Well, well, well… what do we have here?

The Blues are 2-0 for the first time in a decade, the Dogs are now 0-2, and for the second-straight week, Patrick Cripps has displayed the form that made him the league’s best inside bull all the way back in 2019.

Something’s up in 2022… you can feel it already, can’t you? Do you know what happens next? The Carlton fans get excited. And when they get excited, they come out of the woodwork – tens of thousands of them.

They’ve been shunted away, rocking back and forth repeating the names of Kernahan, Williams, Bradley, Silvagni for years on end, thinking about the glory days when the Carlton Football Club struck fear into the hearts of opposition supporters. I remember those days, and the years before them as well. Harmes, Johnston, Bosustow, Hunter… they were great times for Blues fans. Not so much for supporters of other clubs.

But it might just be time to step out of the past and into the real football world again, Blues fans. Maybe it is time to let go of Sticks, Diesel, and The Dominator and embrace what we saw on Thursday night? I know you’re afraid of being hurt again. I know what this team has done to you, but at some point, you have to love again… you have to trust again. Do you love this team again, Carlton fans? Do you trust them again?

It might be time to start. Here’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly of Carlton’s win over the Dogs.

 

THE GOOD

 

LET’S RESTART THE DEBATE?

So, over the past two seasons, the Cripps v Bont debate has been put on ice, and for very good reason.

Marcus Bontempelli streaked ahead of his rival over the 2020/21 seasons, establishing himself as one of the best players in the game and going ever-so-close to being immortalised as one of the Bulldogs to take them to a flag – don’t buy into the BS about the Dogs getting thumped in the Grand Final; with 35 minutes of footy left, they had the lead.

And whilst Bont has been on this tear, Patrick Cripps struggled along and had people question whether the years of carrying this Carlton midfield had worn him down to the point where his best was behind him.

It kind of wasn’t fair, was it?

On one hand, you were assessing Cripps against a guy that was fully fit and playing career-best footy, and on the other hand, you were assessing Bont against a bloke that was obviously struggling with his body and couldn’t do what he knew he was capable of.

As an interesting aside, I had a Dogs supporter message me after the game saying that Bont was injured and if he’d been fit, it would have been a different story in the middle. I wonder whether this person had the same point of view when the roles were reversed and a clearly labouring Cripps was trying his guts out against a completely healthy Bont in the two previous seasons?

I think not.

Cripps was again at his best in this game, and I have to say as a neutral fan – it was bloody brilliant to watch. His five first-quarter clearances set things up for the Blues, as he powered his way from stoppages and used slick handball to set his teammates off and running. For the second week in a row, he hit the scoreboard, notching two goals and registering a fantastic 12 score involvements. He still can’t kick to save himself on his left foot, but it’s something that is what it is at this stage of his career – it isn’t getting any better.

He did manage to draw a couple of soft free kicks – one against Bont for a late “hit” that barely brushed him, and another where he flung his arms out like he was being accosted and the ump fell for it, but for the most part, this was Cripps at his brutal, beautiful best.

His 11 clearances led all players, and I would find it incredible if anyone had anyone other than him as the best player on the park.

So, the Bont v Cripps debate – viewed as settled coming into the 2022 season – suddenly has legs again. Bring on the next clash between the two. If Cripps can back up and do something like this again, maybe those who wrote him off may wish to consider their hasty opinions? And if he continues to play at this level… what does that mean for a Carlton side with the right troops in the right spots, finally?

How long til the lid comes off, Blues fans?

 

WELCOME BACK

Yes, Charlie Curnow has been back for a while, but he hasn’t really been BACK.

Damn, this does not translate well into text. Put it this way – he has been part of the side, but it has taken until this game for him to make a statement and serve notice to everyone that this two-headed forward monster of Curnow and McKay is more than something that Blues fans have speculated about for the past few years.

With McKay working up the ground, Curnow was left to roam around attacking 50 without stepping on the big man’s toes at points, and the combination was able to switch out and keep the defence on their toes without really ever being caught out of position – that is pretty difficult to achieve in the modern game, believe it or not.

It wasn’t Curnow’s work in the air that impressed, but his clean hands at ground level and ability to get to the fall of the ball troubled both Ryan Gardner and Ed Richards when they were forced to pick him up once the ball hit the turf. As a matter of fact, Curnow was able to lose Gardner way too easily at ground level, finding space to settle and snap for goal when, ideally, there should have been immediate pressure on him as soon as he got his hands on the pill. A learning experience for Garner – a costly one for the Dogs.

Curnow finished with five goals in his best performance since… geez, it feels like a long time, doesn’t it? What I liked best about his game came in the form of a goal assist in the second quarter. His long ball to the goal square wasn’t your typical floater, hoping for a big mark – it was intended to give Harry McKay every chance to take the grab. Placed perfectly, it allowed Harry the run and jump he needed and his partner in crime took the grab and kicked the goal.

The Blues looked unstoppable at this point, and with both forward doing exactly what Carlton fans have wanted from them for so long, it was a warning shot to the rest of the league. What are they capable of? What damage could they do in one quarter of footy? What could they do if they’re both “on” for a whole game?

We got a glimpse in this contest, and it left everyone wanting more.

 

THE STOPPER

I’m sure many will give Aaron Naughton a pass on his performance in this game, considering he was working with what looked to be a corked thigh for most of the second half, but the work of Jacob Weitering was the cause of his quiet night.

Sure, the corked thigh didn’t help matters, but the fact he had to contend with one of the best defenders in the game, and the reigning Mongrel Punt Defensive Player of the Year probably had a lot more to do with it than a knock to the leg did.

The way I always assess Naughton’s game is how often he bails the Dogs out. Whether it is a mark inside 50 or as a presenting option down the line taking a “get out of jail” mark, Naughton’s influence comes in the air long before he hits the scoreboard.

And he was beaten pointless in the air by Weitering in this game.

Whether on the lead or contesting inside 50, Weitering’s bodywork and ability to match Naughton for both strength and speed kept him on the outer. His only definite wins against Weitering came in the form of holding free kicks, but either of them could have been called play on and few would have been up in arms about the calls.

Weitering is yet to make an All-Australian team. He was probably excluded last season on the basis of one poor game (conceding seven goals to Nick Larkey) but overall, his list of victims far exceeded the list of those who got the better of him.

People can factor in the leg injury to Naughton all they like, but from go to woe, Weitering had his number in this game. He was a tower of strength in the Blues’ defence and made others walk taller with his 12 one-percenters, and seven intercepts certain to see him score well in this week’s Defensive Player of the Year rankings.

 

THE BACKUP CREW

The Blues’ midfield bats deep these days. Sure, having a healthy Patrick Cripps makes a huge difference, but when you add the talents of George Hewett to the mix… guys, this unit is a contested footy juggernaut!

All off-season, I was proclaiming the move of George Hewett to the Blues as the potential move of the year. Whilst I am sure the signing of Adam Cerra to the club had more than a few Carlton supporters leaving wet spots on their seats, the move of Hewett was exactly what the club required – a selfless, team-first player that takes pride in the defensive aspects of his game just as much as the offensive.

He collected 32 touches, 18 contested possessions, and managed seven clearances… which is brilliant considering Cripps was winning just about every second clearance throughout the game.

My favourite highlights from Hewett always come in the form of little things. Repeat tackles and physical pressure, throwing his body in to disrupt what should be a clean takeaway for the opposition. He always does the little things, and you never hear people sing his praises loudly. They just don’t get it.

I remember watching a movie called The Devil’s Advocate. It had Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino in it, and at one point, Reeves asked Pacino (The Devil) why he takes on the form he does? I mean, it’s a great question – why would someone, or something so powerful take on the form of a short-ass little middle-aged man when he could be anything and look like anyone?

Pacino smiled and answered that in this form, they never see him coming.

Whilst Hewettt probably doesn’t have the acting ability of Pacino, he doesn’t need it. He is workmanlike, is happy to do the dirty stuff and at the end of the day, you sit back, look at the performances in the midfield and wonder how the hell you allowed George F’n Hewett to do what he did to you?

You were focused on Cripps.

You were focused on Walsh.

Hell, if Cerra was out there, you would have been focused on him.

Hewett is an every-man. he is not the bull that Cripps is, he is not the power runner like Walsh, and he is not the star recruit like Cerra. But what he is, is the team player that binds them all together. No one ever sees George Hewett coming. They look back and think “what the hell just happened?” once he has been and turned their footy world upside down, but he does and will continue to catch teams sleeping. That’s what I love about him.

In terms of the broader supporting cast, I hesitate to use the name of Sam Walsh in terms of supporting anyone – he is one of the main attractions. He had 34 touches, Matt Kennedy had 31 in another stellar outing, and I already discussed Hewett’s efforts. Between the big four Carlton mids, we had 133 touches.

Between Hewett, Cripps, Kennedy, and Walsh, the average number of disposals was 33.25.

People, that is bloody ridiculous!

 

PRESSURE

I love a game when you can sense the pressure listing from both sides. At times, you can watch an entire game and the players kind of meander about the place, playing bruise-free football, and you walk away wondering how many of them truly give a damn about it.

I saw that in the Essendon v Geelong game last weekend. Players just didn’t tackle, and after halftime, with the result well and truly decided, it was as though both sides called a truce and tackled with no intent at all.

That was not the case in this game. You could tell when it started to matter for both sides.

For the Blues, they hunted in packs early. They were insatiable when it came to running down their Bulldog opponents. Every time one of the Dogs received a handball and looked up, it was as though the navy blue walls were closing in on him almost instantly.

It was enough to generate turnovers and sloppy kicks from a Western Bulldogs team that was obviously not prepared for that kind of heat.

But we saw a lift from the Dogs, as well, and when it occurred, the momentum swing their way. Halfway through the third quarter, you could sense the Dogs knew they had to go hard now, or not at all. Whilst I lamented Naughton’s inability to clunk marks, above, the way he contested the footy left no question as to whether or not he was committed to the cause. We won’t see any of that on the stats sheet, but his efforts in packs was excellent. Jack Macrae and Caleb Daniel both lifted, whilst Tim English and Bailey Dale both looked to start having an impact.

It was a run by the Dogs that could have very well got them over the line, but there was a good reason they weren’t able to get there.

 

A BIT OF ENGLISH

What an interesting ruck battle.

The first bounce saw Marc Pittonet demonstrate the value of a ruckman that can get first hands on the footy, as his tap to Cripps for the first clearance set up a goal, but the work around the ground from Tim English was exceptional, as well.

Looking at the clearance numbers, the Blues were +7 on the game, but the English had 24 touches and a goal, whilst Pittonet managed 12 disposals. Are +7 clearances worth more than what English was able to provide? I’m not sold.

Very early, I thought Pittonet looked as though he was ready to punish English, but the Dogs’ big man did some pretty impressive things away from the ruck contests. I’d give him the nod, and not by a small margin, either.

As for Pittonet, Cripps doesn’t get 11 clearances without his ruckwork. Far from disgraced, he just needs to be a bit more involved around the park. Maybe he drops into the hole across half-back a little more regularly from here on out?

 

THE BAD

 

BAD KICKING IS…

… you know how the rest of that saying goes, right?

The Dogs had their chances to win this. Multiple inside 50 entries resulted in misses, letting a tiring Carlton outfit off the hook.

Josh Dunkley missed a couple, as did Aaron Naughton, and there is a big part of me that wonders how this all plays out had one of those shots gone through and brought the margin back into single digits? The Blues were running on fumes at that point and with a little extra in the tank, it would not have been a surprise for the Dogs to run over the Blues and pinch a win.

As fantastic as Carlton were over the first three quarters, they gave the Dogs a sniff in this one, but kicking 2.7 in the last quarter is like shooting yourself in the foot, missing, and accidentally getting yourself in the other foot.

The Dogs are 0-2 and have a few reasons for being in that position, but in this game, at least late in the piece, you can hold their inaccuracy as one of the largest culprits.

 

THE WAIT MAN

14 disposals and a goal is a decent night at the office for a small forward. Sure, you may be of the opinion that a couple of goals is required, but for the most part, that level of output is a pass mark for a player like Cody Weightman.

Then what is he doing in the Bad section?

Well, that comes down to a lack of commitment to contest the footy in the air.

Twice in this game, Weightman waited for the footy and had an opponent come in, attack the contest hard and win the ball. One of those instances were blamed on the lights by the commentators, which is fine… until you realise that his opponent, who took the mark out in front of his face, was also looking into the same lights.

The second time, there was simply no excuse. He was just beaten by a player that wanted the footy more.

On both occasions, it was Mitch McGovern making the ground to affect the spoil, or take the mark.

Weightman has the tools to be one of the better small forwards in the game. There is an element of cheekiness about him that some people love and others… hmmm… don’t quite love as much. But the thing about great small forwards is that when it is their turn to go, they damn well go. Twice in this contest, Weightman sat and waited. Blame the lights if you like, but they didn’t seem to impact anyone else.

Maybe he needs to chat with Mason Cox about it?

 

RUNNING OUT OF GAS

Not the most urgent of problems, but the way the Blues ran out of legs probably needs to be addressed.

With the Dogs pressing, a lot of players looked like they were running up and down on one spot and when that starts to happen, the walls can close in quickly on a team. We saw errors creep into the game – and I have to credit an increased workrate from the Dogs for causing them – and players such as Lochie O’Brien and Adam Saad could have cost the Blues dearly.

At the end of the day, the team emerges with the four points and everyone goes away happy, but if the Bulldogs nail just one more of those shots at goal, the fact that Carlton were having so much trouble getting the ball beyond the centre in the last quarter could have been disastrous considering how wonderful they’d been for the first three quarters.

Great teams can dig deep, and whilst I am in no way calling this Carlton team great, I am sure they aspire to be just that. If so, when you have the opposition six goals down, you step on their throat. Never, ever let them stand to go toe-to-toe with you again.

 

THE UGLY

 

ECG IN THE CHANGEROOMS

Firstly, I hope Hayden Crozier is all well and good, and once he is assessed by a specialist at some point over the next few days, he gets cleared of anything wrong.

That would be ideal.

From the outside looking in, seeing a player hooked up to an ECG in the rooms is scary. For his family, it would have been of incredible concern, and I question the decision to show live footage of a bloke who was hooked up to an ECG machine on TV. I hope the club put in a call to them before they saw that.

To supporters, at a time when anyone will use anything to support their stance or position, I am really not sure it was a great look for the game.

This is a dicey topic that will attract a range of dissenting views, but the absolute best-case scenario is that Crozier is safe and well, and gets to head home to his family with his health. I reckon everyone can agree on that.

The word from the Dogs’ presser was that Crozier fainted at halftime. Fingers crossed he’s all good and this is the last we see of anything like this.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Sad to see Oscar McDonald subbed out of the game, even if it was for selfish motives. You see, I reckon that Oscar has one or two “Oh no, Oscar…” moments every game. If you can navigate through them, the rest of the time he’ll be an asset. His two moments in this one came before the injury. One was a grubbed 15m short pass that didn’t even get to the target, and the next one happened after marking on a switch where he kicked right into the man on the mark.

Never a dull moment with Oscar around – it is as though Liam Jones never left!

Another excellent display by Jack Macrae in this game. He just wins the footy so often – even at points where he seems as though he is not expecting it, the footy just seems to find its way to him. He is probably the best exponent of the one-two give and go in the game. If you’re playing on him, bumpers up every time he releases a handball – he is always looking to get it back.

Three really poor kicks in the first half from Caleb Daniel – I didn’t know what was going on. Two went out on the full and then another missed a teammate and put the Dogs under pressure. He responded well in the third quarter and in a lot of ways, kind of had to.

Apart from his out on the full brain fade in the last quarter, that was another solid effort from Lochie O’Brien. I can remember wondering how long it was going to be until he was no longer on an AFL list not too long ago, and when I saw him in the preseason, it was not at all dissuaded from that opinion. The first two weeks of the season, however… he’s been pretty bloody good!

The Dogs seem to be relying more on Adam Treloar with Bint struggling to generate power from stoppages. His 32 touches and a goal were very good in this one and quite reminiscent of the way he’d play at Collingwood – hard run to position, unafraid to take a bounce, and takes the responsibility to have a shot when he is running inside 50. That said, give me Bont in that role, but Treloar can be a weapon if used well.

Not sure what Lachie Hunter is up to, but being an elite wingman isn’t one of them. That Roarke Smith and Caleb Daniel are being played in the role ahead of him speaks volumes.

 

 

Aaaand that may just do me. Massive thanks to all our members who support what we do. It is greatly appreciated – HB

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