Just who will Carlton be playing on Friday night in its crucial round 22 clash with Fremantle? The Subiaco showdown pits the improving Blues against a team that could have as many as fourteen changes to its line-up.

There might not be much point in Carlton doing a video review of the dismal Docker loss to the Hawks in Launceston – most of that team is unlikely to be playing this week.

The seven players controversially rested from Fremantle’s 116-point loss in round 21 will return, but other inclusions should include forwards Chris Mayne (suspension) and Hayden Ballantyne (foot), whilst key big man Aaron Sandilands (foot) should also be unleashed after missing three matches.

Veteran ball-magnet Paul Hasleby, a late withdrawal from the Hawthorn game, should be fit to play. Alex Silvagni (groin), Chris Tarrant (knee) and Ryan Crowley (knee) are also outside chances to resume. That would leave only knee injury victim Michael Barlow as an elite Docker on the sidelines.

Possible Fremantle team v Carlton, round 22, Subiaco, Friday August 27

B: Dylan Roberton, Antoni Grover, Greg Broughton
HB: Nathan Fyfe, Luke McPharlin, Nick Suban
C: Garrick Ibbotson, David Mundy, Anthony Morabito
HF: Adam McPhee Matthew Pavlich, Matthew de Boer
F: Hayden Ballantyne, Michael Johnson, Chris Mayne
Foll: Aaron Sandilands, Paul Duffield, Stephen Hill
I/C: Michael Walters, Paul Hasleby, Roger Hayden, Ryan Crowley
Emg: Kepler Bradley, Jay van Berlo, Justin Bollenhagen

In: Matthew Pavlich, Adam McPhee, Roger Hayden, David Mundy, Stephen Hill, Anthony Morabito, Nathan Fyfe, Chris Mayne, Hayden Ballantyne, Ryan Crowley, Paul Hasleby, Aaron Sandilands
Out: Steven Dodd, Ryan Murphy, Rhys Palmer, Clayton Hinkley, Jay van Berlo, Clancee Pearce, Justin Bollenhagen, Kepler Bradley, Byron Schammer, Jesse Crichton, Tim Ruffles, Zac Clarke

In round 21, the Dockers, needing one win from their final two matches to secure a home final, decided to rest most of their remaining stars, and their team of inexperienced juniors and forgotten journeymen were thrashed, recording one goal in the first three quarters.

Fremantle was concerned about the short turnaround from their long trip to Tasmania, which left them with only a six-day break before the home ground clash with fellow finals aspirants Carlton.

The Dockers need to win this week to be assured of playing at home in the first week of the finals. Carlton needs to win, and for Hawthorn to lose, to host a final in Melbourne in two weeks.  

Perth-based Channel Ten and SEN radio commentator Tim Gossage says Fremantle’s contentious selection policy can only be deemed a success if they win through to the second week of the finals.

“So for me the answer for what they did on the weekend and the team they took across will be measured in success in three weeks time if they can get into the second week of the finals.

“They’re no guarantee to beat Carlton on Friday night. I mean they’re not playing good football – they’ve had one big win in the past month and that was against West Coast the rest of their form has been pretty ordinary. They’re not exactly going in all guns blazing.

“I can understand the pain of the Dockers thinking ‘OK, let’s plan a week ahead’, but it was just so dramatic, wasn’t it?”

Hawthorn midfielder Xavier Ellis told SEN radio this morning that his team tried to achieve a “crush mentality” against the undermanned Dockers, having taken their “foot off the gas” previously when they had opponents at their mercy.

Having lost to an undermanned St Kilda last season in Launceston, Ellis said the Hawks were “extremely wary” of Fremantle on Saturday.

“We didn’t really look too much into it and just played the opposition how they picked themselves.

“Their goal is to win finals football and if they had a couple of blokes who… needed a spell, unfortunately it came to a climax on Saturday.”

Fremantle’s last win on the road came against Carlton in round 13, a nine-point triumph at Etihad Stadium that encouraged Docker hopes of a top-four berth.

However, since that hard-fought win, injuries to key Dockers, and the demands of the season upon its young list, have taken a toll. Fremantle has lost all of its subsequent away games, by an average of 67 points. They have won three of their last four home games, but went down by nine points to the resurgent Swans in their latest Subiaco match, two weeks ago.

This week, the Dockers should name their strongest team since early in the season, before boom midfield recruit Barlow had his season ended by a serious knee injury. They won eight of their first ten games and didn’t relinquish their top-four ladder position until round 17.

Gossage says careers were ended by the massive defeat on Saturday.

“There’s some of those boys who were playing on the weekend who were just not up to it and they were in no WAFL form to get a game.

“There’s a few boys in that team on the weekend who have played their last game for the Dockers. The bottom line is they are AFL footballers and they got absolutely poleaxed.

“And unfortunately they were the ones who were thrown (as) lambs to the slaughter.”

In 2009, St Kilda and Geelong, secure atop the ladder, rested key players later in the season. St Kilda famously upset Hawthorn in round 19 in Launceston with an inexperienced side, but Geelong succumbed to Brisbane in round 15 at the Gabba when they put out a weakened team. Despite conventional wisdom holding that it is dangerous to rest players and “flirt with form”, the Cats and Saints began winning again once their stars returned, and they ended up playing off for the premiership.

Fremantle, however, is injury-hit, inexperienced, and battling to hold fifth place. At the start of round 21 it also had a theoretical chance of taking fourth place, if it won its final two matches and the Bulldogs stumbled. And by surrendering so much percentage in the farcical Launceston loss, they now trail Carlton by five per cent.

Fifth and six per-cent in front of Sydney at the start of round 21, Fremantle fell to sixth, three per cent behind the Swans after the weekend’s results.

Carlton’s round 21 form against league benchmarks Geelong was sound, with a lack of finishing in the third quarter costing them a chance at an upset.

Seemingly in crisis after a debilitating loss to Collingwood in round 18, the Blues thumped Essendon and Richmond before their respectable showing against Geelong.

With so much at stake, Friday night’s match is virtually a final.

Gossage says the atmosphere is already building in Perth.

“If they can get Sandilands back, whose missed three weeks, maybe Tarrant, maybe Ballantyne, then you’d say gee, they’re a very good chance to blow Carlton out of the water.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Fremantle this week, it’s a short week, they’re having an open training session, which is very rare for Fremantle, there’s a real finals atmosphere here…”

“If they blow this, there’s going to be a few questions asked…”

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