The Carlton Football Club went into the 2016 season undoubtedly on the rebuild.
After an abysmal 2015, the Blues brought in new coach Brendan Bolton and moved on 15 players in an effort to shake things up. With such drastic changes in personnel, and overall club direction, it looked like there would be no short-term success for the Blues.
But the last four weeks have proven otherwise. Things are changing at Princes Park and success might not be as far away as some initially thought.
At this point in the season, Carlton find themselves at 4-4. As a team touted as almost certain wooden spooners, sitting in 11th place would feel pretty good at the moment.
After a winless first month, the last four weeks have seen consecutive win after win for the Blues- something that hasn’t happened since 2011.
And if you listen to the players, Brendan Bolton is the one to thank.
“[Bolton has] instilled a lot of confidence in the guys,” Captain Marc Murphy said. “We’ve worked tirelessly over the preseason and the confidence he’s instilling within the group is really important.”
“Everyone’s really feeding off that and really enjoying what we do day-to-day at the club.”
Like most new coaches, Bolton’s first point of focus has been the defensive side of Carlton’s game. And the stats prove it’s so far, so good.
The Blues have gone from conceding on average 107 points in 2015, to only 87.9 points this year. They’ve gone from being the worst team in this category, to seventh best.
Carlton have also kept the ball in their forward half more (from 7mins 51 secs less than their opponents in 2015, to 5mins 46secs more than the opposition this year), have created more turnovers (from worst last year, to ninth in 2015), and have also conceded less points from turnovers (from 17th to eighth).
While the defence appears to be reasonably solid, scoring still remains an issue for the club. Notorious for their lack of a forward line, and after trading out scoring talent, the Blues are only averaging 72.7 points a game.
In comparison to the best scoring team in GWS, who average 114.6 points per week, it is clear Carlton still has plenty of work to do in this department. But improvements in scoring will come with time and through the likely inclusion of promising young forwards in the draft.
The trick with developing teams, though, is making sure that the effort is there, even if the skills and personnel are not. Luckily for Carlton in 2016, effort is something they have in spades. And it is obviously a highly emphasised by the coach.
“I don’t want to be a club that is defined by wins and losses. It has got to be defined by effort and application,” Bolton said. “Our group’s ability to find a different way to get the job done, its something we are proud of.”
So with the players constantly persevering with grit and determination, can Carlton’s stellar form continue?
Chances are, probably not. As exciting and hardworking as the Blues have been, they are still a young, developing side. They will come up against stronger and more seasoned teams, and are bound to have shifts in momentum and fortune.
This week, for example, will be a struggle.
The Blues come up against the undefeated Kangaroos at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night. Sure, North Melbourne is due for a loss. But an injury riddled side will make the Blues’ task even more difficult.
Carlton has lost forward Levi Casboult for 6-8 weeks after fracturing his tibia early on in the win against Port. And despite playing out the game and sealing the match winner, ruckman Matthew Kreuzer will also be sidelined for up to a month after he tore his meniscus.
But while the Blues will lose some vital experience, the possible re-inclusion of number one draft pick, Jacob Weitering, could provide some youth and class.
So even if the Blues lose on the weekend, they certainly won’t be losing any fans. They’re performances over the last few weeks has won admiration from even their most dubious supporters.
Now while the lid feels like it’s well and truly off, it is important to remember Carlton still has a long way to go.
But if they keep improving week-to-week, and give the whole-hearted performances of the last few rounds, then this Carlton side is bound for success in the very near future.
(First published on The Roar on May 19th 2016)