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Opinion

Is the new Carlton line-up really all that improved?

(Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images )
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21st November, 2020
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Carlton has flipped the switch and decided to recruit for the here and now.

They’ve recruited Lachie Fogarty with Pick 30, Adam Saad for Pick 8 and Zac Williams through free agency. It’s a sign they’re going to be challenging for finals soon.

So what does the new and improved Carlton look like? And what are their prospects this year, particularly given they sacrificed their prospects in this year’s draft for their list management strategy?

Carlton’s best 22

Backs: Lachlan Plowman, Jacob Weitering and Sam Docherty.
Halfbacks: Adam Saad, Liam Jones and Sam Petrevski-Seton.
Centres: Zac Williams, Ed Curnow and Marc Murphy.
Followers: Marc Pittonet, Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh.
Half-forwards: Jack Martin, Charlie Curnow (uncertain) and Zac Fisher.
Forwards: Tom De Koenig, and Harry McKay and Lachie Fogarty.
Bench: Jack Newnes, Levi Casbout, Matt Kennedy and Caleb Marchbank.
Emergencies: Mitch McGovern, Eddie Betts, Tom Williamson and Paddy Dow.

Patrick Cripps of the Blues smiles after victory

(Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images )

Backs

What was previously a weakness of the Carlton footy club has now become a relative strength with the recruitment of Adam Saad and Zac Williams to provide outside run and carry for the Blues and assist with the spread from the contest.

Their recruiting matches that of a side that is preparing to play fast slingshot footy on the outside providing assistance to a part of the game they desperately need as they’ve struggled on the transition from inside to outside relying on their inside bull in Patrick Cripps.

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While they still have the extremely talented Sam Docherty, Liam Jones and Jacob Weitering, they have a very well-balanced backline, with Sam Docherty able to use the ball effectively and Jones and Weitering able to peel off their man and intercept with ease. They also have Nic Newman, who unfortunately ruptured his patella tendon in June of this year and will probably not return before the end of next year.

They also have a large amount of depth, with Brodie Kemp, Matthew Owies, Mitch McGovern and Levi Csasboult all able to perform roles in the backline in a pinch. The Blues will be reasonably difficult to score against next year and will present challenges for any offensively minded team.

Zac Williams of the Giants celebrates a goal

Zac Williams could be the difference for Carlton (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Midfield

The Blues have always had contested ball beasts able to win the ball on the inside, and Paddy Cripps is no exception. They’ve been desperate for players who can use the ball on the outside and move it to their key forwards. Instead of relying solely on the preternatural abilities of Cripps they now have Williams on the wing, who can provide line-breaking run and carry that will be very helpful to the Blues long kicking and strong marking game style.

They still lack a midfielder who can play an effective second fiddle to Cripps and co and they have an over-reliance on their elder statesmen of the club in Marc Murphy and Ed Curnow, both of whom are on the wrong side of 30.

The younger cohort that they expected to take up the mantle in Lochie O’Brien and Paddy Dow has not come to fruition and their development has been somewhat stunted. They also have far too many midfielders who are far too one-paced and similar to one another, though this has been somewhat offset by the development of Sam Petrevski-Seton as a halfback flanker and the inclusion of Zac Williams into their new line-up.

In better news, the Blues have a lot of depth at the ruck position as well with the inclusion of Marc Pittonet and Tom De Koenig developing alongside one another and Pittonet proving to be an extremely effective tap ruck option with reasonable follow up around the ground.

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They also have Levi Casboult who can go through the ruck in a pinch and can basically operate as a plug-and-play option around the ground.

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Forwards

The recent news surrounding Charlie Curnow and his stress fractures on the same side as his problematic knees may throw this line-up out a little but they have readily available replacements in the wings with Mitch McGovern and Charlie Curnow.

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The other predominant issue is what to do about Eddie Betts. There is the natural romance associated with having the club’s prodigal son return as they surge up the ladder for a triumphant return from the wilderness that Carlton have been in for the previous seven years. But I believe they will not be imminently pushing up the ladder and that makes Betts more important as a depth player as he can provide better assistance off the field than on it.

In the interim I have created the forward line around the idea of flexibility and reducing the number of rotations they need through the bench while reducing the amount of running the midfielders need to do allowing them to form the wall around their attacking 50 as well as creating the paddock for McKay and Curnow to lead into.

Tom De Koenig in the pocket is also the same plan the Saints use to stretch defenders while without taking up a bench spot. The Carlton footy club forward line is looking the strongest they have in years, but they do lack depth at the small forward position, and that will present trouble particularly when applying pressure at the full-forward line. Instead, it operates as a way to increase the flexibility of their line-up while uniquely using the specificities of the Carlton line-up.

Bench

Levi Casboult is the prototypical plug-and-play player. He’s an extremely useful utility as a third tall defender, backup ruckman and even key forward. While he may have issues with his set shot, he is still in the Blues best 22.

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Jack Newnes is a good option for rotating through the midfield as well as going forward as a sharpshooter, as was shown in the Fremantle game. He has a good ability to go forward, but he would perhaps be one of the first players to go out of the line-up, hence the selection on the bench.

Matt Kennedy and Caleb Marchbank are options for the midfield and defence respectively, but he could easily be replaced with Brodie Kemp, Lochie O’Brien and Paddy Dow.

So where does that leave the Carlton line-up?

Well, this year was an improvement but how much of that can be contributed to the unique circumstances surrounding COVID? Not a lot, I would say, given that Richmond still won.

They will improve, and given they have recruited extremely aggressively, it is a finals-or-bust conundrum. The Blues have recruited extremely aggressively and the average age of their list is advanced so they need to improve lest they lose their ability to exploit that but I think their 22 to 26-year-old cohort is lacking.