Buoyant Blues

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 13 Januari 2013 | 14.43

Carlton forward Eddie Betts will get plenty of help in 2013 from Blues big-man brigade. Picture: Wayne Ludbey Source: Herald Sun

Carlton forward Andrew Walker puts his balance to the test during yesterday's conditioning session at St Kilda beach. Picture: Wayne Ludbey Source: Herald Sun

CARLTON is racing towards the season with a fully-fit big man division as it strives to the ease burden on its speedy small forwards this year.

Avoiding the bold top-four declarations which dogged the club though an injury hit 2012, a "super-positive'' approach from new coach Mick Malthouse has re-energised the Blues, after a dramatic end to last season.

The wide-ranging change has included moves to release Chris Judd and Bryce Gibbs from official leadership positions, to help them play with more freedom in midfield positions next season.

While a more defensive game plan is being integrated, it is the encouraging signs from Carlton's key forward targets - many who were sidelined for large periods last year - which has fuelled confidence at Visy Park.

Big men Jarrad Waite, Matthew Kreuzer, Levi Casboult, Luke Mitchell, Shaun Hampson and Sam Rowe are all expected to be available for early-season selection, providing Blues coaches with a welcome problem they rarely confronted last year.

Forwards coach John Barker said the club was intent on providing more aerial support in the forward-50m next season.

"We've ban far too reliant on Eddie (Betts) and Jeff (Garlett) and 'Walks' (Andrew Walker) to kick goals and reliant on 'Waitey' (Jarrad Waite) to stand up as a tall forward,'' Barker said.

" We could not get consistently healthy talls last year, so having these guys fit and available is going to be critical for us.

"The good thing is all of them who had some small and big issues last year, they are all ready to go.

"Mick philosophically is really keen to make sure we are fit and healthy at this stage of the year and we are.''

Waite, in particular, has been a stand-out over summer after a lingering back problem last year, but Barker said he should not have to be the main focal point.

"He's a pro in everything he does, Waitey, but he's another one we can't keep relying on to be our only tall target,'' he said.

"We need other guys to stand up and give themselves every opportunity with a healthy pre-season.

"It's great to have guys like Sammy Rowe up and about after his illness (cancer). Levi Casboult is training really well.''

Young backman Andrew McInnes is the only player ruled out for a large chunk of the year after undergoing a knee reconstruction.

Prime midfielder Marc Murphy had minor knee surgery pre-Christmas but is expected to be fit for Round 1.

He was on hand as the Blues completed a two-hour conditioning session at St Kilda beach yesterday, including cycling, stand-up paddle-boarding and some ball-work.

Barker lauded the impact Malthouse has had at the Blues, with 664 games coaching experience.

He is 49 short of Jock McHale's 713-game all-time record.

Malthouse's ability to continue coaching was questioned after his departure from Collingwood in 2011 but Barker said the 28-year coaching veteran's transition to Carlton had been seamless.

"To use one of Mick's lines, it's easy to be negative, but Mick is a super-positive coach,'' he said.

"He's obviously very keen to delegate, so Rob Wiley helps run training and training has been very sharp and really upbeat.

"Mick's slotted in very quickly, he's a very personable guy and the atmosphere is very encouraging and positive.

"The boys are working hard and Mick is working through his game plan week-by-week and the boys are slowly chipping away and getting their teeth into that.''

Malthouse, 59, used a boundary-line centric game style to guide the Pies to the 2010 flag, but Barker said the Blues aimed to be versatile with their ball-movement this year.

"The thing Mick continually talks to the boys about is playing the game in front of you,'' he said.

"Sometimes it will mean taking the boundary and sometimes that will mean changing angles and taking the corridor.

"He has by no means ruled out quick, direct play - that's fairly clear.''

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