Gary Rohan marked close to the goal square to kick a major early in that term to signal the Cats’ intentions.
The goal cut the lead to four points courtesy of a poor defensive lapse by the Dogs, who assumed Patrick Dangerfield was going to take the set shot. He passed to Rohan instead.
However Lachie Hunter’s goal after another Rohan score, a behind, got the Bulldogs ahead by nine.
Geelong’s Luke Dahlhaus, against his former teammates, quickly responded with a banana jammed off the boot to cut the lead to three again, but the Dogs wouldn’t go away. Aaron Naughton kicked another and they led again by nine.
That didn’t last long. Mitch Duncan kicked a set shot from 50 metres out and then it was Hawkins quickly who put the Cats in front for the first time all night.
Geelong’s comeback bid was aided by injuries to the Bulldogs. Young wingman Laitham Vandermeer went off in the first term and former captain Easton Wood in the third, both nursing hamstring complaints.
Zach Tuohy and Harry Taylor were both in the wars in the second and third terms too but managed to return to the field.
The Dogs’ first quarter was perhaps the most perfect of any team this season.
They avoided any pressure Geelong tried to apply to them with clever, congestion-clearing handballs into space and relentless overlap run.
Their clearance work was perfect, their forwards were out-smarting their opponents and they took enough chances to cash in on that dominance.
But the Cats rallied after the first break, Dangerfield and Duncan leading the charge from stoppages and allowing their side to find its feet.
In practice it meant the Cats were able to control the ball off half-back and take the Bulldogs’ dizzying speed out of the contest.
Geelong’s patience usurped the Dogs’ chaos and that is exactly how the Cats want the game played.
Jason Johannisen won a 50-metre penalty against Hawkins early in the second quarter and missed the resulting shot from directly in front, 40 metres out.
This would have made the margin seven goals and perhaps put the game to bed at this point.
The Cats kicked three in a row following that miss, two of them to Gryan Miers and one to Rhys Stanley, to kickstart the Cats.
Then, Josh Bruce missed his own easy set shot to give the Dogs another chance to snatch momentum back.
The Western Bulldogs were in with a chance right until the very end, even though it seemed they stopped in their tracks after quarter-time.
Dangerfield got a crucial spoil away on a kick-in with just over a minute left, and then Brad Close had a fantastic chase down for a holding the ball as the Dogs streamed off half back seconds after.
This kept the ball up the Cats’ end and Rohan pounced on a loose ball to ice the game with 45 seconds on the clock.
GEELONG 0.3 3.6 5.9 10.12 (72)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 6.3 6.6 7.7 9.7 (61)
GOALS – Geelong: Rohan 2, Hawkins 2, Miers 2, Duncan, Dahlhaus, Stanley, O’Connor
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 2, Crozier, Richards, McLean, Liberatore, Hunter, Bontempelli, Dunkley
BEST – Geelong: Dangerfield, Stewart, Guthrie, Rohan, Parfitt, Hawkins
Western Bulldogs: Hunter, Daniel, Macrae, Smith, Johannisen, Naughton.
INJURIES – Western Bulldogs: Vandermeer (hamstring), Wood (hamstring).
UMPIRES Gavine, Meredith, Mollison
VENUE Metricon Stadium
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.