It looked as though the Blues were going to cause the boilover and emerge victorious from their Round Eight clash with the Western Bulldogs, but a strong fightback from Luke Beveridge’s charges turned a 27-point deficit into a 16 point win with a barrage of late goals.

The Dogs kicked eight goals in a row to surge past the Blues before Patrick Cripps slotted a late goal to narrow the final margin.

It was a powerhouse display by the Dogs, who looked shaken by the Blues and their towering forward, Harry McKay early in the third quarter. Led by their skipper and a relentless running game, they powered home, leaving Carlton in their wake to claim their seventh win of the season.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

BELIEF

Down by roughly five goals. Looking down the barrel of a second successive defeat… would you be tempted to put the cue in the rack and start to mentally prepare for next week?

I am sure there are a few teams in the current competition that would look at that deficit halfway through the third quarter as their cue to pack it in and keep the margin respectable.

Not this Western Bulldogs team.

Capable of scoring in short order, the Dogs got their running game up and going, fed off the run and carry from Bailey Dale, Jack Macrae and Marcus Bontempelli, and the tough inside work of Tom Liberatore to start reeling in the Blues.

With Carlton’s forward colossus really getting on top in the third, it was the belief in the Dogs that was the most impressive factor in this one. They believed that Alex Keath would once again right the ship in defence. They believed that Hayden Crozier would start taking down any wayward kick into the Blues attacking half, and they believed that the little man in the helmet would eventually get into the game and help them turn the tide.

Slowly but surely, the Dogs pegged the Blues back. Goals to Bruce, Naughton and Treloar drew them to within striking distance and set up a huge fourth quarter blast.

The Blues had no answers and the Dogs kept asking the questions of them. They played like a team that knew if they kept the pressure up, the weak-minded Blues would capitulate. A lesser team would have accepted their fate at 27 points down. A lesser team would have dropped their heads, stopped the run and gone into self-preservation mode.

A lesser team – that team was Carlton.

The team that refused to give in and take it on the chin were the Western Bulldogs, and in this one, they demonstrated just why they’re up at the top end of the ladder, and why the Blues are seemingly in the same spot they always are.

 

STANDING UP

There are those out there who simply do not rate Josh Bruce. I’ve read the comments and seen the stats – they’ll tell you that he only kicks goals against the minnows of the competition. His record against North Melbourne over the last few years has been incredible, but what people have wanted to see from him is consistency.

And the only way he can do that is by kicking bags against quality defenders, such as he did in this one, opposed to Liam Jones.

Say what you want about Jones, but he has been one of the better lockdown/intercept defenders in the league over the past two seasons. The former Dog had his own negative image to shed after his time with the Dogs as a forward will not be remembered all too fondly. But his time as a defender in navy blue has been fantastic.

And so, with Josh Bruce clunking three contested grabs and converting five times to help the Dogs overcome the Blues, perhaps now people will start to respect the bloke.

Bruce now sits third in the Coleman race, with 25 goals through his eight games and is on pace for a career-best season. I was a little critical of him last week in the game against the Tigers – at one point, he rubbed Dylan Grimes’ face in the turf and spent the rest of the game looking over his shoulder and expecting retribution. It resulted in dropped marks and misjudging the ball in the air as he waited for contact that never came.

He redeemed himself in this one.

Bruce is now doing exactly what the Dogs recruited him to do. He is taking plenty of heat off Aaron Naughton and allowing the young gun to get isolation on his direct opponent, which in itself, is a win. However, the be converting goals at this rate would be beyond anything the Dogs could have wished for.

What’s the ceiling for Bruce this season?

A modest target of 55-60 goals would be a huge win for his club. I don’t think we’re going to see another ten-goal bag from him, but a solid couple of goals per game average should see him with a very healthy total come the start of September.

 

UNLEASHING THE LITTLE BEAST

It’s no coincidence that the release of Caleb Daniel to half forward in the third quarter, and then back into defence in the last quarter coincided with the Bulldogs’ charge.

Shut down through the first two quarters, Luke Beveridge had to do something to get his little maestro involved in the game. To their credit, the Carlton forwards – Michael Gibbons, Lachie Fogarty and Matt Owies all made sure that Daniel had no room to move in the role he usually plays so well up until halfway through the third.

Then Luke Beveridge decided enough was enough and moved his best ball-user up into the action.

The results were instantaneous. His slick hands, sharp foot-skills and intelligent decision-making saw him bring his teammates into the play time, and time again as the Dogs mounted their comeback. No one went with him. No one took the responsibility of stating they were going to close him down irrespective of where he went.

He just wandered off up the ground and both David Teague and his troops allowed him to. Do you know what we call that? Poor coaching.

Daniel will not feature in the votes for this game, but his move up into the action was a decisive one. He was the one who cut the Blue to ribbons with his ball use and excellent positioning to cut off their hurried defensive fifty exits. I don’t know whether to give Luke Beveridge a pat on the back, or David Teague a foot in the arse for the way that played out.

 

THE OLD FIRM

When you get a pair of midfielders sharing 21 inside fifty deliveries between them, you know they’re not just hurting you… they’re killing you!

They wee the numbers for Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae in this game, as the pair rained footballs down on their forward half over and over again.

Bont was amazing, showing up his old draft classmate, Patrick Cripps in the type of performance that adds fuel to the fire of the “Bont over Cripps draft revisionists”. I have been entrenched in that camp for quite a while, by the way. He had ten clearances, eight tackles and 32 touches overall as he simply had his way in the midfield for the majority of the game.

Not to be outdone, Jack Macrae is the guy who walks into a diner and doesn’t have to order.

“Hey Jack, the usual?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And from there, his stat sheet is automatically loaded up with 30+ disposals, a handful of clearances and hundreds upon hundreds of metres gained for his club. If Bont is the beautiful medium rare steak at the Western Bulldogs table, then Macrae is the mushroom sauce that adds that little extra kick (order it at Squire’s Loft… we love it, there!).

Together, they make a one-two punch that put the Blues’ mids on their backsides in this game, unable to answer the bell in the final quarter as the Dogs ran rampant.

They were backed up by Tom Liberatore (the side of chips and no damn salad!) with his game-high 13 clearances, including nine centre clearances. Really, with those three in the guts, it’s amazing the Blues were able to hang in the game as long as they did.

The totals, in the end, saw the Dogs with a +16 clearance differential in a game where they had their third-string ruck doing the job.

On the flipside, the only mids to be able to hold their heads high for the Blues would be Ed Curnow, who is a complete warrior, and Sam Walsh, who gives his all at every contest. Still, even they paled in comparison to the Western Bulldogs’ midfield machine that has kept on ticking even whilst missing the major part that is Josh Dunkley.

 

FLASHES

No… not “flashers”… that’d be much better.

I am talking about the players who flashed in and out of the game.

Harry McKay made the third quarter his own, with five grabs and three goals to finish the game with four goals to his name. He was well-held by Alex Keath prior to the third quarter explosion that set the Blues alight and helped them compile a handy lead.

Eddie Betts snagged five goals straight – four coming in the first half as everything he touched turned to gold. It was nice to see Eddie, who was under a little fire in the media recently over his ability to compete, step up and deliver for the Blues.

 

THE AA DEFENDER

Man, Jacob Weitering is a player.

He just goes about his business, beats his man and moves onto the next contest – no mess, no fuss.

He had Aaron Naughton in this game, and aside from a brief flurry or towering mark here or there, it was Weitering in control in the air. Remember a couple of seasons back when people were wetting themselves as Naughton picked up nine contested grabs in a game? It was pretty impressive, even if a couple were probably not contested grabs – the statistician got a little over-excited, I reckon.

Well, Weitering took the lazy seven contested grabs as part of his 12 intercepts in this one. He also had nine spoils, narrowly missing a defensive double-double. If he is not your pick for All-Australian centre half back at the moment, there is probably not a lot I can say to change your mind.

He was our number one ranked player in our weekly Defensive Player of the Year award last week, and with another strong outing this week, will take a bit of beating to knock him off the perch.

His closest rival at the moment would be Aliir Aliir from Port, and maybe Sam Taylor from GWS for the AA spot.

 

 

THE BAD

 

HOW MUCH ARE YOU PAYING FOR THAT?

The first talking point for Carlton – Zac Williams.

Boom recruit…

The midfield help Carlton needs…

Untapped potential at GWS…

He’s not looking like a wise investment right now, is he?

Williams started the season in decent enough form, notching double figures in his first game of the year – that was Round Two, by the way… he copped a suspension in the pre-season which caused him to miss Round One. Since them, he has meandered through the season, totalling ten more clearances in his next four outings, including a big, fat goose egg in this one.

You see, the Blues were sold on Williams due to his run of games in 2019. With the GWS A-Grade midfield banged up, ZWill stepped into the middle of the ground and had a stellar run on the ball. I’ll be the first to admit that it was impressive, and if the Blues were recruiting that version of him, they would have been getting a bargain, irrespective of what they were paying.

But they’re not getting that version of him.

They’re getting the 2020 version, which was a shadow of that 2019 incarnation.

Williams is the type of player that, when at peak fitness, can do amazing things. However, when he is not at full fitness, or has a niggle, he falls back to the pack rapidly.

Looking at him this season, he looks heavier than he did in that 2019 season where he was flying, he looks slower and he looks like a shadow of the player the Blues thought they were getting. You’ve all heard the jokes about buying something off Wish, right? Are we completely sure we’re not getting a knock-off version of Williams from somewhere, because the display he threw out there in this game looked as though the Blues have got themselves a very expensive passenger.

He finished this game with nine touches, two contested possessions and one tackle. Not only was he not getting the footy – he was not applying pressure when he didn’t have it.

Carlton put a lot of faith in Zac WIlliams to pry him away from the Giants. At the time, I remember writing that they let him go at exactly the right time, given his lack of commitment in the 2020 season. So far this season, he has done nothing to prove me wrong, and with eight games gone, he is far and away the biggest waste of cash on the Blues’ list.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

THE FALL OF PATRICK CRIPPS

What the hell is going on here?

Is this the same Patrick Cripps who rampaged through stoppages in years prior, taking the footy and the bodies of his opponents with him as he powered along with the ball under his wing, releasing to a teammate and getting them off and running? He looks the same. He wears the same number.

Only, he seems to be playing more like a broken down Hyundai two wheel drive than the bash and crash ute he was as little as two seasons ago. Remember that version, Carlton fans? Remember the man who carried this midfield unit to the point you had people genuinely concerned that he’d burn out?

Guess what he looked like today?

Cripps could not get near it in this game. He was sloppy, gave away free kicks at an alarming rate and looked a step slow in every contest he was in. He got caught with the footy, barely got rid of the footy at other points, and the thing that really concerned me – if you go back and watch, check out how many times he was completely flat-footed at stoppages.

In years passed, Cripps would be on the move, grabbing that footy at the stoppage, taking the contact and dishing it off. Right now, he appears to be waiting… for what, I don’t know, but surely he is smart enough to know that nobody is going to spoon-feed him? Hell, that’s been his job over the last few years. Now, it seems as though he is looking for someone else to chop him out and nobody is equipped, or willing to do the work.

Of all mids in the game – and I am talking star mids – who was worse than Cripps in this game?

Bont starred, Macrae was good, Treloar ran hard, Libba cracked in, Curnow was a warrior, Walsh fought like hell… and then there was Cripps. He’s gone from Carlton’s everywhere man to a damn nowhere man in the space of 24 months.

I’ve heard people talk about the game style, and how it’s too quick for him. How does Liberatore cope for the Dogs? He’s no speedster! Or what about Josh Kennedy in Sydney?

Nah, it’s the game’s fault, or the team’s fault that Cripps isn’t playing as well.

Screw that – there is one bloke responsible for the performance of Patrick Cripps in 2021 and he looks at him in the mirror every morning. He is still one of the best clearance players in the game. He is still one of the strongest mids in the contest. And he is still capable of leading this team by example. If he is injured, rest him. If he needs a break, sit him out, but don’t have him out there trotting out these types of garbage performances where he looks like a draft horse running up and down on the spot, surrounded by thoroughbreds. If you do, David Teague, you’re just as responsible for the weak performance we got from your co-captain in this game.

 

THE CHOKE

27 points up. Lost by 16.

Any way you slice it, this was a huge choke by the Blues. Yes, the Dogs were good, and yes, they were full of run in the last 40 minutes of the game, but for Carlton to just fall in a hole, you have to wonder what that says about their mindset.

If I were a Blues fan, I would have preferred to be blown out in the first or second quarter. It numbs the pain and doesn’t instil a false sense of hope.

Congrats Carlton… you did it to your long-suffering fans again. Twist that knife.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IS TOM LIBERATORE GOING TO MAKE ANYONE’S ROLLING AA TEAM SOON?

Sadly, no.

And it is through no fault of his own. People tend to spread the love across other teams. Bont is going to make it. Macrae is going to make it. Do you have three players from the same team in the one midfield when you’ve also got Petracca and Oliver from an undefeated Dees team to fit in?

Something’s gotta give, and sadly, I reckon it’s Libba.

 

WAS DAVID TEAGUE OUTCOACHED?

It certainly seemed that way to me.

If every action causes a reaction, why is Teague so damn slow to react to anything?

I’ve already covered off the Caleb Daniel move and how potent it was, but how about the bench debacle? No, I am not talking about Cripps getting stuck there for seven minutes at the start of the second half – I am talking about Adam Saad getting stuck there for 12+ minutes at one stage!

He’s the linebreaker you just paid a mint for and as the Dogs are coming hard, he’s standing there waiting to get on?

Zac Williams in the middle late in the game? After being unable to get a kick in a stampede?

No tag on Bont or Macrae despite having this bloke named Curnow on your team…

I wouldn’t call that a coaching win.

 

HOW GOOD IS SAM DOCHERTY?

I love what he’s been able to do. Even as captain of the club, he just goes out, is unassuming, does his job and wins the footy. He had ten rebound fifties in this one and gained 850 metres for the Blues.

There are a few playing a similar role for their teams – Jake Lloyd in Sydney, Jack Bowes at Gold Coast, but none do it better than Doc, and I am rapt to see him playing such good footy after going through those two knee reconstructions.

 

WITH MCKAY KICKING FOUR, DOES ALEX KEATH STILL GET THE POINTS?

Tough one.

If you have four kicked on you, it’s pretty difficult to sing your praises, but in Keath’s case, three to McKay came in a real hurry, and for the rest of the game, he had the big forward’s number.

This is tough because if Carlton gets up, you look at McKay’s third quarter blast and use that as the catalyst for things clicking, but in reality, Keath had the better of him for 75% of gametime. Then again, I suppose it only used to take ten minutes of footy from Wayne Carey to blow a game open – not that I am comparing Harry to Wayne… but in terms of impact, maybe that is the type of player he is?

 

OTHER BITS

 

Things get no easier for the Blues, and in Round Nine they have the chance of seeing their entire season slip away when they front up against the Dees.

No hyperbole here – this is make or break stuff fr Carlton. No team goes through the season undefeated and with the talent they possess, there is no reason they cannot beat any team in the league. So much of this is upstairs for them, and that is often the most difficult opponent to beat – the one inside your own head.

Meanwhile, the Dogs get a massive game at Adelaide Oval against fellow contender, Port Adelaide. The Power are a seriously good side, with power mids to combat the class of Macrae and Bont. Libba will have to be at his best to stifle the Wines/Boak pairing, whilst the Port small forwards of Rozee, Gray and Fantasia (sadly, still no Butters) will give Duryea, Crozier and Daniel some issues. Looking forward to that one already.

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