North Melbourne have survived a tough week of COVID-19 challenges and a fierce challenge from Geelong to win their AFLW opener by eight points.
The Cats kept the Kangaroos scoreless through the second term and well into the third at Arden St, before North kicked the last three goals of the match to win 4.2 (26) to 2.6 (18).
Kangaroos captain Emma Kearney missed her first AFLW game after she fell ill with COVID-19 and coach Darren Crocker revealed post-match that seven of his players had issues around the league's health and safety rules ahead of Saturday's game.
"I'm really proud that they've been able to navigate their way through those challenges and still find way to win today," Crocker said.
In round one last year, North walloped Geelong by 62 points - it was the Cats' biggest loss and their lowest score.
The Cats were a vastly different proposition on Saturday, taking it up to North with relentless pressure.
After North kicked the only goal of the opening term, they were kept scoreless and Geelong posted their first two goals in the third term to lead by eight points.
North's Daisy Bateman then kicked a crucial major close to three-quarter time to blunt Geelong's challenge.
Mia King and Kaitlyn Ashmore, who was forced off the field earlier in the game with an ankle injury, then goaled in the last term to seal the win.
In Kearney's absence, Ashleigh Riddell starred through the midfield for North with 35 disposals and seven tackles.
It was a bruising match, with Geelong's Chloe Scheer forced off the field in the third term with an accidental head knock.
The Kangaroos' Kim Rennie also landed heavily and hit her head when she flew for a mark late in the match.
After a few minutes, she was able to walk off the field while Geelong captain Meg McDonald missed part of the last quarter with a leg problem.
"It was a big fright. To our players' credit, I put it on them at three-quarter time," Crocker said.
"There are going to be challenges throughout this (season) and this is their first real challenge.
"They lifted really well, gallantly led by our midfield in that last quarter."
North's Jenna Bruton and Kaitlyn Ashmore had to leave the field with rolled ankles, but they returned and Crocker expects them to play next weekend against Adelaide.
He is also hopeful that Kearney will return.
Amy McDonald impressed for the Cats and Georgie Prespakis, in her AFLW debut, also was among their best with 20 disposals.
"Bitter sweet would be a fair way to describe it - we came here to win today and showed that we've improved," Cats coach Daniel Lowther said.
"To be in a winnable position at three-quarter time and let it slip was disappointing, but there were some really positive signs.
"We've come a long way in a short time. They're a great side."
Australian Associated Press
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