Carlton v Hawthorn – The Mongrel Review

What a game this was. Not really for the tightness of the contest or the result, but the way it unfolded. Much like their season, Carlton gave their fans a reason to be excited, followed by reasons for concern. As much as a 50+ point win can be concerning, anyway. Carlton fans would have preferred to see them really pile on the percentage, but four points are always welcome, while Hawthorn fans will rue a slow start that put the win out of reach by the main break.


Ins and Outs

Both teams welcomed back a lot of players to their squad, with Hawthorn wielding the axe on a team that went down to the Gold Coast last week, while the Blues had injuries and suspension to deal with.

Hawthorn had Wingard, Greene, Maginness, Morrison and Ward return at the expense of Mackenzie, Koschitzke, and Bramble, who were all omitted, while Impey was out due to a mystery injury announced yesterday.

Carlton were buoyed by the return of Ed Curnow, Hewett, and Silvagni, though the latter may be due to the injuries to Carlton’s ruck stocks in Pittonet and De Koning, while Cottrell serves his one-week suspension for a dangerous tackle and Paddy Dow treads the path back to the ressies, fuelling the rumours that he’s currently out of favour and a ‘gettable’ player at the end of the season, yet again.

While Ed Curnow has been a whipping boy in past seasons, he does bring a certain simplicity of see ball – get ball without worrying about who has it or if they’re in the way. I don’t mind the way he goes about it. He may not set the world aflame with his talent, but he’s fun to watch.


Slow start

If you ignore the first half, it was a fairly tight contest.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, that’s not how it works.

Despite dominating the ruck, Hawthorn struggled to turn that control into clearances. Watching the game, I think this was due to a combination of inexperience in the Hawthorn midfield, with Newcombe, Day and Moore all under 23, as well as Carlton understanding that they were playing without a recognised ruck, thus focused on sharking the work of Reeves and Meek or shutting down the ability for Hawthorn to get the ball away from the contest.

It meant that even when Hawthorn won the tap, they struggled to gain advantage from it, while Carlton were able to tackle and block passing lanes to force turnovers that turned into handball chains into space.

The Carlton defence were also exceptionally switched on, intercepting and tackling in a ferocious display that caused all sorts of hassle for the Hawthorn forward movement. They brought a sort of intensity and pressure-focused footy that should please the defensive coaching staff, as well as fans in general. The play launches from half-back were powerful through long passes or hard running from the likes of Saad, making it difficult for Hawthorn to counter without abandoning their own attacking structure.

The result was a 55-5 margin at half time, and Carlton had the game won before they’d even had their mid-game orange slices.


A resurgent second half

I don’t know if Sam Mitchell is partial to a spray, but a goalless half is probably one of the times when you could probably justify it.

Whatever it was, Hawthorn turned up the pressure immediately for the second half. The desperate kicks out of packs were put on hold and they worked hard to make space for each other. They put pressure on bodies to free up movement. They worked for each other in a way that they failed to do in the first half.

Carlton, to their credit, didn’t let them back into the game, but they didn’t really put them to the sword either. In one way, that was to their benefit, as they didn’t risk injuries to required players or burn too much energy in trying to bury Hawthorn, but with the top eight still a game and a half adrift and Sydney and Freo with better percentages, they’ll need some big scores to go with any wins.


Ruck battle

“Hey, Jack, Welcome back. How do you feel about playing Ruck?”

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been a Jack Silvagni fan. He’s been a middling player that to me, seems like his spot on the list has been a legacy position that exemplifies the Blues woes of old boy’s networks and wishing it was the 70’s again rather than taking risks and changing methods that might piss off coteries that hate change more than they hate losing.


He was very, very good against Boxhead Reeves,

Ned still had his number, but I think Reeves is an old-school big man with enormous potential. He’s a big, physical specimen that will develop into a monster in the next few years. So for Jack to do a decent job in an unfamiliar position while giving up about 20 cms and 20kg is a credit to the lad. It shows a willingness to commit to a role that the team needs and take on a challenge that would seem so steep that it may as well be effing vertical.

Meek spelling Boxhead didn’t give Young and Jack any relief either. While smaller than Reeves, Meek is a lot more mobile and very good in shoulder-to-shoulder ruck work.


Midfield contest

As mentioned earlier, a key element of Carlton’s success was the even contribution. There was no single irreplaceable cog in the machine, just a harmonious engine room purring like a well-tuned V8.

Cripps and Cerra were exceptional for the Blues, with Cripps showing a ton of class to break away from the pack and create chances for the Blues to move the ball quickly. It was also interesting to see Acres and Docherty play wide on the wings to add some width to the play, thus opening up the corridor for fast movement when Saad or Cerra wanted to carry the ball through at speed.

For Hawthorn, Worpel and Day looked potent at times, but their midfield struggled with Newcombe, Moore and Greene unable to make use of the ball that landed at their feet on the inside.

Ed Curnow seemed especially delighted with the youth and relatively smaller bodies in the Hawthorn midfield, rarely passing up an opportunity to let an opponent know he was there with a bump and a niggle, but the speed with which Walsh and Acres were able to tackle any Hawthorn mid trying to move the ball was a definite wake up call for the Hawks that are relying on their youngsters.


The stats that matter

There are a lot of stats that can be pointed to, but for my money it’s the efficiency inside 50 that tells the story. Carlton went at 51.9% (+2% for their 2023 average) while Hawthorn were at 31.3% (-15% on their average).

The reason for the difference was both due to the Blues defenders intercepting well, as well as some poor work from the Hawthorn mids. They looked like they were copying the sort of delivery that Aus post has become infamous for. All they needed to do to complete the transformation was to leave a card for Lewis and the other forwards informing them that they’d missed them, and Lewis could pick up the footy if he went to the post office later that day.

As a corollary to that, marks inside 50 also heavily favoured the Blues 20-8, as you might expect with the disparity in efficiency between the two sides. No doubt the abilities of McKay and Curnow help, but when you have mids kicking to the advantage of forwards, well, it makes their job easier.

The other interesting stat was the disposal leader numbers. Patty Cripps and Josh Ward led all-comers with a fairly sedate total of 28. Why does this matter? To me, it shows that there’s an evenness to the contribution of the midfield and playmakers. Cripps, Cerra, Walsh, Docherty and Saad all had the majority of the ball for their team, but with only a four-touch differential, Hawthorn couldn’t cover all the options without halting any chance of moving the ball forward. Saad was his usual line-breaking self, but Walsh, Cerra and Cripps made themselves available in different areas of the ground, causing the Hawks to spread, giving the person with the ball more time to select the best option. It’s great structural play, and made Hawthorn work very hard to counter.

The one who stood out the most for me though was Docherty. His situational awareness was brilliant in this game, on par with Clayton Oliver in being able to hit a running target out of a pack in a way that the runner can collect the ball without breaking stride. Again and again he’d give his team a fast break forward because of his vision and precision. He may not get Charlie votes in this one, but he played an instrumental role in getting the ball to someone in space and launching scoring opportunities.


Other bits.

Barry McKay showed how to spike the blood pressure of every former footy player at any level over the age of 40 when he insisted on kicking around the corner from about 40 metres out in the last quarter, only to fail to make the distance.

You could hear the sound of tens of thousands of old blokes yelling “dickhead” at their Harvey Norman interest-free televisions when he set it up, followed by a chorus of “Served him bloody right!” when the kick wilted like a servo bouquet in the car.

I can definitely see their point though. Barry must have forgotten that he was playing as Harry the forward today, not Ben the backman, but I guess even Clark Kent forgets to put his glasses on sometimes.


Next up:

Hawthorn will be looking forward to playing GWS at GIANTS Stadium. Not because they’re terribly keen on their chances after successive 10 goal plus losses, but because it’ll be their last game without their Captain Sicily, who will return from his suspension for a rough tackle in the Brisbane game. It’s hard to understate the impact he has on the team, as without his on-field leadership and physical presence, the youngsters seem to retreat into themselves a bit.

GWS will need to win, and win big if they want to contemplate some finals action, so they can be expected to try and emulate Carlton’s first half blitz. For what it’s worth, I think Hawthorn will be spending a lot of time this week drilling how to create space at the contest, so I would expect some improvement, but not enough to take the game away from the Giants.

GWS by 40 points.

Carlton face a stern test against Freo in Perth. The Dockers have been very unpredictable this season, with their best efforts capable of beating contenders like Melbourne and the reigning premiers, but their worst unable to account for North and being trounced by GWS.

Though, in fairness, Carlton are hardly the picture of consistency either.

This game could be either match of the round, or the sort of match that causes a whole generation to take up soccer instead. Let’s hope for the former, because at their best, both teams can play an exciting, direct brand of football with scoring options from multiple avenues, high marks and blistering runs.

I’m feeling optimistic, so I think we’ll have a good game on our hands here, with Carlton just getting the nod to really send the hopes of their fans to the moon (though if they get too carried away, they have no one to blame but themselves).

Blues by 4.