CHARLIE Curnow isn't just back. He's back, he's better than he's ever been and he's steering Carlton into genuine premiership contention.
Carlton faced one of its sternest tests of the season this year on Friday night against Sydney, but the Blues came out on top as 15-point winners and Curnow once again the hero.
BLUES V SWANS Full match details and stats
The comeback Blue, who played four games in the past two seasons dealing with ongoing knee injuries, booted five goals in the first half and finished with six as the Blues won 15.12 (102) to 13.9 (87).
With Harry McKay missing with a knee injury, Curnow stepped up in a best-on-ground performance to jump to the top of the Coleman Medal board at the start of round 10 as the Blues hung on against the surging Swans in the second half.
Carlton jumped to a six-goal lead in the second quarter but it was whittled back after half-time in a high-scoring contest befitting of two top-four challengers. The Swans got back to within eight points midway through the last quarter before a clever kick by Blues forward Zac Fisher curled through for a goal to seal Carlton's thrilling win.
Sam Walsh (34 disposals) and ex-Swan George Hewett (32, nine clearances) were exceptional, while Jacob Weitering outpointed Lance Franklin in defence, and Tom Papley kicked three goals for the Swans in a lively showing.
The end-to-end start kept up throughout, with Curnow's goal after the quarter-time siren bringing the Blues to within one point of the Swans at the first change. It was his second goal of the quarter, with his first a monster bomb from outside 50 that was the highlight of an entertaining start.
Sydney's accuracy, thanks to Logan McDonald's two strong set shots, gave it the advantage with the Blues' inefficiency (3.5 to 4.0) costing them the lead.
It clicked soon enough. In the opening 11 minutes of the second term, Carlton slammed on five straight goals in an onslaught the Swans couldn't cop.
Corey Durdin started in with a dribbler, before Curnow chipped in with another two as he got on top of Tom McCartin. When Jesse Motlop threw the ball onto the outside of his foot from close range, the Blues had jumped to a 29-point lead in an instant.
McDonald got another to pull it back, but then it was a fifth goal to Curnow – this one after the ball bounced perfectly at the back of the pack into his hands – to steady the Blues. Tom De Koning joined the party from the boundary line, Fisher snapped truly and when Durdin's work ethic was rewarded with another shot, the Blues had extended the lead to 38 points at the main break.
The Swans put their foot on the pedal in the third quarter kicking five goals to two to reduce the margin to 17 points at the final change. They had turned the tide in the midfield and started to get on top around the ground, with Franklin's long on-the-run goal from the centre square a vintage major from the champion goalkicker.
They continued to press in the final term but Carlton's buffer couldn't be breached in another significant win for coach Michael Voss.
Carlton's mosquito fleet turn it on
It was another exciting night from the Blues' group of small forwards who terrorised the Swans' defence. Durdin (two goals, 12 disposals) was excellent with his ball use and pressure, while Matt Owies also created an impact with his defensive acts and capacity to keep the ball inside-50. Second-gamer Jesse Motlop also brought the crowd to its feet in an electric game and booted a goal, while Fisher kicked two goals, including the last, in another polished performance.
Huge collision costly for Kennedy
Sydney veteran Josh Kennedy looks set to miss a number of weeks after coming off second-best after a bizarre heavy collision with Sam Docherty in the second term. With Docherty about to mark, Kennedy crashed into him while contesting the mark and collected the former Carlton skipper with his elbow. Carlton players quickly ran in to remonstrate with Kennedy and a scuffle ensued, but Kennedy had come off worse as he grabbed for his hamstring. In striving to make the spoil, Kennedy appeared to have ripped his hamstring, hobbling from the field and then immediately substituted out of the game.
Young Swans tall impresses
With Lance Franklin well held by Jacob Weitering, it was left to young Swan Logan McDonald to be the main target inside attack for his side. He lifted to the responsibility, booting two goals in the first quarter and then a third in the second term. McDonald's smarts, marking skills and craft were excellent and he finished with three goals from 10 marks and 14 disposals in another excellent display from the promising Swan.
CARLTON 4.0 12.8 14.9 15.12 (102)
SYDNEY 3.5 7.0 12.4 13.9 (87)
Carlton: Curnow 6, Durdin 2, Fisher 2, Cripps, De Koning, Kennedy, Motlop, Owies
Sydney: McDonald 3, Papley 3, Franklin 2, Hayward 2, Gulden, McInerney, Parker
Carlton: Curnow, Walsh, Weitering, Hewett, Saad, Durdin
Sydney: Mills, Parker, Papley, Gulden, P.McCartin, Florent
Sydney: Kennedy (hamstring)
Carlton: Brodie Kemp
Sydney: Braeden Campbell (replaced Josh Kennedy in the second quarter)