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Season preview: Carlton

Who kicks the goals for the Blues? Carlton coach Brendon Bolton answers the fans' questions in Ask The Coach
The return of Patrick Cripps will be critical to the Blues' fortunes - AFL,Carlton Blues,Season previews
The return of Patrick Cripps will be critical to the Blues' fortunes

Best 22 – round one

B: Kade Simpson, Liam Jones, Caleb Marchbank
HB: Ciaran Byrne, Jacob Weitering, Lachie Plowman
C: Sam Petrevski-Seton, Patrick Cripps, Matthew Kennedy
HF: Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay, Matthew Wright
F: Paddy Dow, Levi Casboult, Jarrod Pickett
Foll: Matthew Kreuzer, Ed Curnow, Marc Murphy
I/C: Jack Silvagni, Zac Fisher, David Cuningham, Dale Thomas

Emerg: Jed Lamb, Aaron Mullett, Cameron O’Shea, Lochie O'Brien

Fans' season preview: Carlton

2017 best and fairest top three
1. Marc Murphy
2. Sam Docherty
3. Matthew Kreuzer

Injury list

Matthew Kreuzer sent a scare through the camp when he limped off in the first quarter of the JLT Community Series game against Hawthorn last Saturday night. However, the Blues are confident the ruckman can overcome his rolled left ankle in time to face Richmond in the season-opener on Thursday week. While Kreuzer should be right, recruits Darcy Lang and Jarrod Garlett face a battle to be available. Ex-Cat Lang strained ligaments in his ankle in January and did not play in the JLT Community Series. Former Sun Garlett suffered a bruised shoulder in the opening pre-season match against St Kilda and missed the final game against Hawthorn. All Australian defender and joint vice-captain Sam Docherty is out for this season after rupturing his ACL early in pre-season and veteran Sam Rowe continues his recovery from a knee reconstruction.

The big questions

Can Carlton kick enough goals to win more games?
This has been a problem for the Blues in the past few seasons. Last season they failed to kick 100 points in a game and have worked hard on improving their ball movement in the pre-season. They need more contributors and Matthew Kreuzer and Patrick Cripps will push forward to provide more targets.

Can they cover the loss of Sam Docherty and Bryce Gibbs? 
Docherty's absence will leave a big hole and Carlton will rely on a collective effort to fill his role. Already several players have been used in the JLT Community Series to rotate through the backline. The return of Patrick Cripps and Ed Curnow will offset Gibbs' loss.

Will Matthew Kreuzer do the bulk of the ruckwork again or will they play two ruckmen?
Kreuzer is a workhorse who thrives on carrying the responsibility of being first ruckman. While the Blues have Andrew Phillips and recruit Matthew Lobbe as handy back-ups, Levi Casboult has been given limited time in the ruck to give Kreuzer a break and they are likely to go with this combination for starters.

Will Matthew Kreuzer carry the Blues' ruck burden in 2018? Picture: AFL Photos

Look for…
While there will be a heavy focus on Charlie Curnow after his huge strides in 2017, former Giant Matthew Kennedy is likely to become an integral part of the Blues' midfield. Kennedy has shown enough in the JLT Community Series to suggest he will be given plenty of opportunities, providing much-needed grunt to assist Patrick Cripps and Ed Curnow. Strong overhead, he is courageous and can kick a goal.

Who they play
The first month is likely to give a strong indication of where the Blues are headed in 2018. After the season opener against Richmond, they face Gold Coast (Etihad Stadium), Collingwood (MCG), North Melbourne (Blundstone Arena) and West Coast (MCG), all games in which they would give themselves a chance of winning. The Hobart game is the first of six interstate trips for Carlton and there is also a visit to Geelong for the first time in 21 years.

Fantasy cash cow
Former Port Adelaide backman Cam O'Shea (DEF, $231,000) is an excellent intercept mark and shapes as an ideal player to help fill the hole left by Sam Docherty's season-ending injury. O'Shea won the Blues' VFL best and fairest last year, is a mature body ready to go and can be expected to notch plenty of minutes and plenty of disposals when called upon.

Sudden impact
Paddy Dow has already shown enough on the training track and in pre-season games to suggest he will make his debut in round one and be comfortable at the elite level. Carlton's first choice in last year's NAB AFL Draft will spend some time in the midfield, but the Blues are mindful that he needs to develop and become stronger to spend more minutes there. Former Giant Matthew Kennedy should make a difference as an inside midfielder.

Draftee Paddy Dow looks comfortable at the elite level. Picture: AFL Photos

It's crunch time for …
Nick Graham. The midfielder has managed only 38 games in five seasons at Ikon Park and he needs to tie down a regular senior spot after being given a one-year contract extension late last year. He has exhibited glimpses of his ability, now he must put it together. Former Magpie Dale Thomas is also on a one-year deal and the veteran will be keen to show he is still a valuable contributor with his experience and leadership.

Pressure rating on the coach
Temperature rising … in his third season at Ikon Park, Brendon Bolton has done enough culling and the time has come to steady the ship. Memo Bolts: happy you've given away the "green shoots" – the members/supporters are looking for more expansive comments than that now.

The 2017 habit the Blues must kick …
Focusing on defence. They are aware they need to improve their scoring capacity in order to become more successful.

The Blues will have a good year if …
Their experienced players have injury-free seasons and their youngsters continue to make incremental improvement. Having lost Sam Docherty for the season and traded Bryce Gibbs to Adelaide, they need skipper Marc Murphy, Kade Simpson, Dale Thomas and Matthew Kreuzer to provide leadership and guidance.

They're in trouble if …
Matthew Kreuzer is injured for a long period. While the Blues have solid back-ups in Andrew Phillips and Matthew Lobbe and Levi Casboult helps out with his fair share, the big-hearted ruckman has become so pivotal to Carlton's fortunes. He finally has got his body right and they need him around the ball and in attack.

Pass mark
Despite Sam Docherty's absence and Bryce Gibbs' loss, the Blues should be aiming for 6-8 victories, given that they won six last season, lost eight by under four goals and were competitive in most games. They need their better and more experienced players to stay on the field as their youngsters improve. 

AFL.com.au predicted ladder finish: 17th

Player Ratings star
Patrick Cripps, ranked 30. The contested possession king always wins plenty of the ball and is set to add to his repertoire this season by going forward and kicking more goals.

 
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs