As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, Carlton.
Carlton has had a dream start to life under Michael Voss, setting the team up for its first finals appearance since 2013. The Blues currently sit in sixth position with an 8-3 record, a feat not achieved by the Blues since 1996.
The Blues have been dominant in the midfield. Carlton captain Patrick Cripps could well and truly be leading the Brownlow Medal at this point of the season, averaging 27.5 disposals and 1.5 goals per game. Sam Walsh has continued his form from a stellar 2021 season where he polled 30 Brownlow votes.
Possible recruit of the year, George Hewett has been superb in his first season at Ikon Park. The former Swan is averaging a career-best 30.3 disposals per game to go with five tackles and seven clearances, all career highs.
The Blues’ key position players have also been a crucial factor in their success so far this year. Reigning Coleman Medalist Harry McKay going down with an injury meant that Charlie Curnow had to step up as the Blues’ main option in attack, but he has certainly stepped up. Curnow sits second in this year’s Coleman Medal race with 37 goals and is certainly showing what he is capable of following a lengthy stint on the sidelines.
Carlton’s small forwards have also been deservedly commended for their front half pressure which results in many of Carlton’s goals. If it’s not Curnow taking big marks, it will be Corey Durdin in and amongst it at a ground level ready for the crumbs. He’s alongside Matt Owies who has laid the most forward 50 tackles of anyone in the competition. There’s also Zac Fisher who was under some scrutiny from Blues fans, but in recent weeks has risen to the occasion and has been highly influential in match-defining moments.
Then there are the defenders, and the Blues would likely have two out of the six All-Australian defenders if it was announced this week. One is Jacob Weitering, the key backman is showing exactly why he went pick one in 2015. The Blues vice-captain was named in the 2020 and 2021 All-Australian extended squad but failed to make the final team on both occasions. However, this year he has gone to another level, dominating in one-on-one contests and consistently beating his opponents.
Then there is Sam Docherty who has made a remarkable return to football after two ACL reconstructions and a second battle with cancer. Not only has Docherty come back to play at all, but he could also easily be in the All-Australian team, averaging 28.1 disposals and 6.5 intercept possessions per game.
Blues fans would be well aware that no lead is safe in 2022. Carlton has on many occasions lost a very healthy lead but held on for a narrow win.
Carlton led by 37 points against the Bulldogs, to win by 12. It led Hawthorn by 41 to win by just one point. They led the Power by 50 points and held on by three points. Then finally against the Swans, the Blues led by 38 points to only win by 15.
While Carlton did hold on for victories in all of these games, it is certainly a point of concern and if it wants to go deep in September, leads that it establishes can’t be easily whittled down.
Another element that the Blues need to fix is their ruckwork. They can be excused for not having their number one ruckman Marc Pittonet, however, Tom De Koning has battled manfully but hasn’t quite been the replacement that Blues fans were hoping for.
When De Koning needs a rest, Carlton has Jack Silvagni at the contest who compared to other rucks, is undersized. The Blues rank last in the league for hit-outs but once Pittonet returns they will certainly look to overturn this stat.
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Carlton’s success to date can be attributed to Corey Durdin. The Blues youngster has shown that the excitement that comes from the small forward will continue for many years to come. While only playing the last two games of the 2021 season, Durdin has emerged onto the scene in season 2022 asserting himself as the Blues’ main small forward.
While the stats don’t look all that positive for Durdin at 10 disposals and just under a goal per game, his presence is felt around the ground with little one-percenters that spark life into the team.
Durdin’s effort was rewarded in Round 9 when he was awarded the Rising Star nomination against GWS.
Who needs to lift?
A player that needs to stand up is Jack Newnes. Carlton is well below average in the competition when it comes to wingers. Newnes has not proven the ability to sustain his position on the wing for Carlton even with the lack of depth that it has at the position.
Newnes can be accredited for his gut running, given he’s constantly amongst the highest players each week for total distance covered. Although, when he has the ball in hand, the 29-year-old seems a bit rushed and can often turn the ball over to the opposition.
Newnes will likely hold his place in the team due to Carlton’s vulnerability out wide, given the likes of Will Setterfield and Matthew Cottrell aren’t performing to AFL standard either.
Best and fairest contenders
There are a few that have put their hand up to claim this year’s John Nicholls Medal and it’s fair to say it won’t be as easy to pick as in previous years.
Patrick Cripps would likely be the leader to this point following a near-perfect opening two months of the season but has since been less impactful, opening the door to other players. George Hewett and Sam Walsh have supported Cripps when he hasn’t been up to his best.
After coming down from Sydney as a restricted free agent, Hewett has locked himself into what is already a difficult Blues midfield to get into, averaging over 30 disposals. Walsh is putting up similar numbers statistically and his impact is so important to Carlton and at just 21 years of age, the sky is the limit.
Charlie Curnow will certainly have an argument to make given he sits second in the Coleman Medal race heading into the bye rounds, and if his form continues, he will most certainly be in the mix come season’s end.
Expectations for the second half of the year
Ahead of the season the goals and expectations for Carlton were finals, as it was put on the agenda by Club President Luke Sayers.
Blues fans have been starved of September action for nearly a decade and felt as though the list was capable of a top-eight finish and it was just about finding the right game plan. At the bye rounds, the Blues sit only percentage outside the top four which would be a ‘cloud nine’ achievement if they can make it.
Carlton has a tough run home, playing eight of the top 10 teams in the 11 remaining games. Carlton will be looking to embrace that challenge and set up for a gallant finals run.
6th, a semi-final appearance
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