Blues building for genuine title tilt
ALMOST 10 years ago Carlton was on its knees.
It had just suffered the indignity of collecting its first VFL/AFL wooden spoon - in its 106th season - and then had salt rubbed into its wounds by being found guilty of a serious salary cap breach.
Short of being bent over the AFL's knee, the club was sent to bed without its critical early picks in the next two national drafts as punishment.
Until then, Brendan Goddard had been all set to join the club he barracked for by being snapped up by the Blues with the first selection in the 2002 national draft.
He still went No.1, but was chosen by St Kilda, and Daniel Wells was taken by North Melbourne with the No.2 pick, which had also been in Carlton's grasp as a priority selection due to it winning just three games that year.
The Blues were fortunate they "won" another priority pick in 2003 after a four-win season and allowed to use it (on Andrew Walker), but the fallout from the salary-cap rort would cause them to struggle for the next five years.
There were another two wooden spoons - in 2005 and '06 - and a second-last finish in '07, but those results could not have come at a better time for a club looking to get back on its feet.
They would provide the Blues with more No.1s than Elvis and the building blocks for a genuine premiership tilt in 2012.
Selecting the right player at No.1 is a lot easier now than in the early years of the draft, but it's still not an exact science.
Not discounting the impact coach Brett Ratten and his assistants have had on the playing group, Carlton's recruiters were dead-eye dicks between 2005-08.
In 2005, they persuaded Marc Murphy to turn his back on joining Brisbane as a father-son selection and get him to Princes Park as the No.1 selection. Murphy is this year's Brownlow Medal favourite.
While their No.4 selection in that draft is no longer at the club, by picking Josh Kennedy they would eventually have the bargaining chip to get Chris Judd from West Coast. In contrast, in the same draft Hawthorn would nominate Xavier Ellis at No.3 and Beau Dowler at No.6.
In 2006, Carlton made the right choice by selecting Bryce Gibbs at No.1, ahead of key-forward flops Scott Gumbleton (2), Lachlan Hansen (3) and Mitch Thorp (6), though Joel Selwood (7) would not have been bad.
At pick 17 the Blues chose Queenslander Shaun Hampson. As model Megan Gale's current squeeze, he is starting to have as big an impact on the field as he does off it.
In 2007 the Blues did not finish bottom but because they had endured three straight years of winning less than five games, were handed the No.1 pick yet again.
This time used it on Matty Kreuzer, and their No.3 selection ended up with the Eagles as part of the Judd deal.
Though the Blues began their rise out of the doldrums in 2008, they would also make their picks in that year's draft count, choosing Chris Yarran (6) and Mitch Robinson (40), as well as Jeff Garlett as a rookie.
Carlton's slogan for the 2009 season was "they know we're coming". Well, they have arrived and are banging on the door, installed this week as premiership favourite.
Not looking good
MELBOURNE would love Carlton's strike rate at the draft.
It is still early, but the signs are not good for its recent picks. In 2008 the Demons chose Jack Watts at No.1 ahead of Nic Naitanui (2) and Michael Hurley (5), and Sam Blease (17) ahead of Luke Shuey (18), who has become another Eagles hit.
In 2009, they took Tom Scully and Jack Trengove at one and two, ahead of Dustin Martin (3) and Jordan Gysberts (11), and Luke Tapscott (18) ahead of Nathan Fyfe (20) and Ryan Bastinac (21).
Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
SAINTS v DOCKERS
At Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, 7.50pm.
Recent record: St Kilda 8, Fremantle 2.
Last time: R20 2011 - St Kilda 16.17 (113) def Fremantle 10.12 (72).
Ross Lyon takes his Dockers east for an intriguing clash against his old side. After beating just Gold Coast and the Bulldogs, St Kilda wants a major scalp. Fremantle wants to end its hoodoo against the Saints. It has lost its past eight games against them, and, what's worse, has never beaten them at Docklands. The Dockers, ranked No.1 for contested possessions, have some sort of chance, especially if Nat Fyfe is fit to play.
BLUES v BOMBERS
At the MCG, 1.45pm.
Recent record: Carlton 3. Essendon 6. Draw 1.
Last time: EF 2011 - Carlton 21.23 (149) def Essendon 13.9 (87).
Someone's bubble is going to burst and you can expect it to be Essendon's. Both sides are 3-0, but the Bombers struggled to get over Gold Coast last week, while the Blues annihilated Collingwood - results poles apart. Marc Murphy, Chris Judd and Andrew Carrazzo are all averaging over 30 disposals a game and make Carlton the No.1 clearance side. Jobe Watson worked his guts out against the Suns - literally - but has a big challenge in the midfield. The battle in the ruck between young tyros Paddy Ryder and Matty Kruezer will be a beauty.
MAGPIES v POWER
At Etihad Stadium, 2.10pm
Recent record: Collingwood 8. Port 2.
Last time: R20 2011 - Collingwood 23.21 (159) d Port Adelaide 3.3 (21).
The Power won't be a pushover, but the Magpies will welcome them with open arms after the week they've had, which began with a 10-goal thumping at the hands of Carlton. Collingwood has won its last five against Port with Dane Swan racking up possession totals of 37, 34, 39 and 48 in the last four. The visitors will hope key forward John Butcher (hamstring) can return with defenders Ben Reid and Chris Tarrant both injured for the Pies. Luke Ball will be a big loss for the home side.
CROWS v GIANTS
At AAMI Stadium, Adelaide, 4.40pm (AEST)
Recent record: NA.
Last time: NA.
The Giants won the last quarter last week, but half the Eagles had already boarded the plane for their return flight to Perth after leading by 94 points. While Jeremy Cameron is out injured, Israel Folau (2 touches) will be rested, and new forward coach Dermott Brereton might be a better option in attack, aged 47. Cal Ward continued to hold his head high, gathering 36 touches. The Crows will look to hit back hard after being trounced by Hawthorn and will aim for a lot more than the round-low 52 marks they took against the Hawks. Kurt Tippett will get plenty of chances to kick a bag.
EAGLES v HAWKS
At Patersons Stadium, Perth, 7.40pm
Recent record: West Coast 5 Hawthorn 5.
Last time: R4 2011 - Hawthorn 10.12 (72) def West Coast 9.11 (65).
They haven't met for a year, since the Eagles were reigning wooden spooners. A lot has changed. West Coast will take a power of beating, with its forward line resembling the land of the giants, especially against the Hawks who remain light on down back. The key will be to keep it away from them by winning the midfield battle. Luke Hodge's return will surely help, though clearance king Matt Priddis and Matt Rosa both return for the home side along with skipper Darren Glass who will be needed in defence against Lance Franklin.
LIONS v SUNS
At the Gabba, Brisbane, 7.40pm.
Recent record: Brisbane 1 Gold Coast 1.
Last time: Brisbane 18.15 (123) def Gold Coast 8.13 (61).
Jonathan Brown is back for the Lions, but his teammates need to get the ball to him more often if they want a chance of victory. Brisbane had a record-low 20 inside-50s last week in the loss to Fremantle and Brown just three possessions. If Gary Ablett can continue his unbelievable run of 40-plus disposal counts, and with Simon Black and now ruckman Matthew Leuenberger sidelined for the Lions, the Suns will be optimistic of claiming another Q Clash.
CATS v TIGERS
At Simonds Stadium, Geelong, 1.10pm
Recent record: Geelong 9. Richmond 1.
Last time: R18 2011 -Geelong 16.17 (113) def Richmond 7.9 (51).
It's not often Geelong comes into a round after a loss and Richmond a win. Expect the situation to be reversed next week. The Tigers have won one of its last 12 games in Geelong in the last 22 years and just one of their last 15 games against the Cats. The Tigers thumped inept Melbourne last week but face the Cats after their shock loss to North. Geelong was smashed in the clearances and will look to rectify that this week. If it does, James Podsiadly and Tom Hawkins, already 1 and 2 on the goalkicking table, could have a real day out against a Tiger defence short on quality talls.
SWANS v KANGAROOS
At the SCG, Sydney, 3.15pm
Recent record: Sydney 7 North 2 Drawn 1.
Last time: R10 2011 -North 9.17 (71) lost to Sydney 10.12 (72).
The kids are all right. Averaging almost 30 touches a game, young Roos Ryan Bastinac, Liam Anthony and Jack Ziebell have stepped up to help Brent Harvey and David Swallow in the midfield - and to wins against opponents great (Geelong last week) and small (GWS). Now they face the task of trying to get their side across the line for just the second time at the SCG in 10 attempts over 12 years. They are not beyond it. No Adam Goodes (suspended) will hurt the Swans, but the home side has class in Josh Kennedy in the centre and Sam Reid up forward.
DEMONS v BULLDOGS
At the MCG, 4.40pm.
Recent record: Melbourne 3. Bulldogs 7.
Last time: R15 2011 - Bulldogs 19.13 (127) def Melbourne 8.15 (63).
Wow, is life after Barry Hall tough. The Dogs are averaging 380 disposals a game and 51 inside-50s, with skipper Matt Boyd behind only Gary Ablett on the possession tally. But they have kicked just 26 goals - only three more than GWS. The Demons, on the other hand, have a forward to kick to - Mitch Clark - but the problem is getting it down there enough. They average 293 touches and a league-low 37 inside-50s for 31 goals. The Demons haven't beaten the Dogs since 2007.