It’s been a miserable few years for the Carlton faithful. Finishes of 13th, 11th, and 16th are certainly not what any club strives for.
They saw the back of another coach in David Teague last season, which brought a new administration through the doors at Visy Park, alongside a new coach in Brownlow Medallist and former Brisbane coach Michael Voss.
The expectations are high, and finals are expected in 2022, so let’s analyse this team and see whether that’s an achievable goal.
Full back: Liam Stocker, Jacob Weitering, Sam Doherty
Half back: Adam Saad, Lewis Young, Brodie Kemp
Centre: Zac Williams, Patrick Cripps, George Hewett
Half forward: Jack Silvagni, Charlie Curnow, Jack Martin
Full forward: Josh Honey, Harry McKay, Zac Fisher
Followers: Marc Pittonet, Adam Cerra, Sam Walsh
Interchange: Tom De Koning, Ed Curnow, Tom Williams, Matt Kennedy
The Carlton defence is a very intriguing one as they’ll either really improve this season with the likes of Liam Stocker, Brodie Kemp and Tom Williamson stepping up to be above average.
Or they’ll see stagnation in their improvement and therefore be a pretty poor defensive set-up as it’ll allow for the likes of Lachie Plowman to regain his spot.
Stocker is the one I am most bullish on really improving that defensive set-up. He didn’t perform fantastically at any point last year, but he has shown glimpses of elite talent.
With another pre-season under his belt and more continuity in his footy, he is the type that Carlton needs to be averaging 20-plus disposals and to create some run out of that back 50.
Jacob Weitering is a brilliant defender, and he will yet again be the glue that holds this back six together. He is not only brilliant at stopping his man, but he creates rebound out of that back 50.
He ranked sixth in intercepts per game last season, third in one-per-centers per game, and ranked 14th for total contested marks, which shows what a brilliant defender he is.
He is arguably the Blues’ most important player going into the season and they’ll need him playing at his absolute best to be featuring in September.
The worry, and it must be of huge concern to the Blues’ coaching staff, is the lack of another key defender with Liam Jones retiring.
Caleb Marchbank has had injury after injury in previous years and can’t be expected to play every game and that leaves them with new recruit Lewis Young, who has shown absolutely nothing to suggest he is an AFL-level defender.
It’s a huge gap in the team currently and they need one of these two guys to have some luck or improve dramatically to fill it.
The strength of the Carlton defence should be their rebound game and they should be moving it very quickly out of defence.
Adam Saad is a rebounding machine, and he breaks the lines like not many other players in the competition can.
Sam Docherty uses his kicking ability to rebound and isn’t slow. Liam Stocker has speed and a raking kick on him, which should make him a very good rebounding defender as he gains confidence.
Zac Williams should improve off what he did last year and become a very good rebounding defender/wingman again as well.
The Carlton midfield has a new commander in chief and that is their captain-in-waiting and young superstar Sam Walsh.
At the age of 21, he is among the top players in the game after averaging 29 disposals per game last season as well as ranking ninth in disposals per game, 19th for total score involvements, and seventh in effective disposals per game.
He is going to lead this team for the next decade and they have a generational talent that they can build around.
Patrick Cripps is going to be the talk of the town this season for either all the right reasons or the wrong ones.
The skipper was crippled by back injuries last year after carrying the brunt of the stoppage work for the last five seasons and it was his second season in a row in which he was below his usual standard, averaging 19 disposals in 2020 and 23 in 2021.
In the two years prior to that he averaged 29 and 28 disposals and was the best midfielder in the league outside of Dustin Martin.
If he can get back to that level of performance and be injury-free, the Blues make the finals. If he doesn’t, they’ll struggle to get there again.
The Blues recruited two midfielders to try and give their two superstars a hand in Adam Cerra and George Hewett. I have openly criticised the Cerra acquisition, purely because he isn’t an inside midfielder and that’s the position in which they needed to splash the cash on.
I’m not saying he won’t be a good player for the club, and he will no doubt improve and be one of their best players, but I’m not sure how many wingers you need in one team. They simply didn’t need his type and they overpaid.
Hewett is a much better recruit as they haven’t really paid overs and he can play that big-bodied inside midfielder role quite well. He is a very accountable midfielder as well, which Carlton lack at times.
At the age of 26, he should basically be hitting the prime of his career. He will play a bigger role in this midfield as well, so it will be interesting to see what his ceiling is.
The concern for the Carlton midfield is their stoppage and contested work if Cripps doesn’t get back to his usual self.
I can’t see Curnow getting any better at his age, Paddy Dow is unreliable and always in and out of the side, and I don’t think Cerra is an inside midfielder, which leaves it up to the likes of Hewett and Kennedy to pick up the slack, and realistically they are much better as your fifth midfielder types from what they’ve shown so far in their careers.
This is a make-or-break year for this forward line and it will be Coleman Medallist Harry McKay who will decide most of the Blues’ fortunes inside their forward 50.
There’s not much else to say apart from the fact that he is one of the best key forwards in the game. He ranked first in total goals after the home-and-away season last year, ranked first for contested marks per game, and ranked first for marks inside forward 50 per game.
They’ll need at least that return from him again to be featuring in September.
The injury-riddled Charlie Curnow is always the ‘what if’ scenario at the start of every season for the Blues’ faithful and 2022 is no different.
The ultra-talented big man returned for the last four games of the season last year and even though his performance wasn’t anything to write home about, it’s the confidence in his body that counts.
In his third season, he kicked 34 goals and averaged 14 disposals a game. If he can even get back to that type of form, even though Carlton would probably expect improvement, it makes this forward line incredibly dangerous.
Curnow has been their Achilles heal, though, and that’s because they simply haven’t had a second forward capable of playing at AFL level.
It’s hard to see that changing if Curnow does break down again, which some would say is a better chance of happening than not.
They will be hoping youngster Tom De Koning will be able to fill that void if that does happen, but he will have to take a giant leap in performance at still a young age to be the man they need currently.
The other glaring weakness in the side is the lack of quality small forwards. In fairness, Zac Fisher and Jack Martin only played ten and 11 games respectively last season and I would expect them to improve that forward line.
However, Martin is also injury prone and hasn’t played a full season in the last four years. He also doesn’t necessarily play like a small forward and that’s the way they’re going to need him to play.
Outside of those two, there’s nobody. Josh Honey played okay at the end of last year and might fill a position, but it’s hard to have any confidence in him kicking 20 goals over a season currently.
The same can be said for the likes of Corey Durdin and Sam Philp. The importance of small forwards in the modern game is still very understated and it’s a major hole in this team both for defensive pressure and for scoring.
Carlton were the hardest team to place on my ladder prediction. They’re heading in the right direction on-field (albeit slowly) and the appointment of coach Michael Voss might see these players switch on.
I can’t help but feel like they’re still going to be too reliant on certain players and the depth throughout the team isn’t where it needs to be still, though.
Adam Cerra, if he can prove me wrong and become a star midfielder both inside and out, will be incredibly important, as will the likes of Curnow and Fisher staying fit.
Patrick Cripps’ fitness issues are also a concern, but if he gets back to what he once was, Carlton should be playing in the finals, which probably sums up half of the important players in the 22.
The lack of confidence I have in the bodies of those guys mentioned, though, and the lack of a second key defender (what’s going to happen when they play teams like the Tigers, Eagles, Cats and Swans?) is enough to make me have the Blues missing the finals again, but only just.
It wouldn’t surprise me if they did, and with average luck, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the bottom four. It’ll be an interesting year for the club.
Predicted finish: tenth.