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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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BRETT RATTEN will be coaching for his AFL future against Collingwood on Friday night. He knows it and so does his football club. The dream 2012 fixture that loomed for the Blues as financial icing on a top-four cake has instead exposed the coach and left the club stalwart with nowhere to hide.

The reality of AFL football - Carlton-style - is that one more heavy loss will seal Ratten's fate. As it stands, he will be removed as coach by the end of the season and potentially as early as this month.

Another big loss against the club's biggest enemy could prove the final straw for a club that has demanded improvement and yet is struggling to point to one player who has shown any this season. Club president Stephen Kernahan spent 15 minutes with Ratten yesterday and the conversation centred largely upon immediate football issues. Kernahan spoke also to the entire team of 10 coaches - a team heavily bolstered to assist the senior coach at the end of 2010.

One more heavy loss will seal Brett Ratten's fate.

One more heavy loss will seal Brett Ratten's fate. Photo: Getty Images

The president lunched with his chief executive Greg Swann and the Blues' new football boss Andrew McKay. He would not divulge details of their conversation to The Age last night but did say: "We're working hard to find the answers. At the moment we're right behind the coach. We will hang tough through this but we understand the scrutiny.

"Ratts has got a contract and we will support him. That's the way it is. If that changes, what will be will be."

But no one has come out definitively or strongly in Ratten's defence. Everyone at Carlton is too disappointed. He has a contract until the end of 2013 but no senior officials at Carlton could say it would be honoured despite the improvement in the coach's first four years.

Five years, according to clubs such as Carlton, is more than enough time to learn about a coach and there has been no suggestion of a review like the one held by Geelong that saved Mark Thompson, who then coached a premiership the following year.

Kernahan scoffed at suggestions of board infighting and repeated his previous assertion that Ratten had not fallen out with his high-performance manager Justin Cordy. He stressed again that when injuries hurt a club as significantly as they have Carlton then robust debate is inevitable.

The debate has not moved as far as a replacement but there is no double the prospect of Mick Malthouse - who has not ruled out coaching again - has been unofficially entertained at board level as has Paul Roos, probably the preferred candidate but who has continued to resist any suggestion of coaching again.

Thompson also will be looked at, as will another premiership coach working in an assistant's role - GWS' Mark Williams.

Both the president and the CEO have challenged staff across the football department in recent days in a bid to uncover any dissension in the ranks. Which has been an issue for Ratten for some time.

Conflict with colleagues has underpinned a number of his relationships at the club over recent years and what was once affectionately seen as the control freak side of the coach has turned since the wins stopped coming.

It is true that Carlton has made some poor trades in recent years - Brock McLean for Pick No. 11 was Ratten's call and Shaun Grigg did not enjoy a happy relationship with the coach - and clearly the club was concerned with its recruiting as changes were made in that department at the start of the season.

Jeremy Laidler, who has badly damaged his kneecap now on three occasions this season, symbolises the ongoing mystery of the club's injury and fitness woes.

McLean himself, who kept tweeting 24 hours after narrowly missing one week's suspension, is symbolic of the small but ongoing disciplinary breaches along with Chris Yarran, who sulked his way through a Northern Blues game but won selection last week anyway. Chris Judd's struggle for form has been a growing reminder of what looks to be a leadership vacuum despite obvious future candidates for the captaincy such as Andrew Carrazzo.

It is true the Carlton board is too big and unwieldy and it is true the football division erred in appointing a part-time VFL coach at a time it was investing so much into its aligned club.

The Blues membership has been disappointing and none of the above can be pinned on Ratten.

But coaching decisions have continued to raise eyebrows at board level and Blues directors do not buy the ''lack of depth'' claims. After the round-three win against Collingwood Anthony Koutoufides was lauding the club's long list of worthy back-ups. Ratten himself called for a top-four finish this season and he is well aware of the dictum that in the end it is the coach who goes when a form slump such as this current nightmare shows no signs of abating.

But that was 10 weeks ago. Hard to believe there was talk back then of a Collingwood crisis. Carlton mitigated the final term last Friday night against Hawthorn with a largely meaningless rally. For all intents and purposes it looked like a 15-goal loss when the coach so desperately needed a group of players - 17 who played finals last year - to play for him.

The stony-faced countenance of Kernahan and his fellow spectator Mike Fitzpatrick said it all four nights ago.