THE MESSAGE from David Teague to his Carlton side was clear this week: a return to the finals is within reach if the Blues played how they planned.
Friday night's 33-point win over the Suns wasn't the prettiest the Blues have played this season, but it was another step towards the ultimate goal of finishing the year in the top eight. Coach Teague would have been satisfied, knowing the greater tests are coming.
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The 7.18 (60) to 4.3 (27) win at TIO Stadium in Darwin was Carlton's sixth of the year and leaves the Blues right in the hunt for their first appearance in the finals since 2013 with five rounds to go.
WASTEFUL BLUES CRUISE Full match coverage and stats
In the sweaty Top End conditions the Blues could have sewn the game up at quarter-time but were inaccurate, a curse which followed them throughout the contest.
The Suns' first goal didn't come until halfway through the second term and they struggled in the midfield battle, being overcome by the weight of Carlton onballers, including Marc Murphy (28 disposals), Patrick Cripps (22) and Jack Martin (21) against his former side.
Michael Gibbons had an excellent first half and finished with two goals from 19 disposals for the Blues in the front half, while Harry McKay was also influential in attack but missed his chance at a haul of goals by kicking 2.4.
The defeat means the Suns have won only one of their past nine games after their bright start to the season put them into finals contention.
The Betts buzz
There was no doubt who was the crowd favourite on Friday night. Any time Carlton veteran Eddie Betts went anywhere near the ball TIO Stadium erupted, especially in a busy second term. In a tangle with Suns defender Charlie Ballard, and pinned up against the boundary line, Betts tapped the ball through Ballard's legs and earned a free kick. That time his shot from the pocket missed, but moments later he was the beneficiary of Zac Fisher's good work. In a show of his zip and smarts, Fisher bounced three times before handballing to Betts, who slotted the goal from close range. He ran off the field to the roar of Blues fans and Territorians. Post-game he swapped jumpers with Suns young gun Izak Rankine.
Short break stunts Suns
The quick turnaround from Monday night's clash with Richmond appeared to catch up with the young Suns. After a six-day break after their loss to St Kilda, and then a five-day gap following their draw with the Bombers, the Suns had only four days between their defeat to the Tigers and their outing on Friday night. Gold Coast has been an exciting, energetic, fun to watch side this season but lacked that spark against the Blues. The Suns couldn't get their best ball-winners and users into the game and were flat from the outset.
Murphy winds back the clock
The slippery conditions didn't suit everyone but Marc Murphy adapted better than most. The former Carlton skipper produced his best game of the season, gathering a season-high 28 disposals in a dominant midfield showing. Murphy was the busiest midfielder on the ground, also picking up five clearances and 11 score involvements – the most of any player. Murphy recently turned 33 but has played every game this season and has committed to another year in 2021. Friday night showed he's still got a bit left.
GOLD COAST 0.0 2.0 3.2 4.3 (27)
CARLTON 1.4 5.7 6.11 7.18 (60)
Gold Coast: Flanders, Lemmens, Rankine, Weller
Carlton: Gibbons 2, McKay 2, Betts, Curnow, Newnes
Gold Coast: Lukosius, Bowes, Miller, Ainsworth
Carlton: Murphy, Weitering, Gibbons, Martin, Curnow, Fisher
Gold Coast: Nil