The Carlton Rebuild FAQ

Ken Sakata Columnist

By Ken Sakata, Ken Sakata is a Roar Expert


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    I tell people I’m a Carlton person. This is like telling people I’m dying. It’s a conversation killer.

    “My dad was a Carlton supporter”, someone volunteers eventually, avoiding eye-contact. “Hang in there, buddy,” they say, patting me on the shoulder. I mention my favourite player, Levi Casboult. The silence becomes irretrievable. It’s worse than they thought. It’s spread to my brain.

    Carlton are entering the second year of a rebuild. Or ‘re-tool’, ‘re-plump’, ‘re-stump’ etc. ‘Reset’ is currently the preferred term of the Carlton media team, lest ‘rebuild’ triggers a wave of self-harm on Lygon Street. The implication, though, is clear. There will be much bleeding. There will be much pain.

    There are three phases to a rebuild. (1) First, you get the draft picks, (2) then you get the signings, (3) then you reach for a premiership. That’s how it worked in Scarface. That’s how it works in the AFL.

    The last time, Carlton’s rebuild stuck to the script. They brought in (1) three number one picks, (2) a superstar signing (the god Chris Judd) to support (3) a flag tilt that hit its ceiling in the second round of the finals in 2011.

    With the benefit of hindsight, a clear miscalculation was made. Over-performance by a list devoid of middle-grade talent was interpreted as a premiership list lacking in tactical direction.

    A shock was attempted to revive the corpse. Mick Malthouse was brought in with much fanfare and even more expense. What happens next is a blank. I’m working with a psychiatrist to retrieve repressed memories from 2012–2015. There are clues. For starters, Malthouse is now coaching football on a game show.

    Carlton coach Michael Malthouse. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Carlton just got pummelled in their first pre-season game. This is meaningless. Kym LeBois and Zac Fisher are four months into their first gig. Billie Smedts and Rhys Palmer are passing through the Carlton locker room on the way to a post-football life. In the first phase of the next rebuild, it’s important to revisit a process with more questions than answers.

    Are Kade Simpson and/or Dale Thomas part of the next flag tilt?
    Simpson was the best supporting member of the 2011 team, a step behind the core of Murphy, Judd and Gibbs. The hardy wing became an elite line-breaking half-back. In 2017, he is undisputedly the best member of Carlton’s line-up. At 32, he’d need for two things to go well – accelerated development of the next core and health.

    At best, he’s the Bob Murphy/Matthew Boyd of the next flag grab. Current estimations see him more in the Daniel Giansiracusa mold — missing out by at least a year of two.

    In countless alternate realities, some will feature a Carlton/Malthouse Grand Final. Some will feature a motivated Troy Menzel. None have a healthy Dale Thomas.

    Should Carlton have traded Bryce Gibbs?

    In principle, Gibbs should have been traded. He doesn’t fit the age profile of the next core group. He takes midfield minutes away from Sam Docherty. He takes a fair chunk of the salary cap. His best years will service Carlton’s worst.

    When an elite player gets traded, the bounty of picks and assets in return rarely match up in value. The only time it’s ever happened is, ironically, the Chris Judd trade that Carlton definitively lost. (Still, it’s called the Chris Judd trade, not the Josh Kennedy trade, knowwhatI’msayin?)

    Although the second-best Blues player today, Gibbs’ value to Carlton is a supporting second-tier player in 2020. Ultimately, that was deemed to be of more value to Carlton than the reported pick 13 + 75 on offer. Gibbs is a weird fit for 2017 Carlton, but Adelaide needed to cough up more.

    What about Liam Jones?
    Months after Liam Jones’ acquisition, Mick Malthouse described him as an “explosive animal“. My small sausage dog, Denzel, no stranger to gastrointestinal issues, has similar value to Carlton’s list.

    Who makes up the next core?
    Patrick Cripps, the nuclear version of Josh P. Kennedy, walks into the core of any team in the league. He is a clearance monster on the verge of being untaggable.


    Sam Docherty, my pick for next captain, will replace Simpson as the quarterback of the team. So far, they’re the only sure things, which is worrying. Sam Kerridge (23) and Jacob Weitering (19) are promising, but need another season of exposed form.

    Who makes the supporting cast?
    The dream scenario is for former number one picks Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer to form the next tier, an unexpected outcome of their intended promise. Premiership sides are defined by the quality of their second tier, but it will be a task to keep the three together for cap-friendly deals.

    Where are the goals coming from?
    At this stage, the forward-line looks like a combination of talls Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow, medium Jack Silvagni and smalls Jarrod Pickett, Sam Petrevski-Seton and Liam Sumner.

    The average experience of that forward line is 7.0 games. The sample size is too small to have any meaningful opinion. It’s devoid of a star talent like Jesse Hogan
    Matthew Wright may be too old to be part of the next challenging side but Brent Harvey, 67 years old last year, inspires some confidence in an older small forward.

    Are things going to get better?
    Rebuilds don’t exist in a vacuum. The Blues will have to put their list management against Melbourne’s and St Kilda’s, who are already on to the next phase of signing established players.

    There is much pain to come. For now, there is Patrick Cripps, Dylan Buckley’s ‘third Oasis brother’ haircut, and ridiculous Kym LeBois goals in the pocket. By the end of the year, there will be more.

    Yes, things will get better.

    Ken Sakata
    Ken Sakata

    Ken Sakata is a sportswriter based in Melbourne, covering where sport and pop-culture collide with a keen interest in AFL. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @sakatarama

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • Roar Pro

      February 27th 2017 @ 8:31am
      Marty Gleason said | February 27th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      “….then you get the signings, then you reach for the premiership…” Then you get the women? Or, judging by Brownlow night, the premiership is an unnecessary step.

    • Editor

      February 27th 2017 @ 8:31am
      Josh Elliott said | February 27th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      Good read Ken. While you’ve only managed a small amount of optimism for Carlton here, I personally can only muster even less 😉 how on earth does Casboult become anyone’s favourite player?

      • February 27th 2017 @ 10:23am
        Macca said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Josh – “how on earth does Casboult become anyone’s favourite player?” Us Carlton supporters live in eternal hope Casboult will turn into out next Earl Spalding!

    • February 27th 2017 @ 9:13am
      Gibbo said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      Pre-season is typically a time of heaven for Blues supporters. The fantasy, the pretence, the delusion that CFC is a top 8 side that you can follow with pride.

      Then the season proper starts – and the lies are exposed.

      At least your club was generous enough on the weekend to show supporters that they will be a disappointing rabble again in 2017. That’s 3 weeks of delusion saved.

      • February 27th 2017 @ 10:04am
        Macca said | February 27th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Gibbo – you sound awfully familiar. Could you point to a Carlton supporter in the last 2 years (or even 3 for that matter) that has predicted a top 8 finish for the blues?

        • February 27th 2017 @ 12:14pm
          Drew said | February 27th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

          Correct Macca…pretty sure at least 80% of supporters know we are less than average for now and for a while!

        • February 27th 2017 @ 4:03pm
          steve said | February 27th 2017 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

          Agreed Macca, no sane Carlton supporter would suggest we are any hope of top 8.

    • February 27th 2017 @ 9:38am
      Pumping Dougie said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      Haha, are you sure your name isn’t Travis, Ken? Are you really a Carlton supporter? Love the article, fun read.

      I’ve never thought of the mention of being a Carlton supporter as being a conversation killer – it has the opposite effect in me, I love talking to Carlton supporters. ?

    • February 27th 2017 @ 9:49am
      Birdman said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      Yep. surely Cripps has to be every Blues supporters favourite player? – he’s genuinely elite which is not a tag you could attach to any other player on their list although Weitering looks very promising.

      • February 27th 2017 @ 4:48pm
        Darren said | February 27th 2017 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

        Birdman: Why does your favourite player have to be the best?

        • February 27th 2017 @ 4:59pm
          Macca said | February 27th 2017 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

          Darren – exactly -“flawed” players are a lot of peoples favourite.

    • February 27th 2017 @ 9:56am
      Macca said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      Great read – good mix of humour and analysis.

      As for the questions my answers are

      1) Thomas no, Simpson maybe
      2) No and definitely no for what was offered – without Gibbs our young mids get thrown to the wolves.
      3) He spends this year making an audition tape for the recruit – after 22 rounds he is still 3 minutes short on his 5 minute highlight reel.
      4) The known core of Cripps and Docherty will expand dramatically this year – Weitering & Marchbank looks a sure bet to join it and at least a few of Cuningham, C Curnow, Silvagni, McKay, SPS & Fisher will have a good enough season to cement a spot (my tips are C Curnow & SPS being the most likely to do it this year with the others to follow)
      5) I don’t see the issue with keeping the 3 number 1’s on cap friendly deals Murphy and Gibbs are just finishing up long term lucrative contracts and if the core merge as expected the desire to leave should be diminished.
      6) Good question.
      7) Definitely.