Carlton has spent ten of the last 15 seasons in the bottom six spots on the ladder, with the only respite being offered during the Brett Ratten years.
While they’re not going to bust out of the cellar just yet, Brendon Bolton is laying the platform for a sustained assault a few years from now.
The Blues were an easy mark in pre-season predictions last year. Each pre-season, a club gets bandied about to not win a game, and in 2016 the talk was of Carlton and a depleted Essendon only capable of beating each other.
But coach Bolton had them playing an identifiable, well-drilled style of game from the opening pre-season match, and they were able to peel off seven wins, including six out of seven between Rounds 5 and 11.
Carlton were only able to win one of their last 11 matches, but the year was looked upon as a success due to the defiance of pre-season predictions and the early season momentum.
Here is the team that will tackle 2017 for the Blues.
Carlton Blues’ best 22
|B||Dylan Buckley||Sam Rowe||Lachie Plowman|
|HB||Sam Docherty||Jacob Weitering||Kade Simpson|
|C||Bryce Gibbs||Patrick Cripps||Dale Thomas|
|HF||Matthew Wright||Charlie Curnow||Jed Lamb|
|F||Dennis Armfield||Levi Casboult||Rhys Palmer|
|Foll||Matthew Kruezer||Ed Curnow||Marc Murphy|
|Int||Andrew Phillips||Sam Kerridge||Jack Silvagni||Liam Sumner|
Emergencies: Harry McKay, Caleb Marchbank, Simon White
This is only a predicted line-up, but it’s notable that there is only two players in that 25 that wasn’t at Carlton last year – the oft-maligned Rhys Palmer suiting up for his third club, and young defender Caleb Marchbank also trekking the well-worn path from GWS to the Princes Park.
One of the big questions surrounding the Blues this year is where does the untried talent fit in. What can the likes of Caleb Marchbank, Jarrod Pickett and Billie Smedts offer? Is Smedts this year’s version of Sam Kerridge, begging for an uninterrupted run at senior selection so he can prove his worth at AFL level?
Sam Docherty and Kade Simpson form one of the best half-back defensive counter-attacks in the league, helped by the style of play Bolton implemented in his first year. Neither are at their best one-on-one, but the more limited players are there to focus on niggardly defence.
At least both Docherty and Simpson were used to their strengths, which is a lesson other coaches would do well to remember.
The aforementioned Marchbank will be eyeing off Sam Rowe’s position, but with Weitering and Plowman both on the books, Bolton might be reluctant to have three young players holding down the defensive posts. Or does he commit to the three youthful talls, and use Rowe as a reserve?
Weitering looked a beauty from his first minute, a natural centre-half back, and is one of three Carlton players that may well be the best in their position in the league within 3-5 years. Docherty as the running half-back is one, and there can only be one guess required as to the other.
Patrick Cripps is an inside beast in the Josh Kennedy (Sydney) mould, and their early career stats make for an interesting comparison. If anything, the Carlton dynamo has the edge in relative terms, albeit we must make allowances for Kennedy’s lack of opportunities early in a strong Hawthorn outfit.
Cripps is the leader of the midfield already, with his innate ability to get first hands on the ball at stoppages, but he has high quality support in the form of Bryce Gibbs and Marc Murphy, assuming the latter returns to full fitness. Both can win their own footy and do the utmost damage on the outside, and this trio can deliver wins if they fire at the same time against the right opponent.
Ed Curnow and Kerridge provide the grunt support, and Dale Thomas will try and run the lines, but rather than being the sight for sore eyes he once was, you now get sore eyes trying to watch him recapture his former glory.
Matthew Kruezer can now only be categorised as an honest battler when it comes to ruckmen, and he looks no hope of becoming the player he was supposed to be when taken at pick one in the 2007 national draft.
Carlton’s forward-line alternates between makeshift and motley. 71 points a game was all they could muster last season, and there’s no reason to think it will be any higher this time around.
Matthew Wright was the only player to kick more than 20 goals for the year, and he finished with a paltry 22 playing as a half-forward. Andrejs Everitt kicked 17 and has been jettisoned.
Blues fans will be wanting to see plenty of Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, young talls who will be tasked with carrying this forward-line into the future. Jack Silvagni was a bright spark in the second half of the year last season, and can be expected to come on.
Dennis Armfield, Rhys Palmer, Liam Sumner and Jed Lamb will provide honesty, and will work together to provide pressure and headaches to opposition sides, but can they all play in the same forward line?
Levi Casboult is what he is, and has a place. Sav Rocca is known as something of a goal-kicking guru, and hopefully can have an impact on the man with the most wayward set shot in the league. More must be demanded of Andrew Phillips if he is going to continue getting a game as supporting ruck and resting forward.
Can Nick Graham, Dylan Buckley and Blaine Boekhorst cement their spots and make any sort of consistent impression, or are they list-cloggers that would be better off replaced by more GWS offcuts?
Not much will be demanded of Carlton in 2017, and frankly, not much will be given. We can be confident of seeing system, but we must see improvement of individual players in order to see how quickly they can elevate themselves out of the lower reaches of the ladder.
A 4-6 win season looks on the cards, which is acceptable. We can’t forget they are coming from a long way back. Getting as many games as possible into talented kids at the expense of experienced jobbers will be a priority.
Predicted ladder spread: 15th-18th
Predicted finish: 17th
Best and fairest: Patrick Cripps
Leading goalkicker: Rhys Palmer
All-Australian potential: Patrick Cripps, Sam Docherty
Rising Star candidates: Charlie Curnow, Zac Fisher, Caleb Marchbank, Sam Petrevski-Seton