THIS was the Blue Steel that David Teague was looking for.
BLUES MAKE A STATEMENT Full match coverage and stats
Carlton's upset 52-point victory over the Western Bulldogs on Sunday night was built on relentless, tenacious pressure and an ability to withhold the momentum that its highly fancied opponents generated after half-time.
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The spirit and willingness shown was everything the Blues were accused of lacking in a meek defeat to the Saints last week, with their 16.7 (103) to 7.9 (51) win at Metricon Stadium ensuring they crept into the top eight for the first time since round 12, 2013 by breaking even on the season at 3-3.
Former Giants duo Will Setterfield (20 disposals, four tackles) and Matt Kennedy (20 disposals, four marks) were the hardened bodies Carlton needed, with Harry McKay (five marks, three goals) starring early as the Blues surged into a 21-point half-time lead.
Small forwards Eddie Betts, Jack Martin and Michael Gibbons were just as pivotal, combining for eight goals on the night, with their tackling pressure inside 50 proving incredibly influential in the drizzling Gold Coast conditions.
Led by Bailey Smith (26 disposals, one goal) and Tom Liberatore (22 disposals, eight clearances), the Dogs sought to summon a stirring comeback after the main break as Marcus Bontempelli's major cut the deficit to just three kicks at the final change.
But the Blues rallied once more, producing an inspired six-goal to nothing final term to snap the Dogs' three-match winning streak and begin their hub stay in style with a wire-to-wire win.
Shoulder concerns for superstar Blues skipper
It was a night of few worries for Carlton, but a lingering shoulder issue for superstar skipper Patrick Cripps was one of them. Cripps came from the field late in the first quarter having hurt his left shoulder while laying a hard tackle on Rhylee West, eventually returning to the game after the opening change with heavy strapping. David Teague said the injury wasn't hampering his co-captain, but a one-disposal second term might have suggested otherwise. Cripps finished with just 13 disposals, beaten by both Bailey Smith and Marcus Bontempelli while spending periods forward as he dealt with the niggling issue. He finished the night alongside former captain Marc Murphy (hip) on the bench.
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Big Harry's big response
Harry McKay had a point to prove on Sunday night. Having kicked multiple goals just once in his last 14 matches, the pressure had been placed on the Carlton key forward after a lean patch coincided with a series of groin injuries on either side of Christmas. However, after slotting the game's first goal from a strong mark at Metricon Stadium, the athletic McKay was keen to ride the wave of a sudden momentum surge. He laid a rundown tackle on the speedy Jason Johannisen to set up Eddie Betts for another, brought the ball to ground for a Jack Newnes crumbing goal moments later, then added a second of his own with a nice snap in the second term. His third major, from a pinpoint set-shot midway through the final term, sealed the deal for the Blues.
Top-two picks meet again at Metricon
Jacob Weitering and Josh Schache spent much of their 2015 NAB AFL Draft campaigns mentioned in the same breath, as the consensus No.1 and No.2 picks respectively at the end of that year. They spent much of Sunday night barely out of each other's sights as well. Their career trajectories might have taken different paths since their draft year, but Schache is still a player with something to prove after returning to the senior team with two goals against North Melbourne last week. However, Weitering – suddenly a Virgin Australia AFL All Australian candidate – blanketed him effectively. Schache was kept to just two disposals, no marks and was held scoreless for the entirety of the game, as Weitering claimed the spoils against his former Vic Country teammate.
CARLTON 5.2 8.5 10.6 16.7 (103)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.1 5.2 7.6 7.9 (51)
Carlton: Betts 4, McKay 3, Gibbons 2, Martin 2, McGovern 2, Curnow, Newnes, Casboult
Western Bulldogs: Vandermeer 2, Smith, Dale, Lipinski, Wallis, Bontempelli
Carlton: Setterfield, McKay, Kennedy, Curnow, Martin, Gibbons, Petrevski-Seton
Western Bulldogs: Smith, Liberatore, Macrae, English, Bontempelli
Carlton: Cripps (shoulder), Murphy (hip)
Western Bulldogs: Nil