WHERE AND WHEN: Patersons Stadium, Thursday June 14, 5.40pm
LAST TIME: West Coast 15.11 (101) d Carlton 15.8 (98), first semi-final, 2011, at Patersons Stadium
Carlton will be desperate to get back to their winning ways, but they will face a difficult task against a fresh West Coast side coming off a bye at Patersons Stadium — the same venue and side where the Blues’ finals campaign of 2011 ended.
The Blues took a step in the right direction last week, but still fell short of the four points against reigning premiers Geelong. They will welcome back key players Andrew Carrazzo and Heath Scotland, and coach Brett Ratten will be thankful for the added experience they will bring.
The loss of Carrazzo has coincided with the Blues’ drop in form, and his return should help the ailing Carlton midfield return to the form that saw them declared premiership favourites so early in the year.
Their task will not be an easy one however.
West Coast, despite injures to key personnel, has barely missed a step in 2012, losing only twice in the opening 11 rounds. Unfortunately for Carlton, one of those was in the Eagles last match — a shock loss to Brisbane by two points.
It will likely leave the Eagles more motivated than usual to produce a peak performance, meaning than if Carlton once again are playing at a level anything less than 100%, they will face a real danger of being blown off the park.
There is more than enough evidence to suggest that the loss to Brisbane was nothing more than an aberration, with West Coast dominating most opponents as they look set to improve on their top four finish of last year.
Like Carlton, they will welcome back some stars into the lineup. Sam Butler, and in particular, Luke Schuey will provide some valuable run around the ground, although one comes at the expense of hard nut Beau Waters. Schuey may have taken a few years to cement his spot in the team, but he has been brilliant ever since; finishing second in the Rising Star Award last year and increasing his play to a new level in 2012.
He has provided another valuable option in the Eagles’ centre group, with Daniel Kerr, Matthew Priddis and Scott Selwood combining with ruckmen Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui to become an elite midfield.
They back up the work in the stoppages with a strong defensive zone which can create havoc, and Carlton will need to be at their best if they are to remain in contention with the Eagles.
Carlton poses the real questions in this contest, after a horror run has seen them drop out of the top eight for the first time in 2012.
With matches against Hawthorn and Collingwood following this game against the Eagles, Carlton need to respond before it all becomes too little too late.
Carrazzo’s biggest test will be immediately returning to the form that he was producing prior to his shoulder injury. It’s a tough ask for someone who has been missing since round four, but it’s something Carlton desperately needs, as another premium ball user in the middle automatically makes things easier for Chris Judd, and when Judd is finding things a little easier he can decimate the best with his gut running clearance work.
Scotland will also be pivotal for the Blues, his ball use coming off half back will need to be perfect to break down the Eagles’ zone which has gruesomely strangled opponents who fail to deal with it correctly.
With a tough schedule and the high hopes for 2012 in serious jeopardy, Carlton needs a win badly. You can expect them to throw everything at West Coast but the question remains: Will it be enough?
With a home ground advantage and a side that looks set to finish in the top four, it’s difficult to see how Carlton will be able to win this one.
West Coast by 28
West Coast Eagles
B: Will Schofield, Darren Glass, Sam Butler
HB: Shannon Hurn, Eric Mackenzie, Adam Selwood
C: Andrew Gaff, Matthew Priddis, Matthew Rosa
HF: Josh Hill, Quinten Lynch, Chris Masten
F: Nic Naitanui, Jack Darling, Daniel Kerr
Foll: Dean Cox, Scott Selwood, Luke Shuey
I/C: Patrick McGinnity, Brad Sheppard, Ashton Hams, Jacob Brennan
Emg: Mitch Brown, Thomas Swift, Koby Stevens
In: Sam Butler, Luke Shuey
Out: Beau Waters (Suspension), Thomas Swift
B: Zach Tuohy, Michael Jamison, Matthew Watson
HB: Bryce Gibbs, Lachlan Henderson, Nick Duigan
C: Heath Scotland, Chris Judd, Kade Simpson
HF: Jeffrey Garlett, Matthew Kreuzer, Andrew Walker
F: Christopher Yarran, Shaun Hampson, Eddie Betts
Foll: Robert Warnock, Mitch Robinson, David Ellard
I/C: Andrew Carrazzo, Dennis Armfield, Brock McLean, Andrew Collins
Emg: Aaron Joseph, Kane Lucas, Joshua Bootsma
In: Andrew Carrazzo, Heath Scotland
Out: Aaron Joseph, Joshua Bootsma