It’s not a season for tipping is it? Consistently picking a winner seems to be getting harder and harder each week and personally, I think it’s great.

It’s not unreasonable to guess that people won’t hesitate to put an asterisk over the future 2020 premiers’ victory. However, with the competition as close as it is, I take serious issue with anyone approaching this “different” year in that fashion.

Clubs are doing everything they can to keep the year alive and although there’s certainly been some justified frustration with the season thus far, the players have committed themselves 100%.

This brings me to the review at hand – welcome to a not-so quick yarn.

Carlton should be incredibly proud of its efforts last night. The Blues led from the get go and despite being asked the question consistently by the Bulldogs through the first three terms, they had all the answers.

Starting fast, Carlton capitalised on it’s early opportunities, building a three goal lead.

The two sides went goal-for-goal through the next two terms before the Blues pulled away with a six unanswered goals in the final term.

The match finished Carlton 16.7 (103) to Western Bulldogs 7.9 (51), the Blues impressively exceeding the 100 point milestone with a goal on the siren from Eddie Betts (more on him to come).

Among Carlton’s best were Betts, Curnow, Casboult, Walsh, Martin and McKay – but this list could easily be longer. While Smith, Hunter and Macrae toiled away for the Bulldogs earning plenty of footy, although they needed to use it more effectively.

 

THE TALE OF THE TAPE

The bulk of this match was far closer than the final score reflected. The major difference being, the Blues’ backline easily handled the Dogs forwards, while the forwards in navy ran rampant over the Dogs defence.

Carlton’s defensive stalwarts of Weitering, Jones and Simpson were as solid as ever, while their forwards had no issues converting in the wet. The same can’t be said at either end for the Bulldogs.

The midfield battle was relatively even, if not slightly in favour of the Dogs – at least on the surface. The Blues won the clearance battle 33 to 30, while also getting the best of the hit-outs, but it was the Dogs mids who found more of the footy, causing them to win the inside fifty battle by 12.

However, the effectiveness of the respective engine rooms’ ball use was drastically disparate.

From 53 entries into their forward arc, the Dogs managed only 16 scoring shots (30%), conversely, the Blues created 23 scoring shots from only 41 entries (56%).

Carlton took the game on all night, going inboard at every opportunity and playing a fearless brand of footy, making for a refreshingly enjoyable viewing experience.

Sam Walsh was constantly available for the switch, aided by Levi Casboult and Kade Simpson who facilitated all night. Sam Petrevski-Seton also deserves credit for his prolific run off half back, looking right at home in the role and stepping in at times for Sam Docherty who was quiet by his lofty standards.

The Bulldogs weren’t as willing to take the game on, resulting in a number of directionless forward fifty entries that didn’t amount to much. They really missed Aaron Naughton in the air.

Ultimately, the blue, white and red had too many passengers throughout the contest and were punished for lapses in pressure. Carlton was more consistent, efficient and daring – and was rewarded accordingly.

 

WE LOVE TO SEE IT 

 

Big Blue Backmen 

The second coming of Liam Jones is a story for the ages and pending an injury Jacob Weitering will be an All Australian this year, but the hero of this one was Levi Casboult.

Casboult has fast become one of the best utilities in the game and last night served as an excellent example as to just how far he’s come. The 30-year-old spent the evening floating between half back and half forward and inflicted significant damage at both ends. He finished with six marks, two rebound fifties, seven score involvements and a goal.

Weitering blanketed Josh Schache early before moving to Mitch Wallis and serving as a third man up in the air. While Jones brought Josh Bruce back down to earth after his six goal outing last week, keeping the big recruit scoreless.

With the class of Simpson, Docherty and Petrevski-Seton breaking out from half back, the defensive work of Carlton’s tall defenders has made it one of the leagues most promising backlines.

A forward line on fire

When a forward line functions as well as Carlton’s did last night, it’s a sight to behold. The key position duo of Harry McKay (3) and Mitch McGovern (2) combined for five and worked as well as we’ve seen – a credit to David Teague. Eddie Betts looked as good as ever in navy blue (4), in tandem with Mick Gibbons (2) and Jack Martin (2) to round out the mosquito fleet.

Further, Levi Casboult got forward late and kicked a 55-meter pearler to rub salt in the Bulldog wounds and I’d be remiss not to mention Betts’ fourth goal, coming on the siren to top the ton for his beloved baggers.

I was an Eddie Betts return sceptic but I’m well and truly sold and happy to eat my preseason words. It’s clear Betts is still dangerous enough to draw extra attention from defenders and create space for his teammates up forward. The Bulldogs were afraid any time he went near the footy and Eddie took full advantage of their panic. He finished the night with four goals and ten score involvements from 14 touches.

For a side that often struggles to score consistently, infamously known as the kings of the ‘goalless quarter’, the Blues kicked majors at a rate they will hope to match next week against league leading Port Adelaide.

Carlton is more than just Patrick Cripps and Sam Docherty

Patty Cripps went down with a shoulder issue early in the second term and despite returning, couldn’t find his usual rhythm. The club co-captain was clearly labouring and struggled to find the footy.

We also saw a relatively quiet night from Sam Docherty; nothing worthy of any concern, just slightly down on the All Australian standard he’s set for himself this season.

The major positive for the Blues to take away from all this is the fact the team stood up despite down nights from a pair of its stars. Something that would have spelled disaster for any Carlton outfit of the recent past. The team had no passengers and finally put in a four quarter performance.

 

YOU JUST CAN’T HAVE IT 

 

Where were the Bulldogs key forwards?

To date, inconsistency has plagued the career of Josh Bruce and off the back of his six goal haul last week, he came plummeting back down to earth last night. Six disposals, no goals and two marks wasn’t near enough production. The marquee recruit needs to rekindle his form and find a way to keep it – especially with Naughton on the sidelines.

Bailey Dale didn’t fare much better than Bruce. The third tall also managed just six disposals, however, he did hit the scoreboard with an early goal but was rarely sighted otherwise.

The biggest issue for the Bulldogs forward line was Josh Schache. Brought in last week for the injured Naughton, he produced with two goals, but we all know it’s easier to produce in eight goal wins than eight goal losses. He doesn’t look like a footballer. Two possessions and zero impact on the game last night was and is unacceptable, no matter the opponent. He needs a big week on the training track and to come out and make a statement next week against a scolding hot Essendon.

Schache has been disappointing for the Dogs thus far but will be given an extended opportunity in Naughton’s absence. If he fails to take advantage of it, it could spell disaster for his career.

 

Wasted forward fifty entries

If you have 12 more inside fifties than your opposition, you shouldn’t lose by 52 points. Carlton executed extremely well up forward but it’s no excuse. The Western Bulldogs did it’s struggling tall forwards no favours with too many lacklustre, shallow and aimless high balls into its attacking arc.

This one kick undoes so many sides on a consistent basis and the Dogs were yet another victim last night. Some credit must go to the baggers for their outstanding pressure, nevertheless, the the 2016 premiers will know they have to be more precise in future.

 

Beaten in the wet again

With smatterings of rain early in the game, the ball was slippery and the pitch damp for much of the match-up. The Bulldogs response to the wet conditions was sloppy and slow, unlike its opposition, who had soft hands from the start and a willingness to get boot to ball.

It wasn’t the first time wet weather worked against the men from the west. The Dogs handball-heavy style of play doesn’t suit the rain and this showed once again last night with their many forward half turnovers.

The Bulldogs did eventually make an adjustment in the second term and were much more willing to use their feet and force the ball forward, even so, they dug themselves a hole early.

Things dried up in the second half, allowing the Dogs to momentarily threaten the Blues three goal lead, but Carlton had their measure in the final term and put them to the sword.

 

KEY STATS

I’ve touched on most of these already but once more as a reference.

  • Bulldogs had 53 inside fifties to the Blues 42, yet only managed 16 scoring shots opposed to 23.
  • Carlton converted 70% of its shots into majors compared to the Bulldogs 44%. Truly a tale of two forward lines.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

  • Are the Blues a top eight chance? This week is the first time Carlton has been in a finals position since round 9 of 2013 (it qualified for finals from ninth that year). After such a long wait, the challenge is to stay there. Personally, I think the Blues are capable of a finals berth, pending injuries. With some key players already sidelined in Kruezer (Pittonet has competed well in his absence), Fisher, Curnow, Marchbank and Newman, any more injuries will seriously test their depth.
  • Pencil in Friday night. The Bulldogs face Essendon in what will be a huge match-up for both sides. The Bombers have a point to prove about their pedigree as contenders, while the Dogs need to dust themselves off and bounce back into the top eight.