A Will Slade goal late in the last quarter gave the Cats the winning edge in a tight finish, 12.7 (79) to 12.6 (78).
Big Cat David Mensch ended the Tigers' last-ditch effort to recapture the lead when he took a saving mark in defence after veteran Matthew Knights cleared the ball from the centre and sent it deep into attack.
Knights, relegated to the VFL after a run of poor form, was among the Tigers' best.
Geelong VFL coach Ron Watt said the team, sitting a game and a half clear on top of the ladder, did not play its best football, but showed if it persevered it could salvage a win.
The Cats held a seven-point lead at half-time but two quick goals to the Tigers in the third term indicated that it was going to be an arm wrestle.
Geelong trailed by 10 points midway in the last quarter before Peter Street and then Slade wrested back the lead.
Street and Paul Chambers dominated the ruck while Josh Hunt played a pivotal role on the ball, forcing the Tigers to move his opponent Adam Houlihan into defence.
Watt said the tall forward line of Mensch, Chambers, Matthew McCarthy and Henry Playfair, in his first game back after a seven-week injury lay-off, troubled Coburg.
Although Knights' presence was of little concern in the coaching box, Watt said the opportunity for youngsters James Bartel and Andrew Carrazzo to match up on the experienced player was an important one.
Geelong plays North Ballarat at Northern Oval, Ballarat, 2pm next Sunday.
DETAILS: GEELONG 12.7 (79) d COBURG 12.6 (78)
Goals: Geelong - Grgic 3, Mensch 3, Slade 2, Ablett, Blackney, D. Johnson, Street. Coburg - Pettifer 2, Ednie 2, McGrath, Hyde, Taylor, Knights, Miller, Biddiscombe, Mills, Houlihan.
Best: Geelong - Hunt, McGrath, Carrazzo, Slade, Chatfield, Merriman, McCarthy. Coburg - Houlihan, Talbot, Knights, Pagan, Ednie, Butler.