Blues v Swans: Can Cripps, Curnow thrive on September stage in Blues’ return to finals?

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It’s the moment all Carlton fans have been waiting for: the Blues’ first finals appearance in a decade.

We take a look at the burning questions ahead of their clash with Sydney in Friday night’s elimination final at the MCG.

Sydney’s Tom Papley challenges Carlton skipper Patrick Cripps, the last time their teams clashed.Credit: AFL Photos

Last time they met

Round 11: Sydney 11.11 (77) d Carlton 6.15 (51) at the SCG.

How important is the contested side of the game for this match?

Contest is king at IKON Park and if the Blues are to win their first final in 10 years, they must dominate this area. At their best, the Blues brutalise oppositions in close, ranking first for contested possessions and scores from stoppage thanks to the inside muscle of Patrick Cripps, Adam Cerra and George Hewett.

This was once a trademark of the Swans but they have become vulnerable against big-bodied midfields, as seen in last year’s grand final debacle and heavy defeats early this year against Melbourne and Geelong.

They sit 14th for both contested possessions and scoring from stoppage but are one of the best pressure teams. The Swans need only to be competitive at stoppages to be right in this match.

What advantage do the Swans’ have with the greater finals experience?

Carlton will have 17 players making their finals debut compared to just one from the Swans. Highlighting the gulf in finals experience, Luke Parker has played more finals than the Blues side combined. Does it matter? Richmond (2013), Western Bulldogs (2015) and the Brisbane Lions (2019) all failed at their first attempt in September after long absences though Greater Western Sydney (2016) and Melbourne (2018) defied inexperience to advance to the penultimate week, and Fremantle won an elimination final after seven years out.

George Hewett is one of few Blues with finals experience.Credit: Getty

The Blues are no strangers to pressure-packed matches. They played in two high-intensity games late last year, falling short by a kick on both occasions, and passed the test this year with victories against Collingwood and Melbourne in finals-like cauldrons.

Michael Voss’ men struggled with expectation earlier this year but found a way through the maze. This will test them even more.

How will Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow handle the big stage of September?

After 10 seasons and 180 games, Cripps belatedly gets his chance to play in an environment many believe he will thrive in. Based on his performances in important home-and-away games, the Brownlow medallist, triple All-Australian and four-time club champion should handle the occasion with aplomb.

Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow are playing in their first final.Credit: Getty

Cripps was epic in last year’s famous final-round game against Collingwood, and polled coaches votes in recent matches against Melbourne and the Pies.

Charlie Curnow is another expected to revel in finals. Some run from the fire, he runs towards it. He is a big moments man, as seen with his game-saving mark against Gold Coast and long-range goal in the last term against the Dees. Tom McCartin is likely to have the unenviable task of quelling the back-to-back Coleman Medal winner.

What must Sydney get right to cause an upset?

A John Longmire-coached Swans teams playing interstate in a final where few give them a chance. Sound familiar? The Swans have made a habit of winning against the odds in September. Think 2011 elimination final against St Kilda, a qualifying final in Adelaide in 2012, the preliminary final ambush against Geelong in 2016 and if you can’t remember that far back how about their victory last year against then reigning premiers Melbourne in the first week of finals?

The Swans have the speed and elite kicking to open up the Blues but need to go close to even in the midfield battle. The Blues will be worried by the pace and skill of Errol Gulden, who cut them up in a pre-season game. They need a big night from Tom Papley, who is their energiser bunny.

Their tackling pressure stifled the Blues in round 11 when Nick Blakey was pivotal with his marking and run from defence.

Will the Swans miss Lance Franklin?

Though Lance Franklin was a fading force this year, this is the type of game where the Swans would have loved to have the champion forward out on the park. Franklin, of course, has retired, but if he was available, he would have had Jacob Weitering as his opponent. Instead, youngster Logan McDonald or Joel Amartey will have to find a way against Weitering, who has been integral to the Blues’ resurgence with his sure marking.

With Franklin absent, the scene is set for Isaac Heeney to step up and be the Swans’ match winner. Heeney had the job on Patrick Cripps last time but expect him to play predominantly forward.

Tip: Carlton by three points.

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