An unusually low profile Friday night this week, as the Port Adelaide Power host the Carlton Blues. Neither team made the top eight last year, making it one of two such Friday night match ups.
No matter, it shapes as an interesting game.
Last year doesn’t matter much now – the fans of a dozen teams will tell you that. Still, seeing Port Adelaide and Carlton on a Friday night when the fixture was released last year seemed to stick out among the sea of Sydney, Western Bulldogs, Adelaide and Geelong outings.
Maybe it’s the recent history between the two sides: their past two meetings have been in Carlton’s favour by two and four points, respectively. If we stretch the time series out a little more, there’s been a third super-close game in the pair’s last five: a one point win to Carlton in what was the last game at Football Park in 2013.
To more pressing matters. Port Adelaide have managed their way to a 2-2 start despite what looked like a horrid first four, winning against the Swans and Fremantle before running into the two best teams in the competition in Adelaide and Greater Western Sydney.
There is no shame in losing to the latter teams – they have one loss between the two of them, and that only came because they played each other in Round 1.
The signs are very good. Port Adelaide were well in the hunt in both of their losses, a 31 point margin against the Giants coming solely in the last quarter, and some wayward kicking arguably the death blow against the Crows in the final quarter.
The Power is back on, and finals look a distinct possibility, given Port are yet to face any team in the bottom six, and they’ve got two of them (Collingwood and Brisbane) twice.
Carlton’s situation is very different. Where the Power are firmly in the middle of their journey to a destination, the Blues are still working out which path to take. It’s been a while since we’ve talked Carlton, and in the intermittent period a lot has happened.
The Blues are now much closer to running a list that is in keeping with their position on the ladder. The team’s average age and average games played are both 17th in the competition, ahead of the remarkably youthful Brisbane Lions. They have an equal-league high of 15 players aged 21 or younger.
There are still some hangers-on in the older demographics though: the Blues have 21 players in prime age or older, more than ten of the 18 teams.
It is playing out on the field. The kids are being played. Carlton’s average playing 22 age has been 24.8, their lowest mark for some time. It should get lower still going forward, given the Blues are still rocking line ups with ten guys aged 27 or older: Kade Simpson, Sam Rowe (as good a spoiler as you’d ever hope to see), Dale Thomas, Simon White, Levi Casboult, Ed Curnow, and Matthew Wright, as well as Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer. They have been the younger of the two teams twice in four games – a much better strike rate than 2016.
Two of those older stagers are out tonight: Kreuzer and Thomas are both carrying niggling injuries, and have been replaced by Andrew Phillips and debutant Cameron Polson. Carlton will therefore trot out their youngest line up of the year.
The Power have made one change, with Patrick Ryder – one of the only WADA-banned players to have returned in great form – returning from a suspension in place of Matthew White.
The youth movement does mean Carlton are experiencing the usual rebuild-y level of performance: their scoring power ranks 17th, defensive prowess 10th, and a midfield that is getting smashed on ground balls.
Jacob Weitering, a potential 15-year, multi-time All Australian centre half back is withering in the Blues’ attack, a move I foreshadowed in the offseason but didn’t actually think was going to come to pass.
He’s been a pretty good key position forward, but is already a very good defender, and will undoubtedly spend most of his career down back. I’m all for learning and continuous improvement, but it seems like the Blues are overthinking it here.
Despite the middling offensive performances, Carlton are still playing to Brendon Bolton’s ball control scheme, averaging 90 field marks per game (third in the league) and breaking even on time in possessions. That would explain their solid defensive performance.
Port Adelaide are built to break teams like this. The Power are moving fast, and playing what looks like a one on one option scheme with the ball in hand.
What I mean by that is when the Power turn the ball over or execute a kick in, they’re attempting to move it into the middle of the ground by hand or foot, and then spread across both sides of the ground. It break opposition zones, poking holes and allowing Port Adelaide to score with great efficiency.
The line has been set at seven goals at most betting agencies. It is hard to disagree with this assessment, despite the recent history between these two teams.
Port Adelaide have started the year with an almighty spring in their step, and would undoubtedly be among the 4-0 starters if they hadn’t run into the two best teams in the competition.
At home, with a full strength team, Port Adelaide will be far too strong for the youthful Carlton.
It won’t quite be a bloodbath, because for all their flaws the Blues are still able to put the clamps on most teams. But a big margin looks in prospect; the Power by nine goals.
That’s my Friday Night Forecast, what’s yours?