OPINION

De Koning and Weitering are key to Blues making the finals series

KEY: The Blues cannot afford to lose young ruckman Tom De Koning if they are to make the finals this season. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

KEY: The Blues cannot afford to lose young ruckman Tom De Koning if they are to make the finals this season. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Athletic forward Charlie Curnow and brilliant skipper Patrick Cripps were in scintillating form as Carlton climbed into the AFL's top four, but as important as this pair is, there are two other players who are just as crucial to the Blues' fortunes.

Young ruckman Tom De Koning carries a huge responsibility in the absence of injured No. 1 ruckman Marc Pittonet and vice-captain Jacob Weitering is the linchpin of a developing defence.

Sitting at 6-2, the Blues cannot afford to lose De Koning or Weitering in their quest to make the finals for the first time since 2013.

In his fifth season with Carlton, De Koning, 22, has stepped up against tough, experienced opponents in the past two games since Pittonet injured his left knee against Fremantle in round six.

Although the Blues would prefer Pittonet to be in the team, this setback could fast-track De Koning's development.

Weitering is having another stellar season and must be in All-Australian contention after inexplicably missing out in the past two years.

Liam Jones' decision to retire last year and a long-term hamstring injury to reinvented intercept defender Mitch McGovern has placed a heavy workload on Weitering, with Lewis Young providing solid support.

But Weitering has handled the pressure with aplomb and provided great leadership for his teammates.

With Curnow gaining more confidence in his body as he sits second in the Coleman Medal with 25 goals and Cripps back to his devastating best, the Blues are playing in the uncompromising style of their coach Michael Voss, but they are far from the finished product.

Injury transparency overdue

It is overdue for AFL clubs to be more transparent about their injury lists - at the very least, they owe it to their supporters.

Clubs still love to keep key stakeholders such as the media guessing and are under the misguided belief that they can gain an advantage over their opposition.

But employing this tactic of subterfuge is futile as clubs are generally aware of who's available or not in the opposition.

Even in the pre-pandemic days, there was a distinct possibility of late changes after teams were named on Thursday night for several reasons, but, on most occasions, clubs know early in the week if players will not be able to recover in time from injury/illness.

There is a lot at stake - the absence of key players can be a decisive factor in betting markets and tipping competitions.

In US sports, such as the NFL and NBA, they are strict about the information released about player availability, with clubs liable to be fined if they transgress.

Two NBA clubs, the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns, were hit with hefty fines recently for not following the competition's injury reporting rules.

The AFL prides itself on being the nation's No. 1 professional sport and should do the same - force clubs to release daily injury updates and fine them if they do not abide by the rules.

The days of clubs playing games over players' fitness should be long gone - they're not fooling anyone and treating everyone with contempt.

Newcombe, Martin press claims

Collingwood's Nick Daicos and last year's No. 1 pick in the national draft, North Melbourne's Jason Horne-Francis, are the popular choices for the AFL Rising Star award this season, but two other young guns enhanced their chances with strong performances last Saturday night.

Hawthorn's Jai Newcombe was a driving force against Essendon, collecting 22 disposals in a brilliant first half before tiring late in the game.

In the second half, Nic Martin stole the limelight from Newcombe, playing an important role in the Bombers' remarkable last-quarter comeback to secure their second win of the season. Since making his senior debut in the middle of last season, the powerful Newcombe has exhibited an exceptional work rate and become the Hawks' most consistent midfielder this season. Martin made a stunning start to his AFL career in the opening round, kicking five goals and collecting 27 disposals against Geelong, and has been a consistent performer in his other six games. On form, Newcombe and Martin will push hard to challenge Daicos and Horne-Francis for the Rising Star award.

Alcaraz's rapid rise towards top

Carlos Alcaraz has confirmed his rising star status in men's tennis with another spectacular performance on home soil.

RISING STAR: Carlos Alcaraz is the first tennis player to beat Nadal and Djokovic at the same clay-court event. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

RISING STAR: Carlos Alcaraz is the first tennis player to beat Nadal and Djokovic at the same clay-court event. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

On his way to claiming the Madrid Open with a straight-sets victory in the final over world No. 3 Alexander Zverev, which gave the Spaniard a ATP-leading fourth singles title this year, Alcaraz became the first teenager to defeat his hero Rafael Nadal on clay.

After his quarter-final triumph over Nadal, Alcaraz defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a semi-final, becoming the first player to beat Nadal and Djokovic at the same clay-court event.

Alcaraz, who turned 19 last week, is the second youngest player to win two Masters 1000 titles - Nadal won in Monte Carlo and Rome when he was 18.

Victory in Madrid means Alcaraz's ranking has risen to six in the world after he was 120th before the corresponding tournament last year.

Zverev declared post-match the teenager was "right now the best player in the world" and the Spaniard has his sights firmly set on performing well in the French Open starting next week.

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Email: howardkotton11@gmail.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59