Best 22 – Round 1
B: Kade Simpson, Sam Rowe, Simon White
HB: Sam Docherty, Caleb Marchbank, Dale Thomas
C: Billie Smedts, Bryce Gibbs, Ed Curnow
HF: Matthew Wright, Jacob Weitering, Dennis Armfield
F: Rhys Palmer, Levi Casboult, Jarrod Pickett
Foll: Matthew Kreuzer, Patrick Cripps, Marc Murphy
I/C: Charlie Curnow, Sam Kerridge, Lachie Plowman, Jack Silvagni
Carlton’s top pick in last year’s NAB AFL Draft, West Australian youngster Sam Petrevski-Seton, has resumed training after missing the JLT Community Series with a quad injury but is a few weeks off making his much-anticipated debut in navy blue. Ruckman Andrew Phillips (stress reaction in foot) is closer to a return, but defender Ciaran Byrne (ruptured ACL) won’t be back until later in the season. Dylan Buckley (hip) and Daniel Gorringe (Achilles), injured during the pre-season, are available.
The big questions
Where does Jacob Weitering play?
The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft excelled mainly in defence in his debut season, but with the Blues’ scoring problems Brendon Bolton has already foreshadowed that they will need him at both ends. In brief periods last year and during the JLT Community Series he has looked comfortable in attack.
How will Bryce Gibbs perform and will he request a trade back to South Australia at the end of the season?
All eyes will be on the midfielder’s performances after his request for a trade to the Crows could not be completed. He is contracted until the end of 2019 and his pre-season has gone without a hitch, so he should hit the ground running. As for the future, we’ll have to wait and see.
Can Levi Casboult improve his accuracy in front of goal?
The Blues have re-employed former Collingwood and North Melbourne spearhead Saverio Rocca, who previously helped the big forward with his kicking. Casboult’s conversion remains a problem (18.18 last season) and this is a crunch year for the key forward/ruckman, who is 27 and on a one-year contract.
The development of Carlton's younger brigade, including this year's crop led by Petrevski-Seton and Zac Fisher. The Blues have 20 on their list under 23 and they will be looking for incremental improvement from the players they picked up in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, including Jacob Weitering, Charlie Curnow, David Cuningham and Jack Silvagni. Harry McKay is yet to play a senior game and the Blues have high hopes for him.
Who they play
The first five rounds will give a fair indication of where the Blues will finish this year. Going on last year’s ladder positions and their recent record against a couple of them (Demons, Power), they are capable of surprising. But if they are 0-5 … it’s going to be a long season. While they have six interstate trips, 10 games at the ’G and only six at Etihad is a bonus.
Fantasy cash cow
Captain Marc Murphy appears a bargain at $482,000, given that he is ready to go after an injury-free pre-season. He has averaged triple figures on three occasions, highlighted by 111 in 2011. Lock him in.
Key defender Caleb Marchbank and nippy small forward Jarrod Pickett appear certain to line up in round one after impressing during the JLT Community Series. Another former Giant (and Docker), Rhys Palmer, is likely to make the cut against the Tigers, as does former Cat Billie Smedts. They will be keen to blood their top two picks in last year’s NAB AFL Draft, Petrevski-Seton and Fisher, and rookies Kym Lebois and Alex Silvagni could be given opportunities later on.
It's crunch time for…
Dale Thomas, who is in the fourth year of a lucrative contract. The former Magpie, who turns 30 in June, struggled through the second half of last season and knows he is playing for his future. If he plays a set amount of games, he will trigger an option for 2018, so he must perform. Has played in defence during the JLT Community Series, but his proven goalkicking ability will be handy.
Pressure rating on the coach
Enjoying the journey. Carlton performed above what was expected in his debut season and most pundits have the Blues in the bottom two or three. Brendon Bolton has remained stoic during the pre-season and stuck to his message.
The Blues will have a good year if…
Their better and more experienced players have injury-free seasons. Murphy was sadly missed in the second half of last year and has enjoyed his first injury-free pre-season in five years, so he’s raring to go.
They’re in trouble if …
Matthew Kreuzer goes down. Kreuzer missed only one game last season and looks in good nick this pre-season. With Andrew Phillips on the sidelines, the experienced ruckman becomes arguably Carlton’s most important player.
Carlton raised the bar by winning seven games in Bolton’s first season and to achieve that mark again would constitute a pass mark, given the state of the list and the massive turnover of players in the past two seasons. Success would also be measured by improvement from the Blues’ crop of youngsters.
AFL.com.au predicted ladder finish
18th. The Blues have turned over the list considerably for the second successive season and are expected to struggle as they continue their rebuild.
Player Ratings star
Patrick Cripps, ranked 44 overall with 447.8 points. The powerful midfielder made rapid ground in 2016, finishing the year as the Blues’ No. 1-ranked player after starting the season at No. 12 (318 overall).