You know things are getting serious in the AFL when the spies are out.
Carlton opened their doors to fans on Friday when they were having a pre-season hitout, and arch rival Collingwood wasted no time in taking full advantage.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Collingwood assistant spotted at Carlton training session.
Analysis, local footy and the biggest moments, Seven and 7plus are the home of footy shows for every fan. Stream them all for free on 7plus >>
More than 3000 of the Blues faithful flocked to Ikon Park to watch their team train, and also tucked away in the stands was Collingwood assistant coach Justin Leppitsch.
Despite the fact the reigning premiers were conducting their own session across town, Craig McRae’s right-hand man was a keen onlooker as the Blues were put through their paces.
Carlton and their army of fans are heading into the 2024 with a full head of steam after an impressive year last season where they smashed their 10-year finals drought.
Collingwood assistant coach Justin Leppitsch was a keen observer during Carlton’s pre-season session at Ikon Park. Credit: Seven
During the Friday match simulation, Leppitsch would have noticed that comeback kid Zac Williams was in impressive form as he aims to make a strong return after his year on the sidelines with an ACL injury.
Williams was a high-profile recruit when he joined Carlton from GWS at the end of 2020, but he has had a rough time of it at the Blues with injury and form woes.
Billy Brownless and Garry Lyon step out in eight-year first
Ben Cousins revs up former club during surprise visit
Big man Tom De Koning was in the ruck while fellow tall Marc Pittonet was restricted to light duties.
But the young star was keen to make public that the ruck role was not entirely permanent.
“I don’t want to pigeon hole myself into any one position,” he told reporters on Friday.
“I’m really open to playing both ruck and forward. For me at the moment, it’s a really good opportunity to develop both sides of my game.
“I’ve been working up forward a lot with Charlie (Curnow), Harry (McKay) and ‘SOS’ (Jack Silvagni), and I’ve also been able to continue working on my ruck craft. I’m really trying to build both parts of my game.”
Another former GWS Giant hoping to make his mark for the Blues in 2024, is injury-cursed defender Caleb Marchbank.
Marchbank is enjoying his first pre-season “in five or six years” and says “it’s a bit different (and) the boys train hard”.
The 27-year-old has managed just 53 senior games in seven seasons with Carlton since his switch from GWS at the end of 2017.
Serious knee and neck injuries, among other setbacks, took their toll as Marchbank leant on Curnow and Sam Docherty during testing times together in the Blues’ rehabilitation group.
All he wants now is to stay on track and complete a full summer program, having earned a one-year contract extension for 2024.
“It gives me an opportunity to work on my craft and prepare my body to withstand a full season, hopefully,” Marchbank said.
“I’m excited about that because I’ve come off a limited base whenever I’ve returned to play.
“But hopefully I’ve got that full pre-season behind me so I’ll be able to play all 22 games and crack in next year.”
That things are going well off the field helps, too.
Marchbank recently got engaged to partner Celeste Carey, involving his golden retrievers in the proposal, and freshened up over the off-season with a trip to Europe.
“I’ve got a beautiful partner and we’ve got a really good relationship that allows me to go home and switch off, and that’s gold,” he said.
“That’s helped the balance for me between football and life.”
Marchbank recovered from a calf injury and played the last eight games of Carlton’s barnstorming run to a preliminary final last season, which was “massive” for his confidence.
Now the stars could be aligning, with Marchbank injury-free and the premiership window wide open for the Blues and their long-suffering fans as they enter a third season under Michael Voss.
– With AAP