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Round 21: Talking points

Rory Coleman-Heard  August 12, 2017 9:00 PM

AFL 2017 Round 21 - West Coast v Carlton

Jack Darling celebrates his influential fourth-quarter goal

1. West Coast dodges a bullet
They were close to five goals ahead. Their midfielders were dominating and their forwards had the better of their direct opponents, but when the Blues kicked into gear in a season-best third term, the Eagles had few answers. For an inexperienced team, Carlton’s ability to trap the ball inside its attacking half was a frightening sign of the club’s future. With the assistance of a three-goal breeze, the Blues cut off West Coast’s run and congested their forward half. Half-back Sam Docherty was instrumental while talented recruit Jarrod Pickett announced himself as a potential match-winner with a number of blistering line-breaking forays through the Eagles’ zone. And when Blaine Boekhorst converted a difficult chance 27 minutes into the third term to put his team in front, Simpson’s men dropped from seventh to 10th on the AFL ladder. West Coast regathered the ascendancy in the final quarter and used the wind to their advantage to kick five goals to three, but the warning signs are there, and if 17th placed Blues can unlock the Eagles’ insecurities, it’s unlikely teams as strong as GWS and Adelaide will miss out.

2. Beating the Blues is just the tip of the iceberg
If West Coast makes finals, they won’t be there just to make up the numbers. The Eagles did what they needed to do against the Blues, but the real challenge begins at Spotless Stadium next week against a GWS team threatening to return to its frightening best. The Giants broke their duck against West Coast in round 10 with a host of senior players missing through injury. Most of those men are back to full fitness and riding high on confidence. In the event Simpson’s men overcome that first significant hurdle, they’ll then need to outpoint ladder-leaders Adelaide in the last AFL fixture at Subiaco Oval – a venue at which Crows coach Don Pyke has fared well both at home and as a visitor. Tick that box and they’re well on their way to having their say in September.

3. Carlton needn’t count down the days until season’s end
For a developing team languishing near the foot of the ladder, Carlton has been commendably competitive, barring big losses to Port Adelaide and Geelong. Since winning two games on the trot after the bye – including one of the upsets of the season against the Giants – Bolton’s men have lost eight games in a row with popular commentary suggesting the off-season can’t come quick enough. But Carlton backed up a gritty performance last week to seriously challenge the Eagles and even dragged back a five-goal deficit to take the lead late in the third term. There’s a lot to like about the Blues; their defensive structures allow for long stints with the ball inside attacking 50, the team’s young prospects are among the most exciting in the league –  and on tonight’s performance, Jarrod Pickett can be added to that long list – and experienced players Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Kade Simpson lead by example. Another off-season together will surely auger well as the club pushes for finals in the coming years, but there is something to be gained yet from season 2017. They’re not winning, but Carlton’s confidence looks to be growing each week.

4. Mitchell snags another scalp
As if a résumé boasting a Brownlow Medal, three All-Australian jumpers and four premierships – one as captain – wasn’t enough, 325-game veteran Sam Mitchell added another, slightly more obscure gong to his illustrious record. Early in the first quarter, the 34-year-old became the most prolific hand-baller the game has ever seen, overtaking Bulldogs legend Scott West’s tally of 4091 hand-passes in 324 games. The achievement isn’t likely to be broken anytime soon either, with the retiring Matt Priddis (fifth with 3737) and veteran Gary Ablett (seventh with 3674) the current players closest to matching him. Mitchell also features in the top 10 all-time lists for clearances (first – a record also broken this season), uncontested possessions (second), contested possessions (third), disposals (fifth), goal assists (ninth) and inside 50s (10th). And a whole new world of statistics will open up when he kicks off his coaching career next year.

5. Casboult has done his contract negotiations no harm
With several clubs chasing marking forwards and with a limited pool of players to choose from, a strong finish to the season could see out-of-contract Levi Casboult’s currency soar. A free agent at the end of the year, Casboult is arguably the league’s best contested mark and has improved his goalkicking markedly under the tutelage of Saverio Rocca. On Saturday he passed the 30-goal barrier for the first time in his career and, despite his set-shot shortcomings, lined up the goals as well as anyone on the ground – capped off with 50m boundary-line effort in front of the jeering West Coast faithful. Carlton coach Brendon Bolton admitted midweek he was unsure if Casboult would be at the Blues next year, with the 27-year-old delaying contract talks until season’s end. He was quiet in patches and made a few simple mistakes but the 201cm big man clunks his marks, works hard, and would be a handy player to have on any list.