CARLTON will start a rank outsider against Collingwood on Friday night, but such a position has historically brought out the Blues’ best football, according to former star Nick Stevens.
”We actually had some good results against them in games when people didn’t give us a chance to win,” said Stevens, adding that Carlton-Collingwood showdowns take on an ”Anzac Day game” feel where the results were usually close and unpredictable regardless of ladder positions and form.
The next instalment in the rivalry could be just the challenge Carlton needed to get its season back on track and out of a freefall that began, ironically, after the Blues’ most meaningful win of the season – against Collingwood in round three.
Carlton thrashed the Pies by 10 goals in that game, but Brett Ratten’s team has since lost seven of its past 10 games to fall from the top eight, while Collingwood has gone undefeated in that same period and surged to top of the ladder.
Former Pies midfielder Shane O’Bree, now an assistant coach at Gold Coast, agrees with Stevens. He said that many times in his 19 Carlton-Collingwood games, between 2000 and 2009, the underdog surprised the favourite.
”It just felt like the team that was going the worst at the time always seemed to come out firing more than the team that was going well. If we were going poorly during the year, we would still find a way to win, and it was the same with them,” O’Bree told The Age yesterday.
Stevens, who is full-time coach of TAC Cup team Gippsland Power, played in eight Carlton-Collingwood blockbusters and the Blues won six – mostly in years when his club finished behind the Pies.
”There is no doubt that it is a different game, the whole place actually lifts for those games and I think ‘Ratts’ will really be calling on that this week to try and get the boys up,” said Stevens, who played 104 games for the Blues between 2004 and 2009 under Ratten and predecessor Denis Pagan.
”It’s funny, you always go out there to play your best and win every game, but sometimes it’s those big crowds that you get in games against Collingwood that get you going a little bit more and get that fire in the belly that might be missing. So this might just be the spark that they need.”
Stevens, who grew up as a Collingwood supporter and was almost traded from Port Adelaide to the Pies, rates the current Collingwood team highly and said new coach Nathan Buckley had done an ”amazing job” dealing with injuries and fast-tracking the club’s young talent.
But he said the nature of what had been an unpredictable 2012 season suggested the Pies could not continue their winning streak without an eventual slip-up.
”You’ve got to lose one eventually. I know that Carlton will wind themselves up and they will rate themselves a chance to beat them – just purely on the style of game Collingwood plays, the Blues will rate themselves internally, I can tell you,” he said.
”No doubt the Blues are going to have their work cut out to win but you just never know with these games – the players do grow an extra leg.
”It’s probably come at a good time for the Blues, although it is a huge test. They haven’t had a great run with injury and it seems the whole club is a bit flat at the moment.
”But hopefully this is the game that sparks them and they can turn it around.”
But the Blues’ bid to cause a boilover could be made significantly harder if key defender Michael Jamison does not recover from shoulder soreness following Friday night’s loss to Hawthorn.
Carlton will already be without defenders Lachie Henderson (groin) and Jeremy Laidler (knee) and will be confronted with the task of stopping key power forwards Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes.
Collingwood will welcome back reigning best and fairest Scott Pendlebury from a leg injury, while key defender Chris Tarrant remains an outside chance to make his long-awaited return, despite being a late withdrawal from the VFL with arm soreness yesterday.
”He’s [Tarrant] a little bit sore but he should be right next week,” Collingwood’s VFL coach Tarkyn Lockyer said yesterday.
Lockyer said the 60-point loss to Carlton was a turning point to the Magpies’ season.
”They did give us a fair walloping early in the year and it probably turned our season around a little bit and made us sort of check where we are,” he said.
With BRENT DIAMOND
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