After the disappointment of coughing up what should have been four points in Round One, Carlton learnt their lessons, played good, hard footy down the stretch, and secured a win over the reigning premiers, dropping the Cats to 0-2 in the process.
It was billed as the game of the Coleman Medallists, with the last four Coleman winners all lining up in this contest. However, it was only two that truly shined bright… until very late in the piece, at least. Charlie Curnow kicked five for the winners and looked every part the superstar the Blues have waited for. Meanwhile, Jeremy Cameron owned the forward fifty for the Cats, slotting six majors for the evening to keep the Cats alive.
Blake Acres played a significant role off the wing, righting his own personal wrongs of last weekend, whilst Matt Kennedy stepped to the fore as well, playing the combative midfield role normally occupied by the injured George Hewett.
The Blues seemed to find someone to stand up whenever the Cats seriously challenged. Matt Owies found space, Adam Saad played one of his better games as a Blue, and after being subdued by Mark Blicavs in the second quarter, Patrick Cripps powered back into the action in the third as the Blues opened up what would end up being a matchwinning break.
Plenty to get through in this one – let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly
THE CHARLIE AND JC SHOW
They say that defence wins flags, but big forwards put bums on seats. I kind of mixed the order of that around, as it is supposed to be complimentary to defenders, but screw it – it can be complimentary to forwards, as well.
It was a privilege watching two of the game’s best do their work in a standalone fixture to kick off Round Two. The first half belonged to Charlie Curnow, as he quickly discovered he was far too agile for Esava Ratugolea to handle and began moving without the footy to lose the big man. What resulted was Curnow getting out in space, taking marks and kicking goals – three of his five came in the first half, before the Cats started to drop Sam De Koning back to help out, as well.
If you ever wanted an indication as to how important Tom Stewart is to Geelong, this game would be it. They missed his solid positioning and the way he structures up the back six. They missed his leadership back there. With him in the way, the leading lanes are closed down more often, allowing Big Sav to engage the body of Charlie and bring the ball to ground.
But we are not dealing in what ifs – Tom Stewart wasn’t playing, and as a result, Charlie Curnow was able to find plenty of space inside fifty to move into. And he ended up doing so a little too easily, at times, particularly against a defence that was close to watertight in 2022.
At the other end, a banged-up Jeremy Cameron looked to be Geelong’s best chance to pull the margin back and take the lead. His six goals came from an assortment of sources, with a couple of booming drop punts combining with snaps around the corner to provide some real highlights for Cats fans.
Not only was Cameron on-song when it came to kicking goals, he was also spotted down back on a few occasions, at one point getting right back as the last man in defence to punch a shot at goal through. Cameron is still an aerobic beast and has a cruising speed that makes my top speed look pathetic. He finished with 25 touches to go with his six goals in a best-on-ground performance in a losing team.
Of course, there were other big forwards out there, and I’ll get to one next.
THE LAST FIVE MINUTES OF HARRY MCKAY
We’ve got a term here at The Mongrel Punt used to describe the type of mark a player takes when he becomes the down-the-line target. I call them the “Get out of Jail” marks, or the GooJ marks. They’re the Mark’s that offer a team relief when there are no other options available. Long, high balls down the line and the bug guys go “clunk”.. I started recording them last season, which meant I had to watch every game… which also meant Mrs Mongrel pondered killing me. So whilst I am not covering them in depth this season, lest I be murdered, I still take a vested interest in them as I watch the game.
In the last five minutes of this game, Harry McKay clunked four of these types of marks. All were long, down-the-line kicks hoping for someone to take a big grab for the Blues. Harry put his hand up (two of them, actually) and did exactly that every single time.
For context, the highest recorded number of GooJ marks in a game in 2022 was four. That’s it.
McKay collected four of these in the final five minutes, as he ran his opponent up the wing and back again to compete in multiple contests in the same chain.
I am sure some will rain on Harry’s parade, indicating that he didn’t do much for the other 115 minutes of game time, and I get your point, but when he was asked to get up the ground and present, that is exactly what he did, dragging down big contested grabs to take the heat off the Blues and give them some breathing space.
SAAD V STENGLE
Tyson Stengle is an opportunist, and whilst in this game, he did not create the opportunity for himself to hit the scoreboard, he sure as hell did it for others, notching three direct goal assists amongst his eight score involvements for the game.
Unfortunately for Stengle, the damage Adam Saad started to inflict on the rebound probably outweighed the amount of brilliance Stengle displayed in short doses.
Saad is a polarising player. I know a few people who simply don’t rate him and don’t think he genuinely dislikes to defend, but when confronted with a task, he always seems to stick to his guns and makes every attempt to shoot down his direct opposition – it just so happens that the way he does that doesn’t fit with the description of what a defender should do.
For Saad, sometimes the best form of defence is a good offence. If he can lull his opponent into giving him a little space, it doesn’t take much for him to bolt out of defence and sow the seeds of chaos all over the ground.
And that is what Saad is – a chaos merchant. Nick Blakey does it at Sydney, Daniel Rioli does it at Richmond, and Saad has been doing it for years. When he takes off with the footy under his arm, opposition players converge from everywhere. They know they need to stop that run and carry quickly before Saad gets those pistons pumping and leaves everyone for dead.
What that does is open up avenues as the opponents shift focus, so whilst some may not like the way Adam Saad goes about his footy, in many ways, it is an ignorance of what he does do married with a preconceived idea of what he should be doing.
That just doesn’t work for Saad, though. His wins are big wins.
That said, Tyson Stengle had a couple of nice wins of his own, with the best being the nice win in a one versus one encounter with Saad, leading to him feeding Brad Close for a goal in the third quarter. Forwards don’t need much space to hurt you and three or four instances can make it seem as though a defender has not done their job. But there was more to Saad than just three or four instances in this game, and ultimately, he held Stengle goalless. To me, that is a clear win in their match up.
THE UNSUNG MIDFIELDER
Can you remember a time when Matt Kennedy was doubted as an AFL footballer? It was only a couple of coaches ago, you know?
Kennedy is a Michael Voss success story. Emboldened by Voss’ support, Kennedy has become a vital part of the Carlton midfield over the last couple of seasons after being a bit of a whipping boy for previous regimes. It was as though Kennedy got the nod from Voss and everything clicked into gear.
In a midfield missing George Hewett and Sam Walsh, Kennedy elevated his game to crack in and record four clearances amongst his 26 disposals, but what impressed me most were the little things he did. In one passage of play, Kennedy got his hands on the footy three times without a disposal being recorded. He was burrowing in, refusing to allow the Cats to extract the ball, and basically fighting like an animal to ensure his team got control of the footy.
And you know what?
Kennedy, Cripps, Ed Curnow… they have something about them you have to love – genuine mongrel. And when you see a player having a dip like Matt Kennedy did in this game, you cannot help but feel happy for him that he persisted when others may not have believed in him. He’s got the belief now and I reckon he is relishing it – it was evident in his play in this one.
Just quickly, I love the way Jacob Weitering goes about his business. There is just no bullshit about him.
If Stephen Silvagni had another son… other than Jack and Ben, I reckon it would have been Jacob Weitering. He is all business out there, works extremely hard, takes the big jobs, and rarely lowers his colours.
Jobs don’t come much bigger than Tom Hawkins, but with the ball pinging around from end to end, seeing Weitering position himself so well to combat Hawkins’ obvious physical gifts… it was an excellent defensive effort to hold him to one goal from three marks for the night.
It’s about time he made the AA team, too.
THE JACK BOWES SET SHOT
Oh yes, this was bad. 25 metres out, slight angle, scores starting to tighten up… and Jack Bowes barely makes contact with his boot, sending the ball across the face for a miss.
These types of misses – “gimmes” they’re called – are so deflating to a team, as a whole. When the side is fighting hard to conjure something to ensure they remain in the game and they get the ball forward to a position that should be a formality for an AFL player to convert, only to watch on as the player completely botches the shot… it’s those moments that take the wind out of the sails.
Over the course of the game, Bowes did some nice things. Playing mostly on the wing, he worked his way into the game and ran hard both ways. I am sure there’ll be a heap of footage highlighting his workrate and his willingness to run for teammates, but that image of him shanking a shot at goal that even my old ass should kick 19 times out of 20… that will likely haunt him for a little while.
The Cats might be the best team to be 0-2 in a while, huh?
Any cause for alarm? No? Not even the slightest little worry?
Well, maybe a couple. The defence does not look anywhere near as formidable as it was 12 months ago. Part of me wonders whether Mark Blicavs should have been deployed back there to bolster it instead of leaving the inexperienced and both brilliant/clumsy Esava Ratugolea to attempt to curtail Charlie Curnow. I know who I’d rather subduing him.
The other small reason is the form of recruit, Tanner Bruhn, who notched ten touches this week after 17 last week. I am not sure whether my expectations are too high of him at the moment, but he completely went out of the game this week when it was there to be one. His lone last quarter touch was everything special about him (the spin out of trouble after a head clash with Adam Cerra) followed by a disastrous kick out on the full with the Cats crying out for some good service.
Add in Brad Close to this, as well. I am a big fan of this bloke, but he has been sleepwalking through he first two games, with ten touches last week and just eight this week. As a high half-forward, Close should be notching numbers in the teens, so something is up with him.
THE BEST OF WHAT’S LEFT IN DEFENCE?
I’m talking about Esava Ratugolea, here.
I don’t know what to do with this bloke – he doesn’t seem to be a natural footballer at all, to me, so where do you plonk him?
He was nowhere near it as a forward and whilst he can attack the footy in the air well, he looks lost when the ball hits the deck and lacks the game awareness to make good decisions when the heat is on. Chris Scott is obviously committed to making his move into defence work, but I wonder whether he gives up on this project once Jake Kolodjashnij, Tom Stewart, and Jack Henry are all available.
As a defender, if he gets a clean run at the footy, he can take a mark or make a big spoil, but he just looks completely out of his depth in a one-on-one contest when he is forced to body an opponent.
At the moment, it really seems like the Cats are flogging a dead horse with him back there. He’ll clunk a few marks, but will also give his opponents a real chance to beat him.
And when they do best him, it hurts far more than the wins ease the pain.
Anyone else hear Jobe Watson comment about how well Blake Acres has slotted into the Carlton back six? Pity he has played on the wing in both games and basically every game he has ever played in the league.
Sam De Koning looked like he had a hard day at the office in this one. Copped a few heavy knocks but was still competing hard and attacking the footy in flight.
I reckon people have forgotten how hard Ed Curnow works out on the field. At the moment, with a full list available, Ed probably doesn’t get a run, but he did in this one and made the most of it. With 26 touches, a goal, and eight tackles, he will be difficult to displace.
Cam Guthrie’s disposal… has it always been poor, or am I just noticing it now because it is poor?
Adam Cerra had a bit of a hard start, with turnovers proving costly. In the first quarter, he had two turnovers from 11 touches, but the turnovers were terrible efforts a player of his calibre should not be making.
I still love what I see from Max Holmes. The bloke has “future star” written all over him. That’s what happens when you’re the first one to fall asleep at a sleepover, Max. Let that be a lesson to you.
Can I just check – Mitch McGovern’s strong suit is taking marks, right? I thought I’d check, because he seemed to have completely forgotten how to do this at points in this game. Plus, his lace out delivery to Jeremy Cameron from full back… ouch.
That said, it was Gov who laid the big tackle on Cameron in the goal square a little while later to save the goal he gave away moments before.
Speaking of tackling… that may have been the worst collective tackling effort I remember seeing for the Cats in quite a while. They just could not stick them at stages, giving the Blues second and third opportunities to dispose of the footy.
And that might just about do me. Excellent win by the Blues – showed the composure they lacked last week and refused to cough the footy up so easily.
As for the Cats, they’re one of the few teams an 0-2 start will not phase. They’ll string games together in the middle of the season and this’ll be forgotten about… as long as they get their troops back. Hard to fight battles when you’re the walking wounded.