Blues and Bombers in fight to avoid exit
CARLTON has 10 wins, and Essendon 11. As Blues coach Brett Ratten put it yesterday, both teams are approaching a T-intersection, with one to take the correct turn and the other to be left behind heading towards September. As it happens, his side has a handy driver back in the front seat, with Chris Judd to return from his four-match suspension feeling fresh, feeling as if he owes his teammates and ready to ''make a splash'' against the Bombers on Saturday.
Judd has been subjected to extra one-on-one work after training sessions since he was rubbed out for his chicken wing tackle on North Melbourne onballer Leigh Adams, and Ratten said the physical nature of the work, in combination with the captain's fresh legs after his ''forced spell'', indicated he would move well against the Bombers, a game that both teams need to win to keep their chances of a top-eight finish alive.
''He'll be first picked, and we haven't even had match committee,'' Ratten said yesterday. ''He's a great leader and he's trained really well and he's jumping out of his skin to get back in the team and really assist the players.
Carlton captain Chris Judd in action. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
''I think he wants to come back and have an influence on the team, whether it's winning the ball or doing certain things. I think he wants to come back and make a splash.
''The players know they've gone to war with him so many times at this footy club, and he's delivered so many times so I think that just gives them an air of confidence. I couldn't put a measurement on that, but I just know that when you're a player, you look across the room, you look in their eyes and you see your teammate, and you see in his eyes the response that you think you're going to get. I think with him, he's one that delivers a lot of times for us.''
Carlton has won three of its four matches without Judd, results that have allowed the team to remain within a fingertip's reach of the top eight in a year Ratten said could produce the game's first-ever 13-win top-eight team.
He was sure his players would not lapse into relief at the return of their skipper, and said Judd's absence had brought new things out of Marc Murphy, who has captained the side for the past month.
''His leadership has been fantastic, in regards to taking his own game to a new level. It's not all about possessions, it's about how you lead as a man out there and have some influence on others. I think he's done that very well.
''He's really grown from this experience and sitting down with Marc talking about these four weeks that he was skipper and what comes of it - where do you see yourself, what experience did you get, good or bad, what would you do different, those types of things - I think it's been a great lesson for him.''
Ratten's future was again queried in a television news report on Tuesday night claiming the club's directors were split on whether he should continue as coach next year and that chief executive Greg Swann was pushing for Mick Malthouse to take over. Both claims were denied by the club, with Ratten convinced of the club's support and dismissive of the revived speculation.
''I just don't know if the coach's box is that big: Mark Thompson one week, Paul Roos, Mick's there on Wednesday,'' he said. ''It's just a throwaway line, a lot of guesswork. There's no credibility in it.''