Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay celebrate a goal in the match between Gold Coast and Carlton at Heritage Bank Stadium in round 23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IT'S OFFICIAL, Carlton will play finals footy for the first time in a decade.

The Blues did it the hard way, rallying back from 40 points down to steal a stunning come from behind four-point win over a spirited Gold Coast at Heritage Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Led by Charlie Curnow with five goals and the game-saving mark in his defensive goal square, the Blues held on despite a late Suns charge to secure the 13.13 (91) to 13.9 (87) victory.

SUNS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats

Carlton trailed by 40 points in the second term, but rallied back with seven consecutive goals either side of half-time.


The second half turned into an arm-wrestle, with the Blues again fighting back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to get over the line for their ninth win on the trot.

The Blues booted four successive goals to re-claim the lead, including Curnow's fifth before he assisted the returning Harry McKay, only for Brandon Ellis to respond making it a one-kick game in the final few minutes with Gold Coast pressing.

Noah Anderson missed a 45m shot from a stoppage with 35 seconds left before Sean Lemmens' long inside 50 bomb from the Suns' final surge was plucked by Curnow at the top of the goal square, enabling him to wind down the clock.


The result confirms Carlton's finals spot with one round to play, while keeping its top-four hopes alive too, moving within two points of fourth-placed Melbourne who plays Hawthorn on Sunday.

The win extends Carlton's winning run to nine games, with that streak initiated by their round 14 victory over the Suns, where they similarly dominated the second term with nine goals to


Curnow was the difference this time, leading the rally with four second-quarter goals. The Coleman Medal leader's five-goal haul took his season tally to 75, 10 clear of second-placed Adelaide forward Taylor Walker who has two games to play.


In-form Nic Newman had 31 disposals, while George Hewett was important in the coalface against Gold Coast's tough onballers with 23 disposals, including 15 contested possessions plus 10 tackles.

Gold Coast was brilliantly led by reformed half-forward David Swallow who kicked a career-best four goals, along with the tireless Sam Flanders (36 disposals), Touk Miller (29 disposals and a goal) and Jarrod Witts (38 hitouts).


Carlton appeared in holiday mode early on the Gold Coast as the Suns piled on six goals to one in the first term.

Flanders had 13 disposals by quarter-time, while Swallow and Alex Sexton, who was back in the Suns' side for the first time since round 14, booted two goals each with the Suns producing some sizzling football on the rebound.


Jack Lukosius' goal at the six-minute mark of the second term opened up a 40-point lead, before Curnow turned it on, kicking the next three majors for the game, out-marking Charlie Ballard for his third.

Carlton soon had all the momentum with the frustrated Suns were short on answers and discipline, with Lukosius giving away a 100m penalty and being reported, before Curnow booted his fourth as the Blues put together seven in a row to close within two points at half-time.


The Blues claimed the lead for the first time two minutes after the restart from Jesse Motlop's snap, but were wasteful in the third with 1.7, allowing the Suns to remain in the contest and re-claim the lead at the final change after Swallow's third goal.

Gold Coast actually kicked five of the next six goals after Motlop's major, leading by 13 points with 13 minutes remaining after Mabior Chol's goal.


But Carlton rallied again, with ex-Sun Jack Martin managing his second, before Curnow marked and played on in trademark style to goal from 50m out to cut the margin to one point. Curnow's dart set up McKay to put the Blues ahead before Matt Owies converted a set shot to open up an 11-point lead.

Gold Coast, however, wouldn’t surrender, with Bailey Humphrey finding Ellis to cut the margin to five points, but Anderson spurned his late chance, while Curnow intercepted from Lemmens' hopeful final push.

McKay quiet on return as Blues work on forward synergy
Curnow had booted 19 goals in four games since McKay went out of the side injured, creating questions about the duo's dynamic up forward. Thus the latter's return on Saturday was of interest, with the 2021 Coleman medalist struggling for impact, managing his only goal in the last quarter from Curnow's assist. McKay did appear rusty, having 10 disposals and five marks, finishing with 1.1. Curnow, on the other hand, was scintillating especially in the second term, forcing Gold Coast to switch Sam Collins from McKay to him after his fourth on Charlie Ballard. The Blues' small forwards thrived too, with two goals each for Motlop, Owies and Martin, so Carlton coach Michael Voss will be happy enough for now.

Harry McKay in action during the match between Gold Coast and Carlton at Heritage Bank Stadium in round 23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Can Dimma fix Jekyll and Hyde Suns?
Likely new Suns coach Damien Hardwick was busy watching his former club Richmond in Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt's farewell game on Saturday afternoon at the MCG, but when he does watch the replay he'll see the best and the worst of Gold Coast. The Suns' first quarter was electric with exceptional pressure and link-up play. But the second term was blighted by poor skills and decision making, unable to thwart Carlton's momentum like in round 14 or a month ago against Collingwood. Gold Coast gave up 25 turnovers in the third with Jacob Weitering capitalising, before the Suns displayed grit to re-claim the lead, only to let it slip again. Turning all that into a consistent performance is the new coach's big task.

Cripps concern for injury-hit Blues
Despite its sensational form, Carlton has had its fair share of injury troubles lately, with McKay returning from a knee injury in this game, while Sam Walsh, Adam Cerra, Matthew Kennedy and Mitch McGovern are all still sidelined. Patrick Cripps spent time in the rooms in the first quarter although he re-emerged without any apparent new strapping and played on, albeit with minimal impact. The Brownlow medalist finished with 14 touches, with only half of those contested. With a finals campaign now locked in, Voss has the luxury of potentially resting a few troops in round 24 against Greater Western Sydney.



GOLD COAST    6.5    7.7   9.7    13.9 (87)
CARLTON         1.2    7.5   8.12   13.13 (91)
Gold Coast: Swallow 4, Ainsworth 2, Sexton 2, Chol, Ellis, Lukosius, Miller, Rosas
Carlton: C.Curnow 5, Martin 2, Motlop 2, Owies 2, Cottrell, McKay

Gold Coast:
Flanders, Swallow, Witts, Miller, Rowell, Ainsworth, Andrew 
Carlton: C.Curnow, Hewett, Newman, Fisher, Acres, Docherty, Weitering

Gold Coast: Nil
Carlton: Nil

Gold Coast: Darcy Macpherson (replaced Lloyd Johnston in the fourth quarter)
Carlton: Ed Curnow (replaced David Cuningham at three-quarter time)

Crowd: 19,253 at Heritage Bank Stadium