Carlton v West Coast – The Mongrel Review

I’ll be honest—I was looking forward to this one.

I figured that Curnow would relish the role as a solo forward target, but West Coast would feel like they could focus on deafening closely with him and maybe get a sniff due to the injuries at the Blues.

Well, turns out I was running at 50% efficiency in my prognostication.

Not only were West Coast not up to the challenge for a majority of the match, but they had yet another round of injuries that hampered their ability to form a complete structure.

Still, there are some positives to take out of the match. For Carlton, they showed they still have attacking power while McKay rests up, and Curnow made a giant leap towards getting himself back-to-back Colemans.

West Coast, their last quarter was pretty good, and they showed how versatile some of the players can be. The biggest positive though is that they’re one more game closer to season’s end and the draft, which will likely be the part that West Coast fans are looking forward to the most.

But, one team’s downfall is another’s jubilation in the great scheme of all things AFL, so let’s look at the game.


Ins and outs

While West Coast are enduring a horror season with injuries, Carlton’s upset victory against Port Adelaide came at a high price, with McKay’s injury likely to keep him out for a couple of months and Cerra and Cripps missing the match with hamstring tightness and a bleeding corkie respectively. Jack Martin also copped an injury, while Boyd got some forced time off due to suspension.

If this were a must-win match, I could see them both playing, but Carlton are in a moment of form, so I can see why they would rest vital players for a match against the likely wooden spooners.

As replacements, they brought in Ed Curnow, Honey, Coway, Young and Ollie Hollands. With the potential to move into the top eight form this game, each of the players coming in would be expected to be desperate to show that they can play a role in finals.

Still, it would have given West Coast a bit of heart to think that the side they faced would lack three key players in their squad.

However, luck has not been on West Coast’s side for some time. Losing their McGovern to concussion protocols, Ginbey to a hamstring and Barrass being a late out due to a dodgy shoulder, their ability to cover the speed and aerial power of Carlton was already heavily compromised.


Where the game was won

Without being too flippant, the game was won in the medical room. Carlton just had too much speed and aerial power for a makeshift West Coast defence to effectively counter. It’s hard enough defending a key forward when the ball is coming in as quickly from stoppages as it was in this game, but when that forward has Charlie Curnow’s ability to take a contested mark, it becomes especially daunting for the young defenders tasked with stopping him.

Carlton were out of the blocks quickly, putting 4.3 on the board before West Coast even got the ball into an attacking position. Oscar Allen worked hard to create his own opportunities, but just couldn’t capitalise as Carlton launched themselves into the lead, kicking 9.5 to 0.2 in the first.

Now, that’s not to say that teams can’t come from ten goals behind and win, and far be it for me to claim that Carlton aren’t capable of such bed-shittery, but not against this particular West Coast side. You can use plenty of positive adjectives about the Eagles in 2023; brave, unlucky, promising, hard-working, resilient… but not many would describe them as dangerous right now. And before the very passionate Eagles fans have a go at me, be honest here—how many of you would bet your house on them beating North next week, considering they’re coming to WA and potentially on a 17-game losing streak (assuming they lose to the Saints)?

Not many people make that bet unless they hate having cash, or they’re money laundering.

The state of affairs didn’t really improve in the second quarter. Long and Petrucelle did manage to find the goals, but any joy died in the throats of fans as they faced an 82-point deficit going into the major break. What made matters worse was that midway through the quarter, Shuey came off with a hamstring injury. He’s had a shocking run of leg injuries of late, and will likely be getting sick of hearing the word ‘retirement’ everywhere. His loss of on-field leadership certainly hurt their chances, but perhaps inspired the team to give more of themselves in the second half, which they did.

Carlton may have been in cruise mode, but West Coast showed heart to put on 8.5 for the second half to the 6.6 that the Baggers managed. It’d b easy to dismiss the effort, but I think it understates just how mentally tough some of the players for the Eagles were to keep going knowing that they were facing another thrashing. There’s a sort of romance about fighting against all odds, and with players like Gaff, Witherden, Hurnm and Petrucelle working hard in the second half, West Coast can at least take solace in knowing they won half a game, which when you consider Carlton only won half a game too, means the game was actually a draw. The Eagles will take that.


A bagger with a bagful

Charlie Curnow’s bag of ten will be a massive highlight for blues fans.

He kicked nine against them in Round Seven, so I have no doubt he would have had this game circled on his calendar from that point onwards.

West Coast haven’t been able to be competitive for four quarters very often this season, and with their defence already compromised with injuries, Curnow had to have known he would have every chance to have a big day out.

When he lined up against second-year defender Brady Hough, a bloke that he had an inch in height and about 15kg of muscle on, he would have been licking his lips.

And then when within the first few minutes he finds himself one-out just inside the 50 with Walsh on a burst, selling candy like he was Willy Wonka, easily disposes of his defender with his bodywork, miss-kicks a ball that drops short by 25 metres but STILL dribbles through with teammate Cunningham watching it just make it over the line, he had to know he was in for a blinder.

Curnow managed four in the first quarter, and while Hough did what he could, Curnow was doing as he liked, taking contested marks and even pulling one out of the ruck and kicking truly for his third. In the second quarter, Simpson moved his leading goalkicker Oscar Allen into defence and tasked him with stopping Charlie.

So, Curnow kicked six on him while Allen looked on with envy. I don’t think Simpson will be trying that one again. In fact, I’m confused about why he tried it at all, considering Rhett Bazzo was there, but maybe he had another task in mind.

West Coast did try to put him off his game, but left their run way too late. It wasn’t until his seventh goal that they even tried to get bodies onto him with the sort of back-line niggle that every defender enjoys, but how are you going to irritate a forward who has already got seven goals with a few tummy taps? Allen didn’t even try and step on his toes, let alone regale him with tales of his sexual prowess with his mother (although Ed Curnow may also have taken exception to that, so perhaps he didn’t want to be outnumbered).

Regardless, ten goals for a player is always worth celebrating, and realistically, it was probably the biggest reason to tune in for the second half. It had a feeling of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he would hit that mark, especially after a simple gather and kick from about 60 metres out went through for his ninth.

He had the Blues supporters in attendance on their feet when he fired one at the goals midway through the last quarter, but it hit the post. Carlton fans didn’t have to wait long though, as he showed that it really was his day when a dropped mark was smoothly gathered and snapped the ball, bouncing it twice before it went through for his tenth and teammates swarmed him in congratulations.

It puts him well ahead of Walker by eleven goals, with Larkey and Hawkins five goals behind that. There are no easy games on the run home though, with the Pies, Saints, Dees, Suns and Giants all fighting for a top-eight spot. Walker will have a slightly easier run home, with the final game of Adelaide’s regular season being against West Coast. They may need percentage to play finals, assuming they have a few more wins in the run home, so it could come down to whether Walker will be the focus of the match or will he play the selfless game and just try to set up teammates? Hawkins and Larkey will have to have some big bags to overcome the sixteen-goal deficit, but it’s not impossible.


Ruck battle

Bailey Williams versus Tom DeKoning is a duel we will be seeing for a while. Both are hitting the age where big men start to flourish, and I’ve been pretty impressed by the way both have developed. DeKoning may get a bit more press (at least outside of WA), but Williams has done a lot right in a season where most of his teammates cannot say the same.

In this match up, they both attended a similar number of contests and had around the same number of hitouts, but it was DeKoning’s work with his midfield that really set them apart. He had four more hitouts to advantage and four more stoppage clearances, though his 0.3 in front of goal to Williams’ 1.0 did show he was a little less polished when given the chance.

Still, a ruck’s role is to ruck, so DeKoning gets the chocolates here.

The second string had Jack Williams against Lewis Young, with Jack Silvagni playing a part until he came off with an injury.

Young outclassed Jack Williams in pretty much every category, and looked far hungrier. Likely, he’s aware that he’s on the fringe of a team looking to play finals, and wanted to make a claim on a spot. He didn’t do his chances any harm, but still didn’t have the sort of game that demands inclusion in the next few weeks.

He did account for Williams in this match though, so he gets the nod there.


The stats that matter

As the scoreline would suggest, Carlton easily won the inside 50 count, but much of that can be put down to their dominance in clearances. They managed 57 to the Eagles’ 25, with a majority of those coming from around-the-ground stoppages. They just had too many big bodies at the ball, and runners that were willing to stick to their structure when the ball came out.

Those bigger bodies also allowed them to dominate in the air, easily winning the contest marks that came their way.

One stat that stood out for West Coast was the game of Alex Witherden. He managed to run at 80% efficiency for his 30 touches and seven marks, all to give his side a game-high 579 metres gained. His role was akin to the way we’ve see Gaff play, and while Gaff dug in for his side, Witherden was to my mind, the Eagles’ best on ground.


Other bits

Carlton will be worried about possible injuries to Jack Silvagni (knee), Sam Walsh (hamstring) and Jesse Motlop (calf) as they all finished the game on the bench. All three looked good in this game, and Carlton would dearly love to have them available for the big match against the Pies.

Ex-Carlton player Petrevski-Seton will probably have an appointment with the tribunal due to a dangerous tackle on Alex Cincotta. It looked like the tackle slammed Cincotta’s head into the harder part of the ground over the boundary line, and in real-time he seemed shook up as he came off, but after going through the concussion protocols he returned to te match. The AFL tends to lean heavily on consequence over intent, so he may just have a fine, but if the medical report is concerning enough, he may have a stint on the sidelines.

Luke Shuey’s hamstring is just another in the long line of leg injuries that have plagued the Eagles for the last few seasons.

Culley, Petrucelle, Ginbey, Jones, Naitanui, Ryan, West, McGovern and many others have all had leg or knee issues that have hampered their form. At some stage, it has to stop being a matter of bad luck and they need to look at a possible cause. Perhaps it’s related to their training program? Their running shoes or running surface? Overwork? Underwork? A mischievous leprechaun that delights in kicking their shins in their sleep? I have no insight on that, but when this sort of injury run goes on long enough, I think it’s a little passive to just blame bad luck. I have no doubt the West Coast support staff do their absolute best every single day, but whether it’s a miscalibrated machine or a poltergeist, something needs to be actively done to address it.


Next up

Carlton take on the old foe Collingwood in a Friday night matchup. While Carlton fans can look forward to a decent contest, it’d be a very brave person to tip against the Pies in their current form. Their work-rate is a level above, their coolness under pressure is sublime, and their ability to spot a forward target is the best in the comp. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.

I think Collingwood win, but with one eye to September, they’ll be happy with a small win and no injuries.

Collingwood by 17.

The Harley Reid Cup kicks off on Sunday at Optus Stadium. West Coast supporters should be excited about their match, hosting 17th-placed North Melbourne. Normally when 17th plays 18th, I’ll tip the spooner team because they’ll treat it like a grand final, but with Shuey out of the midfield and Barrass with a bung shoulder, I’m not so sure. Factor in that Larkey will be looking at Curnow’s haul and targeting a decent return to get him into the Coleman running, as well as it being Brett Ratten’s last game as coach, and I think North will have plenty to play for.

Having said that, it all depends on how North’s defensive structure holds. At times it’s resembled a group project at uni where everyone looks busy, but they’re really just spending all their time in the library chatting up the staff. It’ll be very interesting to see how they play Allen, as well as what the midfield of both teams will look like.

It really is anyone’s guess, but I’ll take North for the win by 13.



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