Crunch: Jarryd Blair and Mitch Duncan crash together.

Crunch: Jarryd Blair and Mitch Duncan crash together. Photo: Pat Scala

In the early rounds, the contending clubs present their credentials. Hawthorn's are impeccable and have been for years. Fremantle's looked in order, until an irregularity was found on Friday night. Sydney spent a little while patting its pockets, then suddenly found what it was looking for, but not where it normally is. Must have been that joker Franklin.

Port Adelaide, West Coast and Essendon all have submitted authoritative claims. At the MCG on Saturday night, it was the turn of Geelong and Collingwood to have their bona fides held up to the light.

When the Cats reached the front of the queue, the commissionaire gave them a wink and a knowing smile. They knew what was in their papers without looking. It is the game's gold standard. OK, some of the names have changed but the modus operandi has not. And there it was, waves of Cats flowing from the back, quick movement to agile forwards, splashes of class everywhere. Only the finishing touches were lacking.

Johnson was suffocated by Macaffer, and later Joel Selwood was done the honour of being tagged by Dane Swan. But newer names in fresher ink stepped up: Mitch Duncan, George Horlin-Smith, Cam Guthrie. The defence remained resolute and though the fast players grew slower, Tom Hawkins did not grow shorter. It was he who put the final stamp on this contest, kicking all three Geelong goals in the last quarter.

This is early in the new season, and the Cats have not yet dotted all their Is and crossed all their Ts. Nor is it their way to tap their fingers on the table and play for time, and so they kept Collingwood in business, and the crowd of more than 63,000 assessors absorbed.

Collingwood's presentation was another matter. The Magpies redrafted their testimonials substantially between seasons, and much of what they have done is still awaiting the official imprimatur of the stakeholders. At first, there was much frowning. Without Brown and Reid, the Magpies looked undersized in defence and undermanned in attack. Unless something changed, Geelong was going to win every quarter by two or three goals and the game by 10.

Then, without notice, Collingwood reshuffled its paperwork. Purposely, it slowed the game, with two aims: to wait for little openings to appear in attack, and to deny Geelong the fast, mazy ball it likes. Jamie Elliott took a mark for which there can be no higher praise than to say that it was Howe-like, and the Magpies were away.

On closer inspection, some of Collingwood's certification was familiar. Fervour at the ball, as if to assert that if you cannot manufacture your own fluency, at least make sure the opposition does not. Maxwell loose in defence. Lumumba galumphing out of it. This was 2010 Collingwood, the intellectual property Mick Malthouse surely took with him. This could be lawyers at 50 metres.

It makes for tumultuous football, also a heightened sense of aggrievement. A clash between Selwood and Taylor Adams would remain a sore point for Selwood for the rest of the match. In the long run, zeal would not be enough for the Magpies. It is desperately hard to sustain for two hours, and when it flagged, the Magpies lacked the polish of the Cats. Moreover, it has developed two serious glitches. Dane Swan is not having his customary inky impact and Travis Cloke had the presence of a hologram. But it is early in the season for Collingwood, too.

What they did learn is that Elliott is their X factor, a 178-centimetres footballer who stands 195 centimetres or more on the ground. He matched Hawkins goal for goal in the last quarter, prevented a rout and briefly threatened to upend the desk. They also learnt that Alex Fasolo has many virtues as a footballer, but the poise needed to wriggle out of a back pocket is not one. It's back to the forward line for good.

Interviews and assessments completed, the panel congratulated both clubs on the thoroughness of their displays, and assured them that they are almost certainly through to the next round. Don't call us; we'll scream for you.