CARLTON is ready to throw much-loved veteran Eddie Betts straight into the action in round one, despite the Blues forward missing the club's two pre-season practice matches due to an ongoing calf injury.
Betts still hasn't played in front of a home crowd since making his long-awaited return to Carlton during the 2019 Trade Period, but appears set to renew acquaintances with the Blues faithful in next Thursday night's blockbuster season-opener.
His anticipated inclusion comes despite the 34-year-old having a delayed start to his summer due to a calf complaint, forcing him to sit out both of the club's pre-season practice matches against Essendon and St Kilda.
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Betts returned to play just over a half in a VFL scratch match against the Saints last Friday morning, getting through unscathed and kicking two goals, with the Blues confident he will be able to hit the ground running early in the season.
"He's a proven big-game player," Carlton assistant coach Cameron Bruce said on Friday.
"Our fitness staff prepare the players to come in and have an immediate impact. Those more experienced players obviously don't need the amount of training that a younger, inexperienced player would need to give them that conditioning.
"He's had 15 pre-seasons prior as a build-up, so he's a player that can come in and have an impact."
Betts had played 184 games in his first stint with Carlton, before spending six seasons at Adelaide. Upon his return to Ikon Park last year, the Blues forward managed 13 goals from 15 games in an indifferent campaign.
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In a revealing exit interview captured by Amazon Prime cameras in the newly released documentary Making Their Mark, Betts was told by the club's high-performance boss Andrew Russell that he had "lost confidence in his craft" last season.
However, Bruce believes Betts has enjoyed a terrific summer and is ready to consistently impact once more at senior level.
"He's starting to have a real influence on the training track," Bruce said. "You can see that he's training with a real sense of freedom and enjoyment. We know that when he's doing that, he's going to be a really threatening proposition for his opposition. We know what he's capable of doing.
"He was, as much as anyone, not satisfied with his output last year. Even though, for us, his defensive involvement and the things that are so important from a small forward point of view … he was able to affect.
"He probably didn't have the level of impact that we know he's capable of. He's getting himself in a position where he'll be able to do that this year."
Key forward Harry McKay was on very light duties on the training track on Friday as he continues his bid to prove his fitness for round one following an ankle injury, while Mitch McGovern ran laps having already been ruled out due to back stiffness.