In probably the hardest position on the ground to play, the Blues are spoilt for choice. At their best, Jeff Garlett, Eddie Betts and Chris Yarran tear teams apart and make the small forward position look easy. Sadly, they’re not in form.
Garlett leads Carlton’s goal kicking with 29 for the season, however, against the top four sides he’s only managed the one goal. The likes of Brent Guerra and Mark Baguley locking down on him have stunted his influence. Yarran started the year brilliantly but now, sees himself – rightly or wrongly – as a substitute, and Eddie Betts, having missed six weeks this year with injuries or suspensions, has lost the form he had at the start of the year.
Carlton’s forward line struggles to consistently impact games with different players bobbing up each week. The current forward line structure contains Garlett (29 goals), Waite (18), Betts (12), Yarran (17), Casboult (4) and Armfield (11). Of these, only Waite has kicked more than three in a game against a top four opponent and at the end of the day that’s what has to be done to become a top four contender themselves.
It’s all about balance. Yarran, Betts and Garlett in one forward line looks great on paper, but in reality it doesn’t seem to work because they can’t get the space they would normally have if there were just two of them. Playing Yarran off half back last year solved that problem, and it may be something the Blues should look at doing again.
Moving Yarran to half back means Andrew Walker should be moved forward. Walker has been brilliant off half back this year and is pushing for All Australian honours, but with the likes of Yarran, Kade Simpson and Heath Scotland in that role Carlton wouldn’t lose too much. Having him up forward would be a massive benefit as he is a very tough opponent to match up. Whether he’s marking on the lead, crumbing the ball or sitting on a defender’s head he can kick goals, as he proved in 2011, and needs to be given more chances there.
The obvious statement is Carlton have a massive problem in the tall forward department. This is magnified with the loss of Waite to a knee injury. Casboult has looked decent as a forward and is a brilliant contested marker, averaging more than anyone else in the competition with 2.6 per game. His main issue is that he doesn’t hit the scoreboard often enough, and he often sprays set shots. Shaun Hampson seems to have injured himself in the VFL, and will probably be unavailable for selection. That leaves Carlton with Sam Rowe and the untried Luke Mitchell as key forwards for now.
The other option is to bring in Robert Warnock and play Matthew Kreuzer at full forward. This is papering over cracks at best, as Kreuzer has never shown a consistent ability to kick goals, especially as the number one target. Another option in Lachie Henderson, a natural forward, is stuck at centre half back due to their lack of a second option.
In the short term, Carlton should look at bringing Rowe and Jeremy Laidler into their forward line along with Walker, Garlett, Casboult and Betts, and move Yarran to half back. Laidler comes as a third marking option who has shown in the VFL that he is a capable forward and Walker as a proven goal kicker, something which the Carlton forward line sorely needs.
With Betts likely to miss this week with a hip injury, first-round pick Troy Menzel is likely to get another opportunity up forward after a brilliant performance in the VFL, kicking three goals and having over 20 disposals.
Long term, Carlton has to hit the trade table with everything they have. They must try and get their hands on Scott Gumbleton, or someone similar. Gumbleton has had a wretched history with injuries, but is a former number two draft pick has shown that he is more than capable once given a consistent run. Carlton should also consider making a play for Tom Boyd, likely to go number one in the draft, but they likely don’t have enough to interest GWS into trading for him, and the cost would be too great.
Carlton are a year or two away from being a team that can challenge for the flag, but to get to that stage they must invest heavily in a key forward and the rest of this year must be spent finding the right balance.