Carlton is still in the rebuilding process but the Blues should be convinced that they are going down the right path after Charlie Curnow became the club’s fifth NAB Rising Star nominee for the 2017 season.
The 20-year-old was announced as the Round 16 nominee for this season on Monday, joining teammates Caleb Marchbank, Sam Petrevski-Seton, David Cuningham, and Jack Silvagni as contenders for the award.
Since the Rising Star initially presented in 1993, Carlton has not had more than three nominations in a season but it has beaten that tally this time, equalling Essendon in 1993 and Fremantle in 1996, and only Greater Western Sydney has had more with eight in 2012.
Curnow has been compared to Blues great Anthony Koutoufides because of his frame and athleticism but he has the ability to show that he can be a fine player in his own right. Something to take into consideration is that ‘Kouta’ only played 14 games in his first two seasons as a senior footballer whereas Curnow has already played 20.
In the eight-point defeat to Melbourne on Sunday, he had 19 disposals, took 10 marks, had 10 score involvements and kicked two goals to earn his nomination.
Marchbank was one of the players recruited from Greater Western Sydney and arranging a trade with the Giants has already looked beneficial for the Blues because the 20-year-old has looked assured in the backline. He was nominated after Round 6 and he averages 16.4 disposals per game and seven marks a match.
Petrevski-Seton was nominated in Round 7, and despite not being a prolific goalkicker, he does things that are required of small forwards and midfielders in modern footy by chasing hard and making plenty of tackles. The 19-year-old has made 61 tackles in 13 games, including 10 tackles against Fremantle in Round 9.
Despite playing six matches this season, Cuningham has also earned a nomination and he received his in Round 12, which was his third game of the year. In the shock victory against the Giants, he collected 19 disposals and kicked two goals. He also has a marginally higher tackle average than Petrevski-Seton, averaging 4.8 a match to 4.7.
Perhaps the most famous of the nominees is Jack Silvagni, largely due to his family history at the club, but he has so far shown that can have a great career of his own. There are key forwards that are taller and have a more solid build but the 19-year-old has footy smarts and agility which allows him to move into the right areas.
He has scored just 22 AFL goals in as many games but he kicked two final-quarter goals in the victory against Gold Coast in Round 13, which earned him the nomination, and he kicked three goals against Melbourne and probably should have scored more.
Carlton still has some experienced players like Kade Simpson, Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs, and Matthew Kreuzer to support the emerging youngsters but most of the youth have been able to show their own individual talents as well.
In the last 15 years, there have been numerous false dawns in the reigns of Denis Pagan, Brett Ratten, and then Mick Malthouse as coaches but there is a clear sense of direction under current coach Brendon Bolton and list manager Stephen Silvagni.
Since Bolton became the coach at the end of 2015, he has created a game plan that his players have been able to follow. It involves moving the ball slowly and chipping and handballing short, which makes it hard for the opposition to play against. The Blues are well-organised defensively and it is hard to kick big scores against them.
Silvagni has been criticised for focusing too much on his former club GWS but he has identified young players from the Giants that were eager to find more playing opportunities and could also make a contribution for the Blues.
Previous recruiters focused on the high drafts picks and then clogged the list with an abundance of midfielders, but Silvagni has drafted shrewdly in the last two AFL drafts, selecting promising footballers who can play in certain positions and roles under Bolton.
This generation of Carlton footballers leading the club to its 17th premiership would be clear proof that this current rebuild is a success.
There is some time to go but the emergence of these promising youngsters is a sign that Bolton and his Blues side are progressing.