Carlton star Marc Murphy in action (Slattery Images)

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I was a sceptic, but Friday night turned me into a believer: Carlton are legitimate contenders for this year’s AFL premiership. All the fallout from the game has centred around the team in black and white.

It was revealed Luke Ball would be out for the year, then Eddie McGuire had a go at his own supporters, then Mick Malthouse had a go at his former club, then Eddie McGuire had a go at Mick Malthouse, then, well, all that pretty much ensured a week of Collingwood headlines.

But amid the drama, a significant story didn’t quite get the attention it deserved, and that story is Carlton’s emergence.

Not once last year did the Blues beat one of the top four sides. Six times they lost. Admittedly two of those were nail-biting encounters with Geelong and West Coast, however their lack of a good track record against the best hardly inspired confidence in their premiership aspirations.

Now, they have claimed a scalp. While you could mount a decent argument for Collingwood missing the top four this season, a statement was made in Friday night’s 60-point demolition.

They have a very good midfield, an important piece of the flag puzzle. Chris Judd and Marc Murphy are both elite and can provide the same kind of one-two punch of Ablett-Bartel and Swan-Pendlebury.

The support for the elite is also clearly there. Andrew Carrazzo, for example, did a phenomenal job taking Scott Pendlebury out of the contest on the weekend and collected plenty of the footy himself.

Crucially, at a time when other clubs’ ruck stocks aren’t looking crash hot, Matthew Kreuzer is having a massive influence. Then there’s Bryce Gibbs, Kade Simpson, Heath Scotland, the improved Mitch Robinson… a lot of talented players rotate through the middle.

The past few years have seen some considerable tweaking both down back and up forward and, to be fair, these areas will make or break their campaign (save for a gun or two getting injured).

The one area I was really worried about in the preseason was injuries, particularly in the backline. But the injury list has been whittled right down and, ominously, not added to.

You might say that a lot of players were due back early, but rarely do things actually work out that way when so many are sidelined. Now, though, the only big name still to return is Andrew Walker.

What this means is the backline, which turned a corner last year, can continue its progress. The transformation of Chris Yarran and Lachie Henderson to defenders and the addition of Jeremy Laidler and Nick Duigan were positive moves. Now we get to see how they function with a more game time and a full preseason working together.

So far, the results are good. On Friday night, the Blues became the first team not named Geelong to hold the Pies below 65 points since Round 21 of 2010.

Up forward, as thisAFL.com.au article illustrates, Brett Ratten has plenty of flexibility at his disposal. Another key development has been the form of Jarrad Waite.

A month ago I wrote, “The Blues need a tall target to fire, and Waite only registered 16 goals from his 12 games last season.” Already this season he has kicked nine.

Combined with small forwards who are an absolute headache to contain in Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett, it’s fair to say the Blues have a potent attack.

In terms of going all the way, I’ll be sticking with my prediction of Hawthorn holding the cup aloft come September. But there are times where we need to admit we were wrong, and by taking a cautious outlook with the Blues, I was off the mark.

The Blues, it must now be said, are a serious threat.

Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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