CARLTON coach Mick Malthouse wasn't surprised to see champion midfielder Chris Judd return to senior football with a brilliant performance that had the Blues challenging Hawthorn on Friday night.
Judd's return from a serious hamstring injury wasn't enough to get Carlton its fifth win of the season, but his presence at the MCG was immense in his first match since sustaining a serious hamstring injury in round five.
The dual Brownlow medallist, who suffered that setback when returning from an Achilles tendon injury as the substitute, finished Friday night's match as arguably the Blues' best player.
The veteran started in the centre square and sparked the Blues with two inside 50s and a clearance within the first three minutes, and he finished with 26 possessions (10 contested) and six forward entries.
Malthouse said the 30-year-old's form on return, after one match in the VFL, should have been expected.
"He is one of the highest-rated players that I see as a pro," the coach said on Friday night.
"He will always get the best out of himself, and his ability to get ready for a game is just as important as actually playing.
"So credit to him, a wonderful credit."
While Judd shone in the midfield on Friday night alongside form on-baller Bryce Gibbs (23 possessions and nine clearances), Malthouse felt the Blues were let down by a lack of class and consistency.
The Blues challenged the Hawks for three quarters at the MCG, but they eventually caved to the reigning premiers and slipped to 4-8 this season.
"I thought our endeavour was OK, I thought our tactics were quite sound," Malthouse said.
"But the class level under pressure, the fumbling and the decision-making, killed us.
"I guess in many instances, the endeavour is there but the class may not be."
Malthouse said his team "drifted away from the essentials of football" during the first quarter, using the ball too slowly and falling 25 points behind at the first break.
He said the players were "bordering on trying to be too team-orientated instead of being direct" early.
Key forward Levi Casboult was the star of the Blues' fightback, kicking three goals in the second quarter and finishing with 4.0 in a breakout performance.
Malthouse was delighted for the strong-marking forward, as well as key defender Sam Rowe, who held in-form Hawk Jarryd Roughead to one goal in the first three quarters before conceding two in the last term.
"The only time late he got beaten was on an indefensible ball that was coming into Roughead," the coach said of Rowe.
"The one-on-ones he got back into it, he was fantastic."
Malthouse said to coach 700 games "means a lot", but he was glad the milestone had passed.
"We are not travelling the way I would like and it is the clubs 150th celebration tomorrow, [so] there are a few things in front of it that warrant more attention," he said.