Adam Cerra celebrates a goal during the round 17 clash between Fremantle and Carlton at Optus Stadium on July 9, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

CARLTON is threatening to make a late charge at September after a Sunday slaughter of Fremantle at Optus Stadium, climbing to 11th on the ladder with a comprehensive 53-point win.

The Blues, who started Sunday's match in 15th spot, now sit just one win behind eighth-placed Geelong, with their form putting them firmly back in the tight finals race after three straight wins.

They dominated the disappointing Dockers from the opening bounce and showcased all of their weapons in a 14.14 (98) to 6.9 (45) win that leaves the 14th-placed Freo with a mountain to climb if it wants to play finals after one win in its past five weeks. 

DOCKERS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats  

Sunday's performance would suggest a repeat of last year's breakthrough finals appearance is now beyond the young team, which suffered its heaviest home defeat this season.


Carlton's bigger midfield bodies, a rock-solid defence, and a glut of opportunities inside 50 were behind the Blues' third straight win by more than 50 points and their most impressive on the road this year.

The concerns post-match will be a knee injury to midfielder Matthew Kennedy, who left the ground with trainers in the third quarter, and a thigh complaint for tall defender Mitch McGovern. 


The Blues raced to a 24-point lead at the first break, held their ground through a tight second quarter, and then made their move with eight unanswered goals that opened a 64-point lead at the last change.

With just two goals to their name, the Dockers rallied to kick four in the final term, but it was far too little too late.

Rubbing salt in the wound, it was former Docker Adam Cerra who generated the third quarter onslaught with 11 of his 27 disposals and five of his 11 inside 50s during the pivotal period.


He finished with six clearances as part of a dominant midfield that won the stoppage battle (42-35) despite the Dockers' hit-out dominance (70-18) against the ruckless Blues.

Captain Patrick Cripps (29 and 10 clearances) and sidekick Sam Walsh (32 and three) were also excellent, while key forwards Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow booted three goals each.


McKay played with obvious confidence and slotted his set shots with drop punts in a sign the important big man can still have a large say on the direction of the season.

Fremantle's first quarters have been a concern all season, and Sunday's start was its worst of the year, going goalless against a Carlton team that looked prime to exploit it early.

The Blues brought a high-pressure style to Optus Stadium and forced repeat turnovers in their own front half, allowing them to dominate field position with 10 of the first 12 inside 50s.  


It took time for the rewards to come, but once they did the Blues piled on four straight goals in 11 minutes to open a 24-point lead at the first change, putting the Dockers on the back foot.

When Freo responded and cut the margin to 11 points early in the second term, Carlton lifted again with goals to Matthew Owies and McKay restoring the margin.


The third quarter was a landslide as the Dockers' defensive structure fell apart under pressure and the Blues ran relentlessly to create after forcing turnovers.

When McKay marked late in the term and instinctively considered a long-range snap before steadying himself and converting a drop punt, it was clear Carlton had all aspects of its game in order as a thrilling run to finals looms.


Ruckless Blues find a way
With Marc Pittonet and Tom De Koning both injured, Carlton was again forced to play without a genuine ruckman against the best duo in the game. Darcy took the bulk of the ruck contests and had a career-high 70 hit-outs, but the Blues' ground-level brigade read him well and had the edge all day. Lewis Young, Jack Silvagni and McKay shared duties and kept the centre bounce differential to -1.

Sean Darcy and Lewis Young compete during the round 17 clash between Fremantle and Carlton at Optus Stadium on July 9, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Former Dockers haunt home crowd
There were slight jeers for popular former Dockers Adam Cerra and Blake Acres, who both looked right home at Optus Stadium. Acres played career-best football at the ground last year and finished with 23 disposals in his new jumper, facing former teammates for the first time. Cerra was a star in his second game against the Dockers continuing a career-best season that has seen him elevate his ball-winning in recent weeks.


FREMANTLE   0.3    2.7     2.8      6.9 (45)
CARLTON       4.3    6.8   12.12   14.14 (98)

Fremantle: Walters 2, Jackson, Amiss, Switkowski, Frederick
Carlton: McKay 3, Curnow 3, Owies 2, Cerra, Cottrell, Docherty, Fogarty, Kennedy, McGovern

Fremantle: Brayshaw, Walters, Young, Darcy, Ryan
Carlton: Walsh, Cerra, McKay, Cripps, Docherty, Curnow, Weitering

Fremantle: Nil
Carlton: Kennedy (knee), McGovern (thigh)

Fremantle: Karl Worner (replaced Matthew Johnson in the third quarter)
Carlton: George Hewett (replaced Matt Kennedy in the third quarter)

Crowd: 49,469 at Optus Stadium