GEELONG has regained four senior players and Carlton three big names for tonight's Etihad Stadium clash, a match Cats football manager Neil Balme concedes is crunch time for the premier.
Dashing defender David Wojcinski will play his first senior match for the year, having served a three-week VFL suspension for a bump that shattered the jaw of young Casey Scorpion Jack Viney, and earlier overcoming an Achilles tendon injury.
Key forward Tom Hawkins also is back, having missed last week's 65-point downing of Greater Western Sydney after ''minor'' knee surgery. Joel Corey returns from a shoulder injury and Corey Enright seems to have shaken off a niggling foot injury.
Despite Geelong clinging inside the top eight, with six wins and four losses, Balme said the Cats were happy with the season so far.
''We are in a reasonable position but we have to put a few things together. Obviously this week is going to be an important one,'' he said.
Cats coach Chris Scott said Wojcinski, who will play his 200th game tonight, was welcome back after his career was stranded on 199 games at last season's end.
''He has got extreme speed, he's been showing that on the track. If we do select him, it will be with full confidence that he can perform near his best,'' Scott said.
Harry Taylor returns to the back line, having kicked six goals replacing Hawkins up forward last week. He will be matched with Carlton star ruck/forward Matthew Kreuzer who returns despite reports this week he was battling a fluid build-up in his left knee, which needed to be reconstructed after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament two years ago. Officially, hamstring tightness was why the Blues withdrew Kreuzer from last week's 54-point Port Adelaide loss.
Tonight's match is crucial for Carlton, which has only a win over Melbourne to show from the past four rounds.
The Blues, who started the season strongly, are in danger of slipping out of the eight if they can't turn around, but are boosted by the return of Kreuzer and defenders Lachie Henderson and Nick Duigan.
Carlton midfield assistant coach Mark Riley said too much had been made of opposition sides putting extra numbers around midfield stoppages to restrict the Blues' clearance and more basic issues needed fixing.
''We've got to roll our sleeves up and get a bit dirty and a bit grubbier around the hard ball and the defensive pursuits of the game,'' Riley said.
''There's been a number of theories regarding set-ups, structures etc. We feel like we've addressed that and now it's a matter of putting your head in the hole and winning a few [contests].
''The pattern in our midfield is no matter who's in or who's out we haven't met our standards over the past five or six weeks as a collective.
''The strength of the wolf is the pack.''
While Geelong has also been uncharacteristically poor in winning clearances and contested possessions this season, Riley said the Cats' overall class helped them get away with it.