Nick Graham was one of the best for the Blues
MUCH of the draftee hype at Carlton this pre-season has naturally surrounded the club's top pick Troy Menzel, but fellow teenagers Nick Graham and Tom Temay are already exceeding expectations.
While the brilliant Menzel (selection 11 in last year's NAB AFL Draft) is sidelined with a minor hip problem, fair-haired duo Graham (pick 54) and Temay (pick 35) are looking increasingly accomplished in senior company.
In the Blues' second intra-club match at Visy Park on Friday, Graham produced another mature performance in the engine room, collecting 17 disposals, including a game-high tally of 11 by half-time.
A hard and smart midfielder with good skills on either side of his body, Graham looks likely to be in the mix to make his AFL debut early in the premiership season. He already appears a draft steal.
Temay (11 touches) was also impressive across half-forward and underlined his kicking skills and goal sense with two superb goals: one from 50 metres on the run and the other from a clever snap.
"Both of those boys have really fitted in well with the group," Carlton midfield coach Rob Wiley said.
"They've met all expectations – in fact, they've probably gone beyond those – and you saw that today with Nick Graham. Tommy Temay did some very good things also.
"Nick's got that great ability to find the football – he did that in the under-18s. His ability to read the play, good composure. I think certainly he's heading in the direction of being a very good AFL footballer and Carlton are very fortunate to have him."
Another youngster to have an influence was Josh Bootsma (11 disposals), who also nailed a long goal and used the ball well.
A subject of ongoing interest to Blues fans is Bryce Gibbs's move from defence to the midfield. Gibbs played most of the match in the midfield and was reasonably quiet with 14 touches (10 kicks, four handballs) and four inside 50s. But Wiley said the coaching staff was "really pleased" with his efforts.
"His training has been outstanding; he's really tried to push himself to the limits. Watching him today, he played some pretty good football through the midfield … He's a smart footballer, he uses the ball well (and) he can really help complement the strong midfield that Carlton have already got."
Kane Lucas continued to stake his claims for a midfield berth with another solid 17-touch display, while Jeremy Laidler's comeback from knee issues appears complete after another dominant 17-disposal effort in defence.
"(Lucas's) energy and ability to find the football in the two intra-clubs we've had has been really pleasing," Wiley said.
"He's got good run, he's a skillful player. It just adds depth to where we want to go."
As for the usual suspects, Brock McLean was best-afield yet again with 22 disposals and a game-high three goals, and Mitch Robinson was the most prolific ball-winner with 23 touches.
Andrew Collins was again lively across half-forward with 15 disposals and two goals.
Bryce Gibbs played most of the match in the midfield and was reasonably quiet with 14 touches.
The Blues escaped relatively unscathed. Ruckman Robbie Warnock performed strongly in the first half but didn’t return after the break after receiving a minor corked thigh, and Rhys O'Keefe also didn’t emerge after half-time after suffering a head knock. O'Keefe was initially dazed but walked from the field unassisted.
"Mick would be pretty pleased today," Wiley said. "Over the last few weeks at training, a lot of things are starting to come together."
In their first intra-club clash the previous week, the Blues were missing nine players from their best 22 – among them Chris Judd and Marc Murphy – and, of that group, only key defender Michael Jamison was played on Friday. Jamison played the entire match and had seven possessions.
Wiley said he doesn’t expect many, if any, of that sidelined group of stars to play in the Blues' NAB Cup opener against Sydney and Greater Western Sydney next week. But he said that with so many other players in good form it would still be difficult to select a squad for next week.