Jake Lever gestures during Melbourne's clash against Adelaide in round four, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

CARLTON, get set for 'Operation Limit Lever'.

The Blues' forward line will have a significant brief when they take on an in-form Demons outfit to begin round nine. And it won't necessarily involve goals.

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Jake Lever's dominance in a defensive post has played an influential part in the Demons' recent success. But it's been particularly troubling for a Carlton team that's had difficulty in finding a counter in previous years.

Tom McDonald's renewed form in recent weeks – he kept Cats superstar Jeremy Cameron goalless last Saturday night – has allowed Lever the freedom to have a much larger offensive impact on games this season. And, on Thursday evening, he'll have the chance to roam free once more against his favourite opposition.


According to Champion Data, Lever has averaged 9.8 intercept possessions across his nine career games against the Blues. It's his best return against any side. Furthermore, in three matches against Carlton last season, he averaged four intercept marks and 11 intercept possessions per game.

It's a worrying trend for the Blues, made all the more daunting by the fact an in-form Lever's last fortnight has already involved 24 disposals and 12 intercepts in a win over Geelong and 26 disposals and 15 intercepts in a commanding victory against Richmond.

Melbourne has traditionally used Lever in a rather unique way whenever he's faced Carlton. According to Champion Data, in his last five outings against the Blues, his most prominent matchups have been Matt Owies twice, Jack Silvagni, Jesse Motlop and Matthew Kennedy.

Jake Lever (left) and Steven May in action during the match between Melbourne and Brisbane at the MCG in round five, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Taking on a much smaller opponent has given Lever the responsibility to drift off, intercept and affect the game offensively with the Demons handing Carlton's more imposing forwards – Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow – to other lockdown defenders.

Melbourne's had the ability to do that thanks to Steven May's success in thwarting Curnow – the back-to-back Coleman Medal winner and the current Coleman Medal leader – across recent seasons.

Curnow has kicked just five goals from his last four games against the Demons (an average of 1.2 per game), dating back to the start of 2022. In that same period, he's kicked 165 goals from 52 games (an average of 3.1 per game) against everyone else.

Charlie's Demons


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R12, 2023

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According to Champion Data, May has been Curnow's primary opponent in the last three of those four matches. Harrison Petty was the other back in 2022, when May went to McKay.

It points towards May again taking Curnow on Thursday evening, with McDonald likely manning McKay and leaving Lever to be freed up elsewhere.

Similar to Lever, May's form this season has been outstanding. Champion Data notes he has not been out-marked once from the 19 one-on-one contests he's defended. It leaves him in rare company, with Carlton's Jacob Weitering and St Kilda's Cal Wilkie the only others to have gone 19 contests without being out-marked this year.

May also defended 21 contests on Curnow last season, losing just two. It means that while the Carlton superstar's contest win-rate was 40 percent last year, it dipped to just 9.5 percent while matched on Melbourne's gun full-back.


Carlton's potential success in ultimately negating Lever, and ensuring the best possible outcomes for Curnow and McKay, could come down to the speed and execution of their ball use and their decision making higher up the field.

Champion Data stats show that both Curnow and McKay have been targeted 66 times inside-50 this season, ranked equal as the most in the League. However, due to Carlton's propensity to kick to them while outnumbered, Curnow's retention rate (44 percent) is way down at No.24 in the AFL while McKay's (42 percent) ranks No.31.

Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay during the round three match between North Melbourne and Carlton at Marvel Stadium, March 29, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

But when targeted in one-on-one contests, when they're isolated as opposed to in a pack or facing an outnumber, McKay's win-rate (48 percent) rises to No.6 in the competition while Curnow's (40 percent) ranks No.8 in the AFL.

Can the Blues find their forwards?


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Indeed, speaking on Wednesday about the challenge May, Lever, McDonald and the entire Melbourne backline would provide, Carlton coach Michael Voss said Carlton's forwards would need to test them through their patience in possession.

"It's probably having, first and foremost, the same attitude the other way," Voss said.

"That's the game that they provide for you. You have to work your way through that and you have to be patient and also seek your opportunities when you need to. Clearly, their defensive structures are very strong. They've shown that, not just over a short-term, but over a very long period of time.

"What I admire about Melbourne is their discipline to get their roles done. They know who they are and what they bring and they stay true to it. For us, we need to be able to make sure we understand that. That's the environment we're walking into, but we've got to bring a similar approach and take our opportunities when we get them."