RARELY do NAB Challenge matches get tagged as blockbuster affairs, but Chris Judd’s first appearance in a Carlton jumper will ensure an unusually big crowd treks out to MC Labour Park on Friday evening.

The Blues might only be taking on fellow 2007 struggler, the Western Bulldogs, but a crowd of up to 15,000 has been tipped to flock to the historic ground to not only welcome Judd, but to farewell the Robert Heatley stand, due for demolition during the year.

For new Carlton coach Brett Ratten, the sight of Judd in a Blues’ jumper is a day he’s been anticipating since the ex-West Coast captain was acquired during trade week last October.

“He’s going well, we’re two days out from the game so we’ll probably modify him a bit today but there’s no problem at all,” Ratten said before a training session in Wednesday’s surprisingly warm March sunshine.

“He’ll play close to two-and-a-half to three quarters, we’ll get him through, and it will be good to have him there.

“It’s just fantastic – you get a player of his calibre to the club and now, like any of our players, you want them to have a practice match before the season.

“It’s all gone to plan so far, so it’s great to have him on board.”
Following two weeks of full strength training, Ratten confirmed the new skipper would be thrust into the action from the outset, despite predictions of temperatures topping 31 degrees.

“That’s the (plan),” Ratten said. “He’s probably one of the best stoppage players in the competition during the past 10 years, so let’s play him to his strengths.

“We’ll look after him, it just depends how hot it gets and the conditions, and if it looks like he’s fatiguing a bit, we’ll take him off.

“But there’s normal set rotations with midfielders, he’ll just be a part of that and around three-quarter time he might come off, and that might do him for the day.”

While Judd is certain to front, his deputy Nick Stevens will be a notable absentee after suffering a double-scare.

“He injured (his neck) during an intra-club game and then did some weights and he thought he got a little bit stiff,” Ratten said.

“We also thought it was the same thing ... but we got him scanned, and everything is fine and he’ll be right for round one.

“If we were playing [for points] this week, Nick could probably play, but the other side of the coin is that he’s got an infected knee from Telstra Dome where he landed, so he’s got a really big scar which has blown up a lot and that’s probably why he’s not playing.”

Ratten confirmed that midfielder Andrew Walker would keep his spot after successfully getting through last week’s clash with West Coast unscathed.

While injuries and signings have captured the headlines from Royal Parade over the past six months, the former club champion says he’s been pleased with the progress of his youngsters.

“There’s been a few of the kids that have really jumped up,” Ratten said. “Adam Hartlett’s been here for nearly three years and he’s had a really good pre-season, a little bit slow to get going but now he’s going fantastic.

“(Michael) Jamison’s been the one that’s been the real highlight; he’s put on around five kilos, can play tall and small, and has become a really vital player for our team.”

The rookie coach also weighed into the NAB Cup and NAB Challenge debate, saying the competition played an important role for younger sides.

“I think (the NAB Cup) is a pretty good competition,” Ratten said. “From our point of view, because we are a young team, we would like to see all of our young players play.

“How do you gain experience? It’s hard sometimes to put a kid in during the home and away season when it’s for four points and sometimes the coach’s head is on the chopping block.

“What a great time to take a kid away to Adelaide or to Alice Springs and play. All the players on our list have now played at senior level for our club ... and I think that’s fantastic.”