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Kangaroos fight for finals berth

Our footy experts review the clash between St Kilda and North Melbourne, and look ahead to Friday night's game between Carlton and Collingwood.

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CARLTON, much like Geelong in 2006, is at a critical moment in its recent history. After several years of steady progress, things suddenly appear to be falling apart through a combination of factors, of which coaching is just one.

Of course, given the lofty goals set pre-season and the very real likelihood that the Blues will now miss this year's finals, most of the attention is focused squarely on Brett Ratten.

Mark Thompson faced that six years ago as well. The Cats could have bowed to the pressure, gone the knee-jerk response with his sacking, and papered over the cracks.

Feeling the heat: Carlton's coach Brett Ratten.

Feeling the heat: Carlton's coach Brett Ratten. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

But Geelong didn't. In a far more mature response, it forensically pulled apart and examined an entire club, the fruits of its labour obvious for all to see over the past half-decade.

That's a path Carlton needs to be taking right away. For Ratten's sacking or staying won't alter the bigger picture. But a comprehensive, soul-searching and, most importantly, honest review of the entire operation just might. And here are the key issues.

COACHING

Ratten has more strings to his coaching bow than when he took on the job five years ago. But in 2012, conservatism and a lack of resourcefulness have been recurring themes.

The first is apparent in the use of the likes of Kane Lucas, Andrew Collins and Josh Bootsma. They've all shown moments of real promise this season, but to date have appeared in 16 games collectively and haven't been allowed nearly enough opportunity to generate momentum, either in and out of the substitute's vest, or in and out of the team.

On the second matter, Carlton has regularly looked a one-trick pony since being picked off at the stoppages by Essendon in round four.

Last Friday night, it got picked off over the back by Hawthorn time and time again.

Perhaps another coach would have more faith in the kids, and more of a plan B or C. But he would still have the following issues with which to deal.

DEVELOPMENT

Many of Carlton's most promising recruits have been struck down by injury, Levi Casboult, Marcus Davies current examples, Luke Mitchell, Patrick McCarthy and Andrew McInnes in the same boat last year.

But the harsh bottom line remains a 48-man list, including rookies, of whom 13 have yet to play a single game of AFL football, Casboult and Rohan Kerr two who are in their third year, on zero games, Rhys O'Keeffe in his fourth for one game.

That's a long-enough wait to be able to assess the worth of any recruit given decent game time, let alone still be waiting to watch one take his first AFL steps and have any idea whether he's even up to the task.

LIST MANAGEMENT

Carlton has loaded up on talls in recent times. Yet it's still thin for quality up forward and down back, too reliant upon a forward turned defender in Lachie Henderson, and until recently, a defender turned forward in Bret Thornton.

The Blues have shown plenty of faith in keeping the likes of Paul Bower, Jordan Russell and Aaron Joseph on the list.

But they wax and wane on them regularly on a week-to-week basis, overlooked for a spell, then back in favour. Ditto Brock McLean.

Jeremy Laidler and Nick Duigan have both looked astute pick-ups, while Collins could still be if given a chance.

But the trading out of both Sam Jacobs and Shaun Grigg are increasingly looking more like mistakes than moments of inspiration. And more exclamation marks on the question of development.

ADMINISTRATION

The next couple of months will say plenty about how Carlton's administrative structure functions. So far, the signs aren't good. The Blues have fallen well short of that 50,000-membership mark they aimed for.

Are the coach, chief executive Greg Swann and president Stephen Kernahan all on the same page? A tight ship doesn't allow murmurings of discontent between the coach and high-performance manager (Justin Cordy) to enter the public arena in the first place.

If the losses continue and with them, inevitably, the speculation about Ratten, Carlton's office bearers will need to present a more united and emphatic response than they have thus far. To do otherwise now indicates tacit acceptance of fate.

VISION

Carlton had a rude awakening indeed to the new millennium, one that taught it a lot about humility. But do the Blues have a coherent, fundamental philosophy about what and where they want to be as a club for the next decade beyond that oft-repeated line about being a top-four team? The presence of club playing legends in key roles complicates life for the Blues. It perhaps means too much tip-toeing around the sensibilities of the coach and the president.

And it hasn't encouraged others to take the lead in the bigger picture.

And the bigger picture, with this year's finals chances fast disappearing, is what this should be about now for Carlton.

Talking about Ratten's future is an essential part of that equation. But talking about it in isolation would be a disaster in addressing a state that for Carlton is as much a crisis of culture as a crisis of coaching.