CARLTON has turned its Tom Papley misfortune into glorious opportunity.
Where the Blues missing out on securing Papley during the 2019 trade period had once felt regrettable, shrewd recruitment elsewhere and some shuffling of the magnets has undoubtedly softened the blow.
Now, nearly three years on and as Carlton prepares to face Papley's Swans under the Friday night lights, it's the Blues' newly assembled fleet of small forwards that will be looking to set the tempo for their side's performance.
Should new coach Michael Voss retain an identical forward set-up again at Marvel Stadium this weekend, it will be Corey Durdin, Matt Owies, Zac Fisher and Jesse Motlop on the prowl in attack. Their presence together is unlikely, but effective.
All four were recruited outside the top-25 selections in their respective NAB AFL Draft years, while Owies – a former basketballer who represented Australia at junior level – was picked up as a Category B rookie after finishing a college stint in the United States.
Durdin was the under-16s Division 1 MVP who initially thought he'd be recruited as an onballer, while Fisher himself has perhaps played his best footy for the club through the midfield. Motlop, meanwhile, was an AFL debutant last week.
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Coming into the year, none were regarded as the type of talents you would trade a top-10 pick for – as Carlton had once hoped to for Papley. But, collectively, they are doing the type of job Papley had been eyed to accomplish at Ikon Park.
Champion Data notes that the first-choice small forward duo of Durdin and Owies, mainstays in the side since Voss took charge, both rank above average for forward-half pressure points (24.6 and 27.2 respectively) so far this season.
Owies is elite among small forwards for tackles (3.9 per game) and ranks above average for score assists (1.1 per game), while Durdin – last week's NAB AFL Rising Star nominee – ranks above average for forward-50 groundball gets (1.8 per game).
Fisher's role is slightly different. Seen as the high half-forward that links the play from midfield, his impact is determined in other ways. But, for his role, he is undoubtedly one of the best in the competition.
This season, the diminutive West Australian is rated elite in his position for disposals (18.4 per game), uncontested possessions (13.9 per game), kick rating (+12.3 per cent) and shot at goal accuracy (69.2 per cent).
As one of the side's main distributors inside 50, his kick rating and accuracy are particularly important. According to Champion Data, Fisher also rates above average for AFL Player Ratings (10.2) and score involvements (5.4 per game).
Motlop's role, after just one senior game, is still being defined. But given an impressive debut, where his 19 pressure acts ranked No.2 at the club – and following a promising VFL stint that featured six goals from four games – it will grow further still.
Together, they have helped Carlton become one of the best forward-half and forward-50 pressure teams in the competition. They have also been important to a Blues attack that features two aerial focal points in Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay.
Their goal output – Fisher has nine, Owies and Durdin six each, and Motlop one from his only game – can become a secondary aspect to their play, mainly thanks to how frequently both Curnow (27 goals) and McKay (20 goals) can hit the scoreboard.
It's seen Carlton now rank No.6 in the League for forward-50 pressure factor this year (1.69) and No.8 for forward-half pressure factor (1.72). That's a significant improvement for the Blues, who finished bottom-four in both categories in 2018, 2019 and 2021.
So, while Voss and Carlton's coaching group might fear Papley's presence in Sydney's forward line on Friday night, they might not necessarily still be missing what he could have provided in their own attack at the other end.