On the eve of round 20, Carlton supporters continue to ask themselves one question: Why is Nick Graham still being left out of the seniors?
A team which set it sights on finally having a tilt at a premiership has had to greatly reassess their options, especially after an uninspired performance last weekend against Fremantle. While the undermanned Dockers were undeniably impressive, Carlton lacked the intent and maniacal approach of the superior teams and consequently they were second to the ball far too frequently.
Since 2008, the midfield of Carlton has been described as their major strength, seemingly loaded with star power and capable of going with the very best. Instead, it is in need of a major reshuffle if the Blues are to cling on to what could potentially be the vital ninth spot. Malthouse accused his midfield of “chugging along at best” after the North Melbourne game and the unit has hardly improved since.
Clearly, Carlton needs something new in a midfield which has almost become too defensive, yet they’re still not able to quell the top midfielders. A number of players have been utilised with limited results, with the midfield – irrespective of who it contains – unable to win their own ball. Nick Graham, despite only being 19 years of age, seems to be the most obvious solution, especially if his reserves form is anything to go by. Alas, his tremendous form has been unrewarded.
Graham, who was pick 54 in last year’s draft, caught the eye of onlookers in Carlton’s intra-club matches, being close to best afield on both occasions. While a lingering knee injury caused a delay to the start of the season, his pre-season form has not been lost. He began in a blaze of glory with 23 disposals, six clearances and two goals against Frankston in just 60% game time, and has not looked back.
Since his return from injury, Graham has averaged over 27 disposals in seven weeks, including consecutive 30+ possession games against Box Hill and Coburg. In this time, Graham has shown that he has the ability to win his own ball at the coalface and also have a defensive side to his game, averaging just under seven clearances and tackles respectively. And yet, the Blues continue to play one dimensional players. The majority of the midfield are either strictly defensive or offensive, with very little ground in between.
Graham seemingly fills the void, yet the man from Gippsland Power continues to ply his trade in the reserves. The likes of solely defensive taggers such as Ed Curnow and Jaryd Cachia seems to limit Carlton’s ability to attack, given they offer little offensively. If Northern Blues form is anything to go by – which apparently is not the case – Graham’s defensive side is complemented by his ability to hit the scoresheet, having kicked six goals in that time.
Touted as one of the steals of last year’s draft, Graham excelled under the tutelage of coach Nick Stevens, the former Port Adelaide and Carlton veteran. Under Stevens at Gippsland, Graham went onto win the Morrish Medal and surprised many when he lasted until pick 54, including Carlton’s recruiting manager Shane Rogers. Graham’s game has been likened to that of Stevens along with Fremantle’s David Mundy, given he can win his own ball along with being able to push forward and kick goals, something which Carlton have lacked.
Questions have been asked by puzzled Carlton supporters in regards to the non-selections of previous stalwarts Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler, the former being in the leadership group. Yet while their form has been solid in the Northern Blues, it has hardly been enough to warrant selection. Conversely, Graham has been mightily impressive in every performance for Northern, yet he’s been unable to find his way through the revolving door at Carlton’s selection table.
With the loss of Andrew Carrazzo through injury along with the omissions of Kane Lucas and Mitch Robinson, Graham seemed prime for a senior debut against the Western Bulldogs this week. However, the three were instead replaced with Jarrad Waite, Troy Menzel and Josh Bootsma: one has to wonder how that will be beneficial to an underachieving Carlton midfield.
While Carlton supporters are not exactly known for their patience and reasonable expectations of players, the case of Graham is justified. Given the competitive beast that Graham has shown himself to be, there is every chance that he would relish the chance in the seniors surrounded by not only better teammates, but better opponents. While he continues to go out there and show himself to be a ball magnet, Carlton supporters are disheartened that the selection staff are neglecting one of their bright talents.
Graham is yet to have the chance to prove himself, while are others in the lineup continue to be reprieved despite showing very little. This includes the case of the aforementioned Bootsma, who has not shown a great deal when he has played in the reserves to warrant a return to the senior side. While Mick Malthouse has forecasted a change for the end of the year – which is completely within reason – he currently seems unwilling to alter a formula which is not yielding results. Hopefully it is only a matter of time before the man they call ‘Puss’ gets his senior debut, for Graham and Carlton supporters alike.