' after the Hawks' outspoken former president. The Hawks have since beaten the Cats in three of their last four clashes, most recently belting them by 62 points in round one. Clarkson pointed to the returns of Andrew Mackie, Mitch Duncan and Jimmy Bartel as a big reason for the Cats' rally in the last month. "Geelong haven't changed in the way they're playing, most of it has to do with personnel," Clarkson said. "It's got to do with confidence levels and knowing the way they want to play. "Some of those guys who have come back into their side have played with their team-mates a hell of a lot over the last four, five, six, seven - and in some cases, like Bartel - 12 years. "They've been fabulous players and it's just the chemistry of the players in their side that allows them to play to the sort of game style they like." The Hawks made three changes for Saturday's clash, raising eyebrows with the recall of Daniel Howe for only his second senior match. "He's played terrific footy at Box Hill all season," Clarkson said. "It's just sheer good performance over a long, long period of time [that] gives him his opportunity." Howe comes in for Taylor Duryea, who Clarkson said has struggled with injury in the last few weeks and needs more match time in the VFL. David Hale and Brian Lake will return for Ryan Schoenmakers and Jonathon Ceglar. Steve Johnson returns after serving a one-match suspension to make his 250th senior appearance at the expense of George Horlin-Smith.