From the grandstand: The navy swagger is back

21 June 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

When you think of arrogance – as in confident arrogance, not sheer egotism – you can’t go past John Travolta’s performance in Grease.

How could you not have fallen in love with Danny Zuko? The leather jacket, skin-tight jeans and intimidating sunglasses. And of course that strut, which made girls, both acting in the film and watching in cinemas, quiver at the knees.

However the tables have turned. No longer is Travolta the king of cockiness – at least not in AFL circles.

These days, when you think of self-confidence, it’s Carltonthat  immediately comes to mind.

It’s now the sight to behold. It’s the modern-day equivalent to Travolta.

And it knows it.

From the ’60s to the ’80s, the Blues were a dominant force in the VFL. They won seven flags between 1968 and 1987, with the likes of John Nicholls, Sergio Silvagni, Alex Jesaulenko, Wayne Harmes and later Rod Ashman and now president Stephen Kernahan all household names.

Those Carlton teams were intimidating – and they knew it. So did the fans, who loved rubbing a Blues victory into the faces of opposition supporters. They were just as arrogant as the players.

A few decades on, nothing has changed. The swagger and head wobble has returned. And if you ask Carlton supporters, it’s here to stay.

The Blues currently sit third on the ladder with nine wins and a draw from their first 12 games. Only Geelong and Collingwood, the two teams whom many believe will play in the 2011 Grand Final, hover above them.

But the 2011 AFL season is no longer a two-horse race between the Cats and the Pies. A third dividend will be needed.

The Blues are capable of beating Collingwood and Geelong. In fact with a bit of luck and solid fitness management, they could make it to the Grand Final.

The scary thing is the players, coaches, staff and supporters know it too.

Carlton’s 2009 membership campaign was ‘They Know We’re Coming’. The slogan drew plenty of sympathetic scoffs, especially after the club had finished between 11th and 16th in the preceding seven seasons.

But all those years of patience, frustration and disappointment are now a distant memory because the Blues are no longer coming. They’re already here. Their time is now.

Carlton showed improvement in 2009 and 2010, reaching the finals but failing to progress past the first week. Those Carlton sides were good, but Carlton 2011 is so much better.

So why are the Blues so good? Because they are unique.

Yes, they apply fantastic defensive and use the press well, just like Collingwood and Geelong. But it’s their personnel and the specific roles they are used in which makes them so difficult to beat.

The Blues are led superbly by skipper Chris Judd, perhaps the most explosive and influential player in the competition. Each week, the dual Brownlow medallist grinds away in the middle of the ground, giving his heart and soul to the club. The important words there are ‘each week’ – you always know what you’re going to get from him.

In recent years, the Blues have been criticised for being too reliant on Judd through the midfield. But this season, their fans have been delighted with the emergence of some other class acts.

Number one draft pick Marc Murphy is now an elite AFL midfielder. Come Brownlow medal night in September later this year, expect him to receive three votes when Judd doesn’t. Murphy’s work rate has lifted significantly this season, averaging 29 disposals and five tackles per game – both career-high figures.

What about Mitch Robinson? Every team wants someone like him – a man so selfless he’s prepared to put his head over the footy and risk concussion for the good of his teammates. Countless times this season Robinson has suffered a big hit on the field and picked himself up seconds later to get involved in the next contest. It’s strange, but he’s close to the best player in the competition when it comes to coping with concussion.

Perhaps the most unique aspect about the Blues is their forward line, with the majority of their goals coming from men standing 190 centimetres or less. The illusive trio of Eddie Betts, Jeff Garlett and Andrew Walker have combined for 81 goals this season. Walker has been the biggest surprise packet of the bunch. He’s transformed himself into a dangerous forward, who can not only take a big pack mark and lead to the right positions, but also nimbly pick up the crumbs off the ground and snap truly from difficult angles.

Not scared yet? The Blues’ defence is also underrated. They’re conceding an average of 73 points per game in 2011, the third lowest in the competition. A big reason behind that is Michael Jamison, who is being touted as this season’s All-Australian full-back, conceding just eight goals in 12 games so far. Chris Yarran is also giving his team plenty of drive and class across half-back.

Then there’s ruckman Matthew Kreuzer. Sorry, star ruckman Matthew Kreuzer. Against Sydney on Sunday, in just his second game back from a knee reconstruction, the 22-year-old proved how vital he is to Carlton’s premiership chances. Kreuzer set up his team’s 34-point victory with two first-quarter goals as a mobile forward, before replacing Shaun Hampson in the ruck to finish with 24 possessions (12 contested), seven tackles, 13 hit-outs, four clearances and five inside 50’s. One word – star.

Still not scared? There are still a number of players who could slot back into the side. Dennis Armfield, Paul Bower, Aaron Joseph, Brock McLean and Simon White all didn’t play against Sydney, but could easily walk back into the team if there was an injury. And let’s not forget Jeremy Laidler, Kane Lucas, Robert Warnock and, perhaps Carlton’s most important player, Jarrad Waite, who are all on the injury list.

So if you’re not on the Blues’ bandwagon, jump on now. It’s going places. If you can’t stand Carlton being successful, get used to it.

The Blues are contenders. And they know they are.

Ben Waterworth is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s former sports editor. You can follow him on twitter: @bjwaterworth