Carlton 2012 Season Preview

INS: Josh Bootsma (national draft), Dylan Buckley (father-son selection), Sam Rowe (national draft).

OUTS: Mark Austin (delisted), Ryan Houlihan (retired), Setanta O’hAilipin (delisted).

LAST YEAR: They said they wanted to win a final and did so with an emphatic victory over Essendon at the MCG, but fell narrowly to West Coast in Perth a week later. Familiar faces led the charge – Marc Murphy excelled, Chris Judd was excellent, while Bryce Gibbs, Heath Scotland and Kade Simpson rounded out the top five in the best and fairest. But the improvement of Andrew Walker (56 goals), Mitch Robinson, Jeff Garlett, Chris Yarran and inclusion of Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler made them a tougher outfit.

GAME BREAKER: In a blue-chip midfield, Mitch Robinson brings an aggression that steeled Carlton last season. The Tasmanian managed 23 games in his third season and, during a career-best run of form between rounds 10-18, averaged 28 touches per game and was No.3 in the league for hardball gets. He’s the type of player who makes things happen and can spark the Blues with a smother, turnover or fearless approach on the footy.

RISING STAR: It’s Kane Lucas’s time. The midfielder, taken at No.12 in the 2009 national draft, has a third pre-season under his belt and should be advancing his 10-game tally considerably this year. He has served his VFL apprenticeship and needs to take the next step. Lucas will be competing with stars of the league for game time but the expectations are high on the skilled South Australian.

KEY ARRIVAL: Paul Williams should be an asset to Brett Ratten in the coaches box after crossing from Western Bulldogs, where he was highly regarded for his tactical nous and game day planning. Of the three draftees Sam Rowe can have the biggest impact in his first season at Princes Park. The 24-year-old has treaded the same path as teammate Nick Duigan. He joins from SANFL club Norwood where he played 84 games after being on Sydney’s list as a rookie in 2008. The ruckman/forward offers the Blues another dimension in attack.

COACH FACTOR: Brett Ratten oversaw another year of improvement and a third straight season of finals action in 2011. Carlton acknowledged his performance by announcing a two-year extension to Ratten’s tenure. The deal will see him coach beyond 100 games in charge of the club he was a standout player with, including the 1995 premiership.

STATS THAT MATTER: Carlton made giant strides defensively last season. Their average points against was slashed from 90.1 in 2010 (ninth in the league) to 77.3 (fifth). Down the other end the little blokes at ground level were critical. Carlton won 23 more groundballs inside their forward 50 than the opposition defenders. Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett led the way as the Blues became the only team in the league to be in the positive in that area.

THE VERDICT: 5th.  Waite, Kreuzer and Jamison. Where most have Judd, Murphy and Gibbs as the Blues’ top three, it is the former three who hold the key to Carlton’s chances of making this year’s grand final. The sense of optimism will be well placed if you could guarantee that Waite, Kreuzer and Jamison would play every game this year. Trouble is, history tells it’s a big if.

BEST 22

B: Russell Jamison Laidler

HB: Duigan Henderson Scotland

C: Yarran Robinson Simpson

HF: Gibbs Waite Garlett

F: Betts Kreuzer Walker

Foll: Warnock Judd Murphy

I/C: Thornton, Carrazzo, Lucas

Sub: Collins

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