Finals Player Ratings – Carlton v Sydney

In each game of the 2023 AFL Finals Series, the Mongrel team rate every player out of ten to compile scores to name the Mongrel Player of the Finals.
Who will join previous winners? Let’s get into it.

Carlton (JB)

[17] Brodie Kemp (6)

Kemp’s stats don’t really tell the whole story. He was great at keeping the Sydney forward line honest, balancing the shoulder-to-shoulder work with smart zone defence as he helped out the other backmen. He was a little messy at times, especially in the latter moments of the game where he decided to keep the ball in rather than concede a point, resulting in a goal to Sydney, but that’s the harsh reality of being a defender—You can be great all game, but one bad choice is what people remember, and his clumsiness with just a handful of minutes left in the game gifted Sydney a goal. Still, he can certainly be proud of most of his game.


[23] Jacob Weitering (8)

While the likes of Walsh, Cripps and Cerra will get (and deserve) a lot of credit for Carlton’s season, Weitering’s contribution cannot be underestimated. Carlton have a very settled backline that functions brilliantly as a team due to the balance of players they have, and Weitering’s adaptability forms a key part of this.

Carlton’s defence might be a little underrated, but let’s look at an interesting stat. In 2023, only four teams conceded less than 1,700 points (Collingwood, Melbourne, St Kilda and Carlton). That’s some decent company to keep.

In this match, Weitering showed all his capabilities. He had some strong marks under pressure, but also occupied passing lanes to intercept well. He focused on short, accurate kicks over long bombs out of defence, and regularly launched scoring opportunities.

While Sydney’s inaccuracy is mostly their own fault, the pressure that Weitering and his co-conspirators were able to bring certainly helped keep Sydney off balance, and taking hurried shots that ultimately missed the mark.


[24] Nic Newman (8)

Even if you dislike the Blues, it’s hard to dislike Newman. The veteran defender may not be the prettiest player to watch, but he is unfailingly reliable in his ability to make a contest. He seemed determined to put a body on every Sydney player he could get near, perhaps still smarting that Sydney gave him up to Carlton for only a fourth-rounder back in 2018 (Which looks like an absolute bargain for the Blues in hindsight).

When their backline boasts plenty of pace and genuine star defenders, there will always be a place for a workhorse that can act as the vital link in possession chains or spend a bit of time further up the ground as needed. Newman got a decent amount of the ball through sheer gut-running and willingness to make a contest, which allowed every other defender around him to trust that he’d either cause a stoppage or win the ball at every opportunity, which meant they could keep out of the congestion and hold to their structure. A great backman’s game.


[39] Alex Cincotta (6)

Cincotta was there. He wasn’t a hindrance to the team, but he wasn’t exactly a big benefit either. And that’s fine, his role wasn’t to be a star, it was to be a grunt that made his opponents earn every ball.

Still, he didn’t really manage to get much of it himself, with just nine touches and three tackles. It might sound a bit harsh, given the lad is in his first season of AFL football, but finals aren’t about being good considering their circumstances, it’s about being good despite them.

Still, he was far from the worst on the ground, and will learn from this one.


[11] Mitch McGovern (8)

McGovern played his role very well. He wasn’t trying to be a star, but when the Swans were on a fast break, his decision to leave his player and try for the intercept was rarely wrong. Solid, smooth effort that epitomised the Carlton defence.


[42] Adam Saad (8)

Eight might seem like a high score for Saad, considering we didn’t really see his trademark three-bounce run through the middle, but he managed to cover plenty of metres with the ball and made up for in quantity what he may have lacked in single instances. He managed 11 intercepts, 23 touches and 503 metres gained in a quality outing for his side. He did have a few clangers, but most of those were clearing kicks under pressure, and his disposal was reasonably clean all game.


[13] Blake Acres (10)

An incredible performance from Acres, and a perfect example of how to play finals football. He was intense, desperate, and completely unwilling to give an inch.

His highlights included two goal-line efforts to get a finger to the ball, both of which were successful (though some may say they shouldn’t have been. Regardless, the effort was impressive). Then, in the last few minutes when Carlton were trying to hang on, he surges forward to kick the sealer.

He had a lot of the ball, pushed forward on occasion, but also ran back when there was a turnover, and he did it with such intensity that Sydney couldn’t run with him—which is no small feat considering Sydney’s quality of runners.

If Walsh was the workhorse in this match, Acres was the big moment player, full of desperation, intensity and a relentless attack on the ball.

And that’s what finals footy is all about.


[9] Patrick Cripps (8)

Carlton have hitched their wagon to Cripps for quite a while now, which makes a lot of sense due to the class and ability he has, but, it’s even better for them to be in a position where they don’t need Cripps to have a monster game for them to win.

Don’t get me wrong, Cripps was good, but I think his opponent Mills was better for most of the game. Patty seemed to struggle to work inside or find easy space outside—which is more a testament to the work that Sydney put into containing him than it is any lack of effort on his part.

Still, he has an enviable ability to break packs and find teammates, which he still managed to do.

The most concerning part of his game I noticed was how often he’d cop a hit and stay on the ground for 20-30 seconds. Sydney definitely targeted him with physicality, but that’s what happens in finals. Knocking down an opposing champion at every contest in a (mostly) legal way is pretty much expected. In fact, my flabber would have well and truly been gasted if the Swans didn’t do exactly that. Especially when Martin, Acres and Docherty were all happy to ensure their opponents didn’t leave the ground without a few bruises too.

The famous Australian stoic philosopher David Clarence Boon used to no-sell his injuries and hurt every time he was met with a thundering bouncer from the likes of Curtley Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall or Courtney Walsh. Even when fielding at silly mid on and intercepting a certain Viv Richards four with his abdomen, he’d simply nod, adjust his box a little and get ready for the next ball.

Cripps lacked a bit of that in this match. He didn’t shirk the contact, not at all. But he let them see he was hurting. That’s not to say that every human on the planet wouldn’t be feeling the effects of being battered by 90kg men for two hours, but in finals it’s always going to be about taking the best shot your opponent has, and smiling back while asking “is that all you got?”.

It might seem unfair to be so critical of a player who is certainly a champion, but being a champion Carlton player shouldn’t be enough for a bloke with this much talent.

He has the ability to be a champion premiership player, if he can get a little more Boonie about him.


[15] Sam Docherty (8)

Home ground advantage was always going to play into the Blues’ hands, and the Swans would have known that quieting the crowd would be a huge help in keeping the Blues contained.

But it was all for naught when Docherty blew the lid off the simmering expectations of the Carlton faithful in attendance when he kicked the first goal of the night within 90 seconds of the opening bounce.

He was utterly relentless from siren to siren, splitting his time down back and in the middle.  His work on Gulden, as dangerous a player as any in this season, was nothing short of brilliant. He played a solid role, balancing his defensive accountability with pushing forward on overlap runs.

He was a little wasteful on occasion, but with the pressure of finals footy, I think he deserves a pass for his generally good ball use.


[21] Jack Martin (9)

For my money, Martin played one of his best games in the navy blue strip. He managed to play with a lot of intensity (probably too much according to Nick Blakey’s chin), made the most of his chances in front of goal and managed to occupy passing lanes to intercept or spoil the ball.

His physicality will probably have him in trouble with the tribunal, but Carlton’s legal team are second-to-none. I reckon he’s a chance to escape suspension on appeal.


[10] Harry McKay (3)

A night to forget for McKay, which is a bit rough to say considering he ended up with a concussion.

Finals pressure is always intense, but for a Coleman medallist to miss a goal from less than 15 metres away isn’t a great look. To do it twice though, especially with the second being a set shot is even worse.

Harry did manage to clunk a few marks though, and even set up some teammates with some quick disposal, including two nice ones to Curnow, but when your job is to hit the scoreboard, you can’t miss the chances that Harry did and expect a pat on the back. Those easy misses threatened to demoralise his teammates who worked so hard to get the ball to that area of the ground, especially the second miss in the third quarter when Sydney had the momentum.

He’ll likely miss next week with concussion protocols, so he’ll have plenty of time to stew on those kicks, and probably spend most evenings in front of goals, practicing set shots in the hope that his team can make it through until he can come back in.


[28] David Cuningham (5)

Cuningham had a decent, if unremarkable game. He managed to stay out of the way of the big targets up forward, and hit the scoreboard himself as well, so not a bad outing. He stayed on the outside for the most part though, and I’d personally have preferred to see him hit the packs running for a quick handoff, though with how often Curnow was grabbing every mark coming his way, I can see why it might seem like a wasted run.


[8] Lachie Fogarty (6)

Fogarty played his role, mostly as a pressure forward to aside the focal points in the area. It’s a great testament to Voss’ coaching ability that so many players stuck to their roles when the pressure was on. Fogarty was great with his tackling, with three of his eight coming in the forward 50.

The most enjoyable part of his game though, was how often he was willing to put his body on the line to allow Curnow or Cottrell a chance at a ball coming into the forward 50. He did just enough to impact the defence without giving away a blocking free, which is a fine (but highly impactful) line to tread.


[30] Charlie Curnow (9)

The stickiest hands on the ground.

Time and again, Carlton would send a 50/50 ball forward and he’d own the contest, despite being outnumbered.

And then he’d bust a gut running into the defensive half to impact a contest, including in the dying minutes of the game.

He might have only managed a single goal, but he was enormously impactful around the ground in both offensive and defensive efforts, and his field kicking was pretty good too.


[44] Matthew Owies (5)

Owies certainly brought the effort, but didn’t really have enough impact on the game. He was running hard all evening, but just struggled to have the influence that Carlton would have liked.

He did manage a goal, but it should have been at least two with the chances he had. It might have been a bit of nervousness over the occasion, but he’ll be better for the experience.


[27] Marc Pittonet (8)

Pittonet won the ruck contest in my opinion. Hickey is no slouch, and while they had similar influence at the bounce, around the ground Pittonet dominated the stoppages, especially against McLean. Rather than feel overawed, Pittonet regularly trusted himself to earn his own clearances, taking the ball out of stoppages all by himself.

Great to see from a bloke who probably needed to have a big one to repay the faith the Blues have placed in him.


[5] Adam Cerra (9)

An excellent game from Cerra. Worked his arse off, and had a hand in just about every score Carlton managed to get.

With 24 touches, he got more of the ball than almost anyone on the ground, and his seven tackles show just how willing he was to work just as hard without the ball.

A complete effort from Cerra that lifted the whole midfield.


[18] Sam Walsh (9)

I was debating whether to give Walsh a perfect 10, but I had him falling just short. Say a 9.49. He had a game-high 29 touches, seven score involvements and 17 contested possessions in a match where the ball was in dispute for much of the game.

He was the workhorse who did the hard yards and just kept giving his teammates the ball around the contest.

So, why not a 10? Well, mostly because there were a few times when he’d handball to a player that was already under pressure when another option would have let them open up the play. Now, that’s not to say it’s easy to pick the perfect option within a split second while four opposition players are looking to tackle you through the turf, but a little bit of wastefulness denies him full marks here.

Plus, as good as he was, I still think we haven’t seen the best of Walsh in this finals series.

But, the positives far outweigh the negatives. A 23-year-old kid went head-to-head with a very competent and finals-experienced midfield, and emerged on top. I’m sure if Horse had his time again, he’d have selected Ryan Clarke to run with Walsh, but based on the intensity he brought here, I’m not sure that putting the clamps on Sam would have reduced his impact much at all.


[22] Caleb Marchbank (6)

Marchbank was serviceable, but not the most active contributor for the match. In his defence, he wasn’t short of effort, running hard and putting on some pretty heavy tackles. Like so many of his teammates though, he had a role to play and he stuck with it. He didn’t have to be a star, he just had to make sure the stars around him had the space and time to do what they needed to do.


[29] George Hewett (7)

Hewett didn’t have a terrible game, but he had some terrible moments. His first half was a bit of a stinker as he turned over the ball far too often.

However, he did manage to get the ball quite a bit, and his five tackles and five clearances showed that he did work his way into the game as it went on.


[46] Matthew Cottrell (10)

A career-best game for 23-year-old Cottrell. His work as a forward was nothing short of perfect, leading away from Curnow and McKay as they worked up the ground or closer to goal. A third tall getting a couple of goals is already a good game, but adding in some fantastic defensive work, culminating in a beautiful run-down tackle on Gulden at the end of the third quarter means I can’t fault the bloke.

His game was exactly the type of thing that finals footy reveals—players that thrive under pressure and take themselves to the next level through sheer guts and an iron will.

If this is the type of game he’s planning on bringing next week, Blues fans shouldn’t be too concerned about McKay sitting out due to a head knock.


[12] Tom De Koning (4)

TDK was off the boil for most of the night. Soundly beaten in the ruck by both Hickey and McLean, his work around the ground was mostly ordinary as well. When swinging forward or back, he was routinely bodied out of marks and twice outmuscled in the goal square when he should have been able to score.

To his credit though, he would have been aware that he was struggling, and instead of just hanging his head, he kept pushing. With just a few minutes left in the match, he managed to set up a great play that saw Acres kick the sealer. While TDK will probably see a lot of lessons to be learned in this match, it does show that even when it’s not your night, it can still be your moment if you stick at it.

Had he not made that play, I think it’s likely that Lygon st would be a far sorrier place tonight.


Sub [3] Jesse Motlop (3)

While losing McKay would have worried Blues fans, Motlop brought the type of energy that Voss would have wanted from him as a sub when he came in near the end of the third quarter.

Unfortunately, it seemed like he was more pent up than a 25-year-old virgin about to pop his cherry with a three-way. He had energy to burn, and ran hard to attack the ball, but once he got there he looked like he was trying to move in six directions at once. If footy was a multiple choice questionnaire, Motlop would have been spamming “D – All of the above” for every answer.

On a positive note, he was harassing his opponent every time the Swans were near the ball, and while that pressure doesn’t really make an interesting stat, the fact it came at a time when Sydney were digging deep to take their shot at a win did look like it had some impact.

Still, finishing with zero touches in a winning game is always better than finishing with zip in a losing one. Just ask Cam Mooney.



Sydney (The Doc)

[43] Lewis Melican – 6

Didn’t feel like he did much wrong in this game, although that might have changed if Harry McKay had discovered his kicking boots. Still, for someone who had been maligned a fair bit in recent years, came into this side with a job of manning one of the key forwards and with three intercept marks to his name, was really solid.


[30] Tom McCartin – 9

Spent a lot of the night on Charlie Curnow and kept him to just one goal. Charlie was prominent aerially in this game, but a lot of them came from outside the forward 50 – inside the 50, McCartin had the points and convincingly. Him and Melican spent time switching between the pair really, but McCartin was the one responsible for peeling off and intercepting at numerous points of the evening. He had 6 intercept marks and nine overall. Out of his 18 touches, he had 12 intercept possessions and 10 contested.


[24] Dane Rampe – 5

Bit of a strange night for Rampe – the stats will read he had 16 disposals, kicked at 67 percent and had eight intercept possessions and took a couple of intercept grabs, but it felt as if he didn’t have a huge influence on the contest.


[44] Jake Lloyd – 8

Proved to be a steady hand in defence for a lot of the night. He provided the run, the drive and the composure to rebound out of the defence a fair bit. Finished with 27 disposals, 578 metres gained, 19 kicks and 79 per cent efficiency and 10 marks, including three intercept marks. He was one of the Swans’ best when the going got tough.


[22] Nick Blakey – 8

After a quiet opening term – courtesy of the HIA protocol after a head high hit from Martin, the Lizard got very busy as the game progressed, his willingness to take the game on when the Swans were working their way back from a sluggish start. He finished with 23 disposals, with 14 kicks at just a smidge under 93 per cent efficiency and 476 metres gained. His defensive work was outstanding – his ability to intercept was gold class, with nine intercept possessions, including a pair of intercept marks also three contested one-on-ones without a loss is something to hang your hat on too.


[13] Oliver Florent – 3

Didn’t see a lot of the footy across half back, only registering 13 disposals and eight kicks at 50 percent efficiency, but also recorded six rebound 50s and two intercept marks, but overall it wasn’t one of his better nights.


[21] Errol Gulden – 10

Just felt like it was the run-of-the-mill game from Errol that we’re used to seeing from this year. Provided plenty of run and dash through the wings and through the middle of the ground and his kicking was quite clinical at times. 20 kicks at 85 percent efficiency is great numbers. Also had 20 pressure acts, eight marks and seven score involvements for two goals. As that song goes, I would do anything, just to be like him.


[1] Chad Warner – 6

Burrowed in well and worked hard defensively, but was often deterred by shoddy and rushed kicking when going forward. Missed a golden opportunity to bridge the gap at the quarter time siren, but he was far from disgraced. 10 contested possessions is the equal-most of any Swan on the ground and led the Swans for pressure acts with 27 for the match. A good effort, but not his best performance to date.


[14] Callum Mills – 7

Had the job on Patrick Cripps for most of the night, and by half time, Mills had the honours. Holding him to just eight touches. Cripps would get off the leash a little more after half time, which would hurt Mills’ rating a little bit. Both men finished on 21 touches, but it felt as if Mills’ disposals were a bit blase.


[11] Tom Papley – 6

He wasn’t the worst on the ground, and I don’t think he was disgraced when he was thrusted into the midfield – 18 disposals, 10 contested possessions and 18 pressure acts are fine numbers, but it would’ve been nice to see him hit the scoreboard – he had seven score involvements for one behind and two goal assists.


[2] Hayden McLean – 9

It was a near perfect game for McLean. Who was by far the cleanest and most dangerous tall forward at Sydney’s disposal. He had 12 marks for the game, three of them were contested. Missed a shot he should’ve kicked early in the game, but kicked the last goal of the match when it was just about too little, too late. 16 disposals and eight score involvements is a neat return too.


[15] Sam Wicks – 4

He’s got a great pressure game Wicksy – 22 pressure acts was top five at the club and also had six tackles. But he leaves a lot of other things to be desired. 14 disposals, including nine kicks at just 33 per cent efficiency and two shots on goal that went begging. Even converting one of them would’ve changed the rating significantly.


[5] Isaac Heeney – 4

Started well by getting his hands to the footy a fair bit, but as the game progressed, he struggled and struggled hard. He finished with 16 disposals coming across half forward and midfield. Both his impact on the scoresheet and his kicking was a let down; nine kicks at 33 per cent, and just two score involvements. A plus was 20 pressure acts – showed he worked hard defensively.


[36] Joel Amartey – 4

It was a what-if game for Joel Amartey, I’ve been really impressed with how he’s progressed with his development this year and have no doubts that he’ll be a best 22 player heading into 2024 – but missed some set shots most would’ve converted. He did convert a goal on half time, but was subbed out of the game at the start of the last quarter and finished with 1.2 from seven touches and five marks


[6] Logan McDonald – 4

Had a great third quarter where he injected himself into the Swans comeback with two majors from three touches, but for the other three quarters, was a bit of a non factor.


[31] Tom Hickey – 7

Enjoyed the ruck battle between him and Marc Pittonet in this game, Hickey registered six more contests than his counterpart but recorded 24 hitouts and 11 to advantage to Pittonet’s 24 and 10. Around the ground, he was fine, he had a couple of centre clearances, nine contested possessions and a goal assist. Not the way he imagined he’d bow out, but was not disgraced in the slightest.


[8] James Rowbottom – 4

You come to expect a very good defensively-oriented game from Rowbottom and he didn’t disappoint here – 23 pressure acts and five tackles in a solid defensive display. However, he didn’t get a lot of the ball and was poor with his use by foot – six kicks and only two of them were effective and 12 disposals at just 42 per cent.


[26] Luke Parker – 8

Feel a bit split about this one. By half time, he had very little influence on the contest. He was then moved into the forward line in the second half and his two goals were crucial in helping the Swans get back into the game. Finished with just the 19 disposals and six contested possessions.


[7] Harry Cunningham –  5

Solid without being a standout, Cunningham rotated through the small forwards Carlton had, but in terms of one-on-ones, he had two of them and didn’t get beat – 11 disposals won’t tell the whole tale, but when he did have the ball, he looked alright moving it out.


[16] Braeden Campbell – 7

It may have been one of the better games I’ve seen from Campbell since coming into the senior side, looked very comfortable on the wing and was quite clean at ground level at various points of the game. He finished with 22 disposals, 378 metres gained, six marks, 19 pressure acts, nine ground ball gets and four intercept possessions is a nice return.


[27] Justin McInerney – 3

Felt like he was hardly sighted in this game, but he ended up with 16 disposals in this game, but a further look suggests he didn’t do a lot with them, only seven kicks at 57 per cent, two intercept possessions, three marks and four score involvements for no scores or goal assists. Not really a good night for him


[9] Will Hayward – 3

My good friend and podcast colleague Alex Miller dubbed him ‘Wildcard Will’ during the week and well we got some very good and some very bad from him in this one. The bad was that he had just three touches and very little influence in the first half. The good was that he sprung to life when the Swans lifted, with seven touches, three marks and a goal. One good term from him is not good enough considering how long he’s been in the system for now.


Sub [42] – Robbie Fox – 5

Was subbed on in the last quarter and had six disposals and 9 pressure acts in about 29 minutes of game time. Played his role well.