Coach Brett Ratten believes winning an all-star midfield battle is vital to Carlton’s chances of upsetting Collingwood on Saturday.
The Blues will look to rebound from last week’s upset loss to the Western Bulldogs and with West Coast just two points adrift and threatening to pinch fourth spot, Ratten conceded it was a crunch game.
He dared the Blues’ midfield trio of Chris Judd, Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs to take it up to their Collingwood counterparts.
“It will be won by who can get their hands on the ball first and who can tackle to get the ball back,” Ratten said at Visy Park on Friday.
“If we let Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas kick the ball with no pressure on them and they are pressuring Judd, Gibbs and Murphy then that might be where the game is won and lost.”
“We want to see a bit more boldness, even if we make a few blues doing it.”
“That’s what we didn’t do against the Bulldogs. We played really non-risk football.”
Ratten was confident surprise inclusion Wayde Twomey, who is set to debut before a crowd of 90,000, will perform on the big stage.
“He is one these players that performs well in big games at WAFL level. He played in the grand final last year and played a great game.”
“He’s 25, he’s experienced and emotionally he doesn’t really get fazed.”
“I know it’s his first game but he will do a good job for us.”
While a loss would leave Carlton with just one win from their past four matches, an upset victory would be a shot in the arm for their premiership credentials having only beaten one team in the eight – Sydney – so far this year.
“I think we can win. We are not making up the numbers. With our form at the MCG we are going into this one in it right up to our necks,” Ratten said.
“They’re in great form but we think we are a real chance.”
Carlton has also included another mature-age recruit, Ed Curnow, and first-round draft pick Matthew Watson for his third AFL match.
Though Watson has plied his trade as a defender so far in 2011, Ratten hinted the key position player may line up in attack.
“Watson has played juniors as a forward as well and kicked bags of five and six, so he can go down that end,” Ratten said.
“(Lachie) Henderson we know, and Bret Thornton’s another one that can go (forward) as well.”
“So we’ll probably play all three down there at times.”
“That’s one to hopefully keep Mick Malthouse guessing.”
Meanwhile dumped veteran Ryan Houlihan, who is stranded on 199 games, will be forced to regain his form through the VFL reserves with the Northern Bullants’ seniors having a bye this weekend.
“He’ll play his 200th. It’s not this week, but it won’t be that far away,” Ratten said.
“He’s played four games now and we just thought he needed a little bit more zip into his game.”
by Terence Johns