Sam Walsh has had an immediate impact on return from injury as Carlton franked their AFL early-season form with a hard-fought 12-point win over the Western Bulldogs.
All-Australian midfielder Walsh had 34 disposals as a key cog in a red-hot engine room alongside George Hewett and Matthew Kennedy (32 each).
But it was bandaged warrior Patrick Cripps (35) who was best afield, the Blues’ captain continuing his sizzling start to the year in Thursday night’s clash.
Cripps racked up 11 of the midfield quartet’s 29 clearances and kicked two goals despite copping a nasty cut above his right eye in an accidental head clash with teammate Charlie Curnow.
Key forward Curnow also caused the Bulldogs headaches with five goals as fellow tall Harry McKay booted four in the 16.6 (102) to 13.12 (90) victory at Marvel Stadium.
The Blues’ second-straight win came despite coach Michael Voss having limited impact because of COVID-19 protocols, forced to temporarily hand the reins to senior assistant Ash Hansen and dial into the coaches’ box from a remote location.
The same rules also prevented gun recruit Adam Cerra and teammate Jack Martin from taking their places in the side.
It didn’t matter as Carlton picked up where they left off from a final-quarter demolition of Richmond in round one.
Walsh returned with a swollen right ankle just 37 days after syndesmosis surgery and injected himself into the contest early with 10 first-quarter disposals.
Cripps registered five clearances and a goal in the same period as the Blues’ midfielders grabbed the ascendancy, firing their side to a 31-point halftime advantage.
But they were forced to survive a serious challenge when the Bulldogs got a run-on in the third quarter.
Kennedy was a telling contributor in the final term as Curnow kicked two crucial goals, while Hewett helped restrict Dogs captain Marcus Bontempelli’s output.
“We had to stay composed and true to our style,” Hansen said.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to continue to embed our identity and how we want to play, and there’s no better test than when you’re playing a really good side like the Dogs.
“In those hard games, there’s going to be momentum swings and what our guys are starting to learn is how to stand up and navigate those.”
Mitch Hannan had taken a spectacular two-grab mark with a ride on Mitch McGovern in the first half and his brilliant snap from the boundary line provided the Bulldogs with a spark in the final term.
But a series of missed shots at goal cost them in the dying stages.
Carlton’s Oscar McDonald suffered a back injury and the Bulldogs suffered a huge scare when Hayden Crozier fainted and was substituted out of the contest.
Crozier was checked by medical staff and appeared fine after the match, according to coach Luke Beveridge, while key forward Aaron Naughton was also troubled by a corked calf.
Beveridge lamented his side being dominated in contested possession (159-123) for the second-straight week.
“It’s always a concern when you get beaten in that area,” Beveridge said.
“We definitely used the ball better (than round one) except for the final piece of the puzzle with our conversion … but we’ve got to get better at that, inside and out.
“It’s two weeks in a row where we’ve been done and we’ve played two really good sides who we’ve lowered our colours to, but we’re going to come.”