The scoreboard flattered the Saints.

Carlton were far and away the better team on the night and walked away with the 31 point win. In what started as a potential shootout, Max King and Harry McKay both slotted multiple goals in the first quarter, but from that point, the Blues ran harder and played like they were the team contending for a spot in the eight at the conclusion of the game.

And the Saints… they played like St Kilda. That’s about that.

Before we get stuck into the action, I almost felt sorry for Saints fans watching this – there were so many players that looked as though they were not up for the fight, and coming out of this game, the club will no doubt have a long, hard look at where the club is positioned, and who will be occupying list spots into 2022. I get the sense that the St Kilda supporters have had their hearts broken so often over the years that they almost now expect to be let down by their team. It’s a damn shame.

For the Blues, they were definitely up for the fight. They played almost all of the game without a ruck, with Jack Silvagni working hard against the combination of Rowan Marshall and Paul Hunter… who somehow got another game. Silvagni met the challenge with a career-high 25 touches in a gutsy display that exploited the lack of work from the St Kilda big man department.

Anyway, enough yapping – the intro is done. Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions stemming from Friday Night Footy.

 

IS SAM WALSH THE BEST PURE MIDFIELDER IN THE COMPETITION?

It’s difficult to be objective about this as we all have our favourite players, and the ones we like are at different stages of their careers. It’s not right to compare Walsh to Ollie Wines, who has a battle-hardened body and the crash and bash game style. Nor is it right to compare him to Jack Macrae, who has five more pre-seasons on Walsh.

However, amongst his peers, and those aged 22 or under, Walsh is far and away the pick of the bunch. Whilst some will look at Jack Steele’s 36 touches and 14 tackles as the standout performance in this game (God knows how), anyone who watched closely will have realised that Sam Walsh had the biggest impact on the contest. Every opponent he found himself matched up against, he put to the sword. Seb Ross? Don’t make me laugh! Luke Dunstan? Nup, not even close.

Walsh was able to find space, win his own footy and, importantly, hit the scoreboard. His three goals were instrumental in Carlton establishing what would become a match-winning lead.

People have looked for, and thus, found reasons to discredit Walsh in his time in the league. Oh, he doesn’t hurt with his touches… that was a ripper. Oh, he doesn’t hit the scoreboard… another beauty.

In this game, it was as though Walsh took those criticisms, studied them, turned them sideways and shoved them straight up the critics’ candy asses! Sorry… went into The Rock 1999 character there for a second. Three goals whilst pushing hard forward, and 26 touches at 85% efficiency demonstrated that Walsh can absolutely do it all, and with many starting to speculate as to whether a Brownlow Medal could be on the cards this season, performances such as this do his chances no harm at all.

One more thing on Walsh – what was the Saints’ best quarter? The last, right?

At that point, Walsh had run his race. He had two touches for the last quarter as the Saints meekly threatened to get back into the game. It seems at this stage, the Blues need Walsh to be at his best in order to have a chance at winning games. When he drops off, they drop off. Let’s hope Zac Williams gets in shape and Patrick Cripps is able to shake off the injuries plaguing him (they are plaguing him… he gets up slower than any other player in the game – watch him next time he gets knocked down. He barely even knows the words to Tubthumpin’) for the 2022 season. The last thing you want is another one-man band in the middle. It does not end well.

 

HAVE THE BLUES FOUND THEIR SMALL FORWARD IN JOSH HONEY?

He was a bit of a livewire early in the game, and I was pleased to hear Brian Taylor, of all people, mention his first half goal assists. I thought his unselfishness deserved a mention, as well.

Honey played the majority of his game inside forward 50, providing good pressure and a creative option with the ball in-hand. He looked relaxed and capable in the role and didn’t try to do too much with the footy.

With Eddie Betts playing out the final acts of his stellar career, and Michael Gibbons on the sidelines for the remainder of 2021, this is a huge chance for Honey to carve a niche for himself and make him the number one choice for the role when 2022 rolls around. At 19, and with just one game prior to this one (as the sub… I hate that), he certainly made a good fist of it in his first real opportunity.

 

HOW MUCH OF A BAKE SHOULD ROWAN MARSHALL GET FOR HIS PERFORMANCE IN THE RUCK?

My fellow Mongrel, Brett Hodgson, suggested a David Pittman-style bake, but that is probably a little too extreme given Marshall had 22 touches, 46 hit outs and slotted a goal, but I’ve gotta ask this question in order to highlight just how poor Marshall was at taking control of the situation in a game where he could have made a massive difference.

What do you think Nic Naitanui would have done to Jack Silvagni in the ruck in this game? After the injury to Tom de Koning, Silvagni was giving up seven centimetres and, importantly, 11 kilograms to Rowan Marshall. The St Kilda ruckman should have been manhandling Silvagni and bodying him out of the contest at every stoppage. This should have been the game that Marshall made his. He should have mauled Silvagni like a Lion toying with a baby gazelle before devouring it.

Instead, he seemed content trying to finesse the ball, unsuccessfully, to teammates, when the circumstances dictated that it was time for Marshall to take over.

If you have the time, go back and watch the way even Oscar McInerney abused the Gold Coast Suns last week. They played undersized Chris Burgess in the ruck, and the Big O showed some real killer instinct to have 12 individual clearances in what I thought was a best on ground performance.

Do you know how many clearances Marshall had in this one? Have a guess without looking at the stats.

One.

He had one clearance. This should have been a 10+ clearance game for Rowan Marshall.

The Blues actually led the overall clearance numbers for a large part of the game before Marshall started, you know… hitting the footy to his teammates in the last quarter.

Matched up against an inferior player in terms of the ruck, he was passive and timid. He displayed zero killer instinct and zero desire to establish his dominance. This is the ruckman that took the competition by storm a couple of years back and looked as though he was going to develop into one of the league’s best big men…

… and then he comes up against Jack Silvagni and has one clearance? Maybe the Pittman comparison is apt, and Brett Ratten should channel Malcolm Blight. Sure, he had 22 touches and five tackles but this was the game that was cherry ripe for Rowan Marshall to be THE man.

Instead, it became another game where the Saints failed to fire when Paddy Ryder and Marshall weren’t able to hold each other’s hands. And yes, as Blighty would say, that is pathetic.

 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HARRY MCKAY AND MAX KING?

Two years and about eight or nine kilograms. Seriously, that’s about it.

Harry is built like a man. He is 23 and has plenty of muscle and natural size about him, making him difficult to move off the spot and forcing his opponent to either hold on, or risk giving away a free kick for going too high as they attempt to combat his reach.

At the other end, Jacob Weitering got caught out on a couple of occasions by a subtle block or two that allowed Max King a clean run at the footy. He clunked the marks, kicked the goals and drew a free kick for a hold toward the end of the quarter. Finishing with three goals after 30 minutes of play, he looked like continuing his hot form from last week, but no doubt, both David Teague and the Carlton defensive coach would have had a word to the back six at quarter time.

“Hey… just lean into him.”

At this stage, that’s all you have to do to King. He is not strong enough to fight through contact to make the contest, and is far too easily bustled out of the way. As soon as the Blues started doing that, King was rendered close to useless.

At the other end, McKay continued to out-muscle his opponents, and after Dougal Howard limped off the ground with a hamstring, Cal Wilkie was vastly undersized against the Carlton monster.

McKay ended up with five goals in a strong display and extended his Coleman Medal lead out to 11 goals – it will take something amazing from Tex Walker or Tom Hawkins to catch him from here.

 

HOW GOOD WAS THE WEITERING FIGHTBACK?

I loved it.

As a matter of fact, I genuinely loved their first quarter duel. The goals to King tip the scales heavily in his favour, but whilst Weitering was beaten on three occasions, his work in other areas of the game was excellent, even under duress.

In the first quarter, alone, Weitering had seven intercepts as he positioned himself to cut off the St Kilda attack (helped by some pretty rubbishy forward 50 entries by the Saints), so even though King hit the scoreboard, Weitering didn’t drop his head and have a tantrum – this bloke is a future captain of the club. He knuckled down, reset and got back on top as the game progressed.

King bobbed up for a late goal, but the work of Weitering after quarter time was an indication as to just how he can control the game from the back half.

 

HOW MUCH LOVE CAN WE SHOWER ON JACK SILVAGNI AFTER THIS GAME?

I can give it a shot.

One of my fellow Mongrels remarked that if Sam Walsh is the heart of this Carlton side, then Jack Silvagni is its soul. We all watched on as he saluted his grandfather just weeks ago, and this week, Jack was thrown to the wolves after an injury to Tom de Koning.

Some players would throw in the towel in these contests, whilst others rise to the occasion. Guess which category Jack Silvagni slotted into in this game?

Playing in an unfamiliar role, Silvagni gathered a career-high 25 touches as he ran the legs off both Marshall and Hunter. Though he compiled just five hit outs for the entirety of the game, he gathered six clearances and laid nine tackles, effectively giving Carlton an extra midfielder at stoppages every single time.

As I mentioned above, Silvagni put the St Kilda rucks to shame, and in the process highlighted just how versatile he can be, and what an asset he can be to the Blues in an ongoing capacity. Out of contract after this season, you’d think that a new deal would be finalised pretty soon. Otherwise, his last month of footy may have quite a few teams wondering whether they could snap him up.

 

WHO SHOULD NOT BE ON THE SAINTS LIST IN 2022?

A couple of obvious ones and a couple maybe not so obvious.

DEAN KENT – I was a bit of a fan when the Saints picked him up, as I expected him to slot into the forward line and provide some grunt. What I didn’t expect him to do was cost the team goals. Dumb handballs, 50 metre penalties… I hope he enjoys country footy.

SEB ROSS – What is his role? He is a two-time best and fairest winner, and he is either doing a shitty job as a tagger, or dropping back and getting touches in the back half (sounds like a good porn movie… “Touches in the Back Half”)

At face value, 24 touches is a decent return, but he sold teammates into trouble and looked as though he was happy to play way too loose, particularly when he was charged with covering Sam Walsh out wide. He was too often drawn to the contest, allowing Walsh passage outside and it hurt his team. He is a restricted free agent following this season. Not sure where he fits anymore, and I am not sure he knows, either.

PAUL HUNTER – Why play him?

Seriously, why is he in the team? You’re playing a team that had one dedicated ruck, you can pinch hit in there with basically anyone when de Koning went off for a rest, and instead, the Saints play Paul Hunter?

In 87 minutes of game time, Hunter collected three touches. Even the bloke being carried to 300 games had more than that in a half! Hunter had 21 hit outs against no ruckman and did zero damage. Why do St Kilda rucks always need another ruckman to hold their hand?

JACK BILLINGS – One of the biggest disappointments in recent years. Has fallen off the pace and is playing like someone with one foot out the door.

A restricted free agent after this season, I reckon Billings has actually cost himself some decent coin with his half-hearted efforts this season. He should be elite by this stage of his career. Instead, he is Jack Billings. At 25, with the potential he showed, someone will be dumb enough to overpay for him but I really hope it is not the Saints. They’ve had enough pain.

 

WHAT DID WE MAKE OF CHARLIE CURNOW’S FIRST GAME BACK?

First of all, I have to state that I am just glad he’s back, as I was seriously starting to doubt we were going to see him this season.

He looked different, didn’t he? Less chiselled and a little bit more… McGovern-ish?

He still has a decent leg on him, slotting that goal from 55 metres across his body after one of the worst turnovers of the year by Dougal Howard, but other than that, we didn’t really see any of that amazing athleticism that made Curnow one of the hottest forward prospects in the game a couple of years back. But I guess at this stage, you can’t be expecting anything other than him getting through the game unscathed, and it appears that is what we received.

Curnow’s non-football injuries were a huge red flag for me, but to see him out there and part of the team again – it gives the Blues supporters some genuine hope that he can combine with Harry McKay to create a very good one-two punch in the Carlton forward line. Yeah, we didn’t see much in this game, but you would have to have been an eternal optimist if you thought you were going to see Charlie take a hanger and kick a bag.

He did what he had to do – he got through the game and the Blues won, so his inability to get involved will be forgotten.

This week, at least.

Now it is about how he recovers and whether he can string a few games together to round the season out. Once he does that, a good run at pre-season, no “slipping on tiles” or private weight sessions… and no bloody basketball, could see him bounce back in 2022.

But as for his overall game in this one… let’s just hope that was 720 days of rust being worked off.

 

MARC MURPHY GETS TO 300, RIGHT?

Yeah, he does, but I have never seen someone so annoyed with the way they are gonna get there.

He had four touches in the second half, including the final shot at goal on the siren, but part of me wonders, if I were to swap places and put myself in his shoes… would I want it this way? Does finished on 298 games mean you had less of a career? I don’t know… it certainly seems to matter to him, and maybe that’s been part of the problem all along? The individual above the club…

Here’s hoping that he can start on the ground in game 300. He might even crack a smile.

 

DO YOU THINK ANYONE HAS EVER LEGITIMATELY TRIED TO CORRECT TIM MEMBREY’S TWO-FOOT JUMP?

Surely someone has tried, right?

Whilst it has worked for him over the years, as evidenced by his contract and status as an AFL player, the way he gets to the drop of the ball, props and then jumps off two feet really gives the defender a chance to close things down if they’re good enough. Sure, sometimes they aren’t, but Lachie Plowman was in this one, with Membrey only padding the stat sheet in junk time. He was a non-factor prior to that.

One of our fellow Mongrels tried to equate Membrey’s weird marking style with his own efforts to dunk a basketball off one foot or two feet – the difference here is that Membrey is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the club has sports scientists and the time to dedicate to rectifying glitches in a player’s game. The dude playing shitty basketball in Geelong can get away with not knowing how to jump off one leg because, really… nobody cares.

But people care what Membrey does, and I’d love to see him attack the contest and really leap into the footy, as opposed to propping and jumping straight up.

 

WHAT SORT OF HELP DOES JACK STEELE NEED?

He might need psychiatric help the way this team continues to play.

Seriously though, this may not be popular – he needs a lot of help. At the moment, Brad Crouch is not cutting the mustard, Zak Jones has been really good in small patches, Luke Dunstan is fighting for a spot in the midfield ongoing (but he simply cannot kick) and a new contract. This leaves Steele as the clear number one option…

Right now Steele is doing all the heavy lifting for the Saints, and this should give you a bit of a jolt – his role in 2021 is not too dissimilar to Patrick Cripps in 2019 at Carlton. He is the number one mid doing all the heavy lifting, and needs someone who will take the heat off him at times. Either Crouch and Zak Jones need to elevate their game, or the Saints need to look for someone who can accumulate the footy and take on the role as the ball winner.

Patrick Cripps is now paying for years of being everything to everyone at Carlton. What should have been his prime (2020/21) is being wasted as he drags his aching body through game after game. Watch how Cripps picks himself up off the deck – he is twice as slow as everyone else on the park. It’s like he is feeling every gram of the weight he has carried for the past few years, and with a sore back and troubled shoulders, every bump and tackle feels just that little more taxing.

That could be Jack Steele very soon if the Saints are not careful.

One more thing on  Steele – though his tackling and pressure on those in his immediate vicinity was top notch yet again, his lack of attention to detail against Paddy Dow at one stage led directly to Dow slipping forward as Steele ball-watched and ball-chased. Dow got on the end of a quick pass inside fifty and converted with Steele not bothering to hand over, or make any attempt to go with his man. It was horrible coverage by Steele, and vision he will hate seeing as part of the review. No matter what else he did in this game, the image of him refusing to give Dow any respect at all hung over him. Every mid at this level has the ability to hurt teams, and every one of them needs to be accounted for. Steele dropped the ball on this one.

 

ARE THE WHIPPING BOYS STANDING UP?

It seems so.

Who am I talking about? Lochie O’Brien and Paddy Dow combined for 43 touches in this game, with Dow cycling through the midfield and O’Brien drifting out to the wing. Dow’s delivery inside 50 on a couple of occasions was excellent, whilst O’Brien will be showered with offers of cups of coffee this week from his grateful teammates.

Together, the pair combined for six direct goal assists for the evening, and both played smaller, yet very effective roles in making the Blues a threat forward of centre.

 

ANYTHING ELSE?

I’m still a believer that Ed Curnow could be one of the best stoppers in the game. He genuinely loves crunching someone in a tackle, and when he went to Brad Crouch on a wing at one stage, he hit him with two ripping tackles in successive plays. Crouch must have thought a move back nto the guts was a safer bet.

How did Seb Ross allow Sam Walsh to a) get goal side at a stoppage at the start of the third quarter, and b) end up 35 metres behind him as Walsh slammed through the goal?

Makes ya wonder how many shits he has left to give…

If you allow Walsh goal side and he gets the footy, you’re done. Don’t be lazy and set up properly.

I’m not quite sure what Brett Ratten is doing with Ben Long. I know Long cops a bit from Saints fans for some silly mistakes but he looked lost in this game. Was unable to get into the flow of the game, and his hardness at the footy just wasn’t at the same levels we’ve come to expect.

 

And that’ll do me. At this stage, both these teams can make the eight, but it is going to take some A-Grade Bradbury-ing to make it. With the Saints’ percentage so poor, they look like toast. And the Blues… well they may end up a game and a half out after this round depending on GWS.

Next week Carlton get the Suns – currently scheduled for Marvel Stadium, but who the hell knows what is going on? Meanwhile, the Saints get the Swans, apparently at the same venue.

Massive thanks to our members for their ongoing support – it is greatly appreciated.

Want more of this kind of stuff? Join The Mongrel to get it!