The Blues have been threatening to make noise for a couple of years, now. With solid recruiting, kids coming through, and stars poised to return to form, is 2022 the season a new coach takes them to the finals?

Over the last month, I have been slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of answers. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these articles were going to be huge. There were simply too many things in need of addressing.

So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next lot – between 10-15 – are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it is also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions regarding Carlton in 2022.

 

HOW MUCH FAITH IS THERE IN THE BODY OF CHARLIE CURNOW?

You wouldn’t put your house on it, would you?

Me neither. I also buy a Powerball ticket now and again, so where there is hope, I will latch onto it.

Charlie Curnow spent a couple of seasons finding new and inventive ways to exacerbate his knee injury, Whether he was falling over on the tiles at his sister’s house, or having it collapse under him while doing rehab weights by himself, Charlie has not done himself any favours after initially damaging it playing basketball in the off-season following the Blues’ 2019 campaign. So long ago now…

This was the bloke Carlton were building around – he, Cripps, Weitering, and Harry McKay were the building blocks of Carlton’s future, and sadly, when you remove one of those pillars, the others have trouble maintaining structural integrity. The place didn’t collapse, but it has been anything but solid since.

However, toward the end of the 2021 season, there was a reason to smile for Carlton fans – no, not because the season was about to end – Charlie Curnow was out there running around an AFL field again, and he wasn’t leaving the game to have an injury looked after, either.

Whilst Curnow’s output was nothing to write home about – he averaged half a goal per game in his four outings – the fact he was able to not only make it back, but back up and play four consecutive games, was cause for optimism. Maybe he could get back to the player he was before his injury? Maybe he could continue to grow and develop? Maybe he would become the star that was treated to double-page spreads in the Herald Sun a few years ago?

Hyperbole aside, Charlie Curnow’s return, even if it is at 80% of what he was initially, could do wonders for Carlton. Firstly it eases the burden on the man pegged as his partner in crime, Harry McKay, who has not missed a beat in his development. Secondly, it gives Carlton a hard leading, “get out of jail”  target for defenders exiting the back half. Remember that towering clunk that had people comparing Charlie to the great Alex Jesaulenko? That wasn’t taken in attack. That was Curnow making the ground to the half back flank to give his defenders a marking target – that is what has been missed.

It may take supporters ten or so games until they get their hopes up surrounding Charlie’s return. Carlton fans have become cynical. Some see silver linings in life – Carlton have taught them to look for the grey clouds. It may take Curnow ten games before he starts to believe his body is once again up to it, but if he gets there without a hiccup… if he notches those ten games, starts to feel at home again launching at the footy, and if he managed to have a game where he kicks a bag, that’s when things will start bubbling.

A Curnow/McKay combination was the dream. The Blues supporters have had to settle for half of it up until now. Could 2022 be the year they get the complete package?

 

IS THIS THE REDEMPTION YEAR FOR ZAC WILLIAMS?

Cards on the table – I was not a believer last season, and I hate to be that guy, but far out, you could see a poor year for Williams coming a mile off.

He just landed his big deal, was coming off a 2020 season where he did not look in great shape, and fronted up to the Blues in less than top shape. It was a recipe for disaster, particularly when he had been touted as the player that was going into the middle to complete the Carlton midfield mix. In a nutshell, Zac Williams let himself, and his new team, down in 2021.

He simply has to make amends in 2022.

It’s a pretty simple equation for WIlliams – when he is in shape, he is a beast. When he isn’t… well, he can be a liability.

We saw evidence of this last year, with footage of WIlliams too tired to chase airing on various footy shows. Hands on hips, the play going on without him… it happened so often that Williams was later thrown into defence, a role he had occupied at GWS so often.

I can see why Carlton took a gamble on WIlliams as a potential midfielder. There was a patch in 2019 where Williams really stepped up his game. With Giants dropping like flies in the midfield, Williams was thrown into the guts, and whilst in there, he carved teams up. Mind you, 2019 saw Williams in the best shape of his life – he was well-positioned to perform at that level.

He was in nowhere near that shape when Round One rolled around in 2021, and we saw the result. He has to be in 2022 – he owes it to this club.

There are times in a player’s career when they either do the work or are resigned to be someone remembered as never getting to the level they should have. The 2022 season is that moment for Zac Williams. Nothing short of career-best shape will do as he looks to make up for what was a pretty ordinary season of football for his new club. He’s had his 12 months to adjust and understand what is required. He has seen where he went wrong in 2021 and should have learnt from it. He know swhat he has to do.

Now, he just has to do it.

If Williams does start 2022 in great shape, he may well have the type of season that pushes the Blues toward finals.

 

WHAT DOES GEORGE HEWETT ADD TO THIS MIDFIELD?

Carlton does not require George Hewett to be Patrick Cripps. They don’t need him to be Sam Walsh.

But they do need him to be a bit of Ed Curnow, and if that is the role Hewett takes on at the Blues, then he could very well turn out to be one of the recruits of the year.

If you haven’t watched George Hewett play, you may not be aware of what the Blues are getting, so allow me to give you a rundown. Some players are pure ball winners, whilst others are defence-oriented. What you get with Hewett is someone that can do both, and turn either on or off like a switch. He was solid as a rock for the Swans through 2021, but many simply allowed his impact to slip by unnoticed. There was plenty to like about the Swans in 2021, and with players like Dawson, Gulden, Heeney, and Mills grabbing the headlines, the efforts of Hewett were often neglected.

But for those who watch closely, his value to this team was huge.

His 17 touches per game were nice, but it his ability to negate the influence of his direct opponent whilst collecting those touches that was the impressive aspect. After missing 2020 with a back injury (something to keep a close eye on), Hewett did not quite get back to the level he was at in 2019, but the signs were there. Back in 2019, he notched 20+ disposals on 13 occasions, but also had 7+ clearances six times and even had an outing where he registered 12 tackles. He is much more than 17 touches – he is a two-way player that can genuinely do it all.

And that is what Ed Curnow has been to the Blues for the past 11 years.

Ed is now 32 years old, and as hard as he works to remain in tremendous shape, we all noticed that there were times in 2021 where he was removed from the midfield and thrown onto the wing. Was that a mistake? Yeah, look… I reckon it was. Ed is as tough as they come when the ball is in dispute, and whilst I understand the need to invest in the kids in the midfield, Carlton did so by relegating one of their toughest ball-winners, and best stoppers to a foreign position on the outside.

How Voss handles the Ed Curnow/Hewett duo will be an interesting watch, and it provides Hewett with a challenge. Carlton have two two-way midfielders vying for the one spot. Does he go with the tried, true, and ultra-reliable Curnow? Or does he throw his lot in with Hewett, who should be around for a while longer?

If we see George Hewett sitting in the stands at any point in 2022, some may view it as a failure – that is understandable, but in my line of work, I was always taught that you look at the reason behind decisions – not at the decisions, themselves. If Hewett is not on the park, is it because of the form of Curnow? If that is the case, then it remains a win for the Blues, as what you want is the best player in the role playing his best football. If the arrival of Hewett compels Curnow to get back to his best, all the better for the Blues. If Hewett replaces Curnow in the guts, then that’s good, as well. Just as long as someone is playing good footy.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF THIS IS WHO PATRICK CRIPPS IS NOW?

That’s now two seasons of Cripps looking like a banged-up old slapper stager

There were times in 2021 that Patrick Cripps picked himself up off the ground like I do when I am trying to get up off the couch – the struggle is real, people! For years we heard people bleating about the load Cripps was carrying and whether this would come back to bite him and the Blues at some point.

It looked as though it was having a decent old nibble in 2021.

That, however, does not mean that Cripps cannot bounce back this season – I am sure he can, but in a midfield that is functioning well, he probably does not have to put up the crazy kind of numbers he did a few years back.

In his MVP season, Patrick Cripps averaged a ridiculous 8.5 clearances per game. For context, Tom Liberatore was on record-setting pace early in 2021 – he finished 0.9 clearances per game behind the 2019 effort from Cripps. Even with diminished capacity and struggling through numerous injuries, Cripps managed to notch almost six clearances per game. When it comes to winning the footy at the course, none are better.

But he doesn’t need to be the best anymore. He can still be wonderful, and he can still have moments where he takes on the responsibility and wins the footy in crucial moments, but his days of putting this team on his back should be a thing of the past. If things go to plan, he shouldn’t have to.

Carlton brought in Zac Williams and George Hewett to help, and whilst those additions and potential impact in 2022 have been covered above, the rapid development of Sam Walsh has also eased the burden on the skipper. Right now, Patrick Cripps is just free to play footy.

However, that doesn’t mean that he gets a free pass, here. No, no, no… if I am going to whack Williams for his lack of defensive pressure in 2021, then the same level of force needs to be applied in a whack for Cripps, who meandered about the midfield like a lost puppy at times last season. His chasing was appalling and his inability to get back inside defensive 50 quickly was a real worry. He needs to turn both those aspects around in 2022. Injuries can be a reason, but they can also be used as an excuse.

A player of Cripps’ level should not need excuses.

Health will be the defining factor of Cripps’ 2022 season. A healthy Cripps working in unison with a fit midfield unit spells trouble. If Voss and the fitness staff can get Cripps to the point where he runs out the season without feeling as though he is dragging a boulder behind him, then this Carlton team could make some real noise, however, if he is the player we saw in 2021 again this year, this time around, Carlton should have the means to finally give him the assistance he needs.

 

HOW MUCH DOES THE LIAM JONES RETIREMENT HURT?

If we look at this on the scale of skinned knee to having your leg amputated in terms of severity, Carlton at the moment are hopeful the wound has not severed the leg completely.

In the short term, this really hurts. You’re taking a veteran defender who was ranked number seven in the league in one-percenters, and number five in intercepts, and are attempting to replace him with one of the following.

Mitch McGovern, Oscar McDonald, Lachie Young,, Brodie Kemp, or Caleb Marchbank.

Again.… it really hurts.

Whether you agree with Jones’ position is irrelevant – he was a key component to this Carlton defence, and with him out of action, the pressure on Jacob Weitering to be everything to everyone has intensified. Jones and Weitering made for an effective pair in terms of limiting their direct opponents, but the hope here would be that any replacement that Carlton find for Jones is someone that not only racks up individual numbers, but makes the defence better as a whole.

One of our former writers, who is a very nice bloke and should write more for us, mentioned to me that he felt there was a little bit of “me, me, me” about Jones’ style of defence, inasmuch as he did not offer the extent of help defence that was required to make a back six function as effectively as it should. If he had a point about this, we will undoubtedly see it in the first five weeks of the season.

Irrespective of which of the five names mentioned above gets the job at filling Jones’ boots in defence, the pressure will be huge in 2022. If Weitering gets hurt, what then?

I suppose the light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case, the midway point of the tunnel, is that there is a chance that Jones could make a very handy mid-season acquisition should things change in the current landscape around covid. A returning Jones, if possible, could be the difference between finals and another year on the outside looking in for the Blues.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 14 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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