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Full strength a tight squeeze for Cats

By Sam Lienert 22/06/2010 04:58:47 PM Comments (0)

Geelong coach Mark Thompson's biggest problems would be envied by every other AFL coach, as Friday night's AFL grand final rematch with St Kilda approaches.

The Cats boss says he faces his hardest decision of the season - finding room in his top-placed side for premiership stars Cameron Mooney, Matthew Scarlett and maybe Joel Corey.

Key forward Mooney (ankle) and fullback Scarlett (hamstring) will both return against the Saints, while the Cats are yet to decide whether gun midfielder Corey is ready to resume from a knee injury.

The selection puzzles will continue in the following week or two, when No.1 ruckman Brad Ottens and young tall forward Tom Hawkins both return from foot injuries, bringing the club to arguably full strength.

Hawkins' imminent return is particularly heartening, after initial fears he could miss several months or possibly the rest of the season when he was diagnosed three weeks ago with a "hot spot" in his foot.

"There was a lot of talk and we really didn't know which way it was going to go," Thompson said.

"They've just decided through all the specialists and through Tom making a decision with his friends and family that he's going to play in one or two weeks."

While former Cats' All-Australian key defender Matthew Egan's career was prematurely ended by a foot injury, after his vain attempt to make a quick return during the 2007 finals series, Thompson was confident Hawkins was making a measured choice.

"All we did was just lay out the cards on the table, the facts, and let him make the decision. Hopefully he had the best advice we could give him," he said.

Despite having been without the five first-choice players - theoretically weakening every aspect of their side - the Cats have dominated, building a seven-match winning streak by an average 61-point margin.

Thompson acknowledged that made it very difficult to make the necessary cuts this week.

"I think if we get three back someone's going to (be unlucky to) miss out, you just have to look at the numbers and who's there, it will be the hardest one of the year," he said.

Youngsters Taylor Hunt and Simon Hogan appear the most obvious casualties, despite solid form.

But the third cut, assuming Corey returns, is much harder to predict, with tall backman Tom Lonergan perhaps in danger - despite having played every game this season - given Scarlett's comeback.

The Cats' good form also had Thompson questioning whether last weekend's mid-season bye came at a good time.

The Cats took almost a full week off, with Thompson and his players both relishing the break.

But he was also wary of its potential to halt their momentum ahead of what looms as their toughest home and away clash.

"Sometimes when you do relax you have to work to get back into that routine," he said.

But the Cats will not lack motivation, in what Thompson predicted would be another classic to match last year's two clashes - a six-point Saints win in round 14 and the Cats' 12-point grand final triumph.

"Players from both teams would be gearing themselves up for the same type of performances and contests and be prepared to go that extra yard, knowing it might be what is needed to get them over the line," he said.

Thompson said it was slightly different preparing for a Saints side without injured skipper Nick Riewoldt.

But he said the Cats preferred to stick to their own defensive structures anyway, rather than rearrange to suit the opposition, meaning Scarlett could line up on Saints small forward Stephen Milne, if he played deep in attack.

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