AFL

Letting Matty cruise: Carlton ruckman is right where he wants to be

Matthew Kreuzer might have been the only one at Carlton who didn't want 2015 to end.

For the first time since the start of 2010, Carlton's warrior ruckman had been able to put together 13 consecutive games without injury intervening.

Kid gloves: Matthew Kreuzer (left) and Michael Jamison spar in training.
Kid gloves: Matthew Kreuzer (left) and Michael Jamison spar in training. Photo: Getty Images

The only thing that stopped him playing was that there were no more games to play.

Most with his talent take that kind of "streak" for granted. 

Kreuzer, though, certainly does not; and may not for the rest of his career.

"It was just good to get back into that weekly swing of playing footy again," said Kreuzer, with a glint in his eye that meant more than the actual words.

"All pre-season I have been really excited to get back to that," he said.

"And now with Bolts [new coach Brendon Bolton] on board, everything is new and even more exciting.

"So I can't wait for next year."

For a former No.1 draft pick well accustomed to scrutiny, Kreuzer's return and run of matches, significant for its unbroken course, largely flew under the radar.

Part of that was because by time he started playing again (round 10), Carlton games had become largely irrelevant to the season's bigger picture.

The other element was that both supporters and media judges might have been too scared to make a fuss, as if by doing so they might somehow awaken Kreuzer's injury gremlin.

It seemed universally accepted, if unspoken, that the 26-year-old deserved some good fortune, and so everyone was just happy to let Matty cruise.

The only downside, though, was that the low-key nature of his comeback in a sense camouflaged the quality of his performances.

If people were aware that his impact on games was actually comparable in some respects to that of All-Australian Todd Goldstein or West Coast star Nic Naitanui, then they weren't saying so.

His statistics said so, but even then that doesn't tell the full story, for numbers have never appropriately measured Kreuzer's influence.

He is a favourite among supporters and popular with teammates because he just puts on his hard hat and goes to work, happy to do all the little blue-collar things that don't make the stats sheet.

But it did not take an astute observer to notice Kreuzer against Melbourne in round 21, for instance, when he kicked three goals in the first half, including a tremendous running launch from outside 50.

The "Kreuuuuuuz" chant from the crowd whenever he went near the ball was back in full voice.

It was at that point that some began to open the books and recognise his admirable end to the season. And no one begrudged it.

Exactly where that form ranked against the best football Kreuzer has played for Carlton was something he had not considered until asked to in an interview with Fairfax Media at the club's pre-season training camp in the Gold Coast.

"I didn't really think about it," he said.

"Once I got back, I was just wanted to be out there. I didn't think too much about how I was going at the time.

"But looking back on it now, I guess I was pretty happy with how I went about it.

"I've just got to keep building on that for this year, though."

Irrespective of where it sits, the point is that it was there for a sustained period and it could be available to Bolton again this year if he keeps his fingers crossed long enough.

Kreuzer has only ever played 20 or more games in three of his eight seasons, so his name has rarely come into All-Australian calculations.

But there wouldn't be too many supporters, Blue or neutral, who would not like to see 200-centimetre athlete challenge the likes of Goldstein or Naitanui over a full season for that kind of honour.

Kreuzer baulked at a suggestion that an All-Australian jumper or best and fairest would be a nice feather in his cap at this stage of his career.

But the thought of proving to himself that he belongs in that elite company, the biggest of the big boys, does resonate with him.

"It's a goal of every player when they get out there to match themselves against the best," he said.

"So I strive for that, for sure."

Of course, Kreuzer did feature in the headlines this year, but more so after the season when this issue of his lapsing contract reached its crescendo.

Kreuzer comes across as naturally understated, so his assessment that "things probably got blown out of proration a little bit" needs to be viewed in that context.

Nonetheless, that's how he saw the chain of events that at one stage had Carlton fans fearing Kreuzer would be yet another big-name player ready to exercise his free agency rights.

"I said during the year that I loved Carlton," he said. 

"It was just one of those things where I just wanted to actually get through a season, or the second half of the season, play some good footy and then reassess. Because I hadn't been able to do that for a while.

"The club and myself were always in contact all the way through the break and I always wanted to stay.

"I'm rapt to still be a Blue boy."

It didn't stop the stories and speculation, though, the most tantalising the scenario being Kreuzer to Collingwood on a lucrative four-year deal, leaving the Blues to net pick No.2 as compensation for losing him. 

The Western Bulldogs were apparently interested also, but even amid those reports Kreuzer insisted the reality of him leaving Ikon Park "never got close".

He signed a two-year contract, with the option of a third, in late September.

"I never wanted to leave," he said.

"I have loved my time here, and now with a young list and a new coach, it's exciting time ahead for the next couple of years."

There are many other details from that period which would be interesting to clarify but there is nothing to gain for Kreuzer by doing so.

And he has also grown tired of talking about his injuries, which is understandable.

Still, he graciously speaks expansively on the topic, yet sums up best with a few simple words.

"It's just been crap timing," he concluded, after running through a frustrating last 24 months in detail.

It started with the foot injury he sustained in the 2013 elimination final against Richmond.

The next day he had a screw inserted via surgery but soon after it became obvious the foot had not healed properly.

He played round one of the 2014 season but then revealed before round two that more surgery was required.

That wiped out the rest of the year, although if there was a upside, it was that he could prepare for a big summer ahead of 2015.

"I got back, did the whole pre-season, trained solid for three or four months, I was feeling strong and confident," he recalls.

"And then at the start of this year I went over it, did it at training, and I was out again."

The saving grace this time was that the fracture was only a hairline, and in a different spot on the same foot.

With a conservative rehabilitation schedule, Kreuzer managed to get back for the round 10 game against Adelaide this year, and signalled the start of a rejuvenation of sorts with two goals.

He has taken all that positive energy from the solid end to the year into this pre-season.

He is feeling good, although Kreuzer knows there are times when he will have to curb his enthusiasm.

Working as hard as he needs against the fear of not breaking down again is a constant balancing act.

And mentally, it is tough to hold himself back.

"I've been in the system a while now, and you just learn little tricks," he says.

"All the veterans I've played with who have had a lot of injuries just told me, 'Once you get older, it will get worse, but you will also know your body better. You will know what you can do and what you can't do.'

"I'm slowly learning that now.

"At the start, I was always all-in and trying to do everything I could. Now I have to be smarter."