As Carlton's rapid improvement continues, the bar must be raised about the Blues' expectations this season.
While doubts remain about them being a genuine premiership contender, the Blues' credibility took a massive step forward with their impressive win over fellow finals aspirant Sydney.
Coming off a five-day break, Carlton set up the victory with a blistering first half, then showed great resolve in the second half to withstand a Swans' onslaught.
While the Blues are sitting third with an 8-2 record, the tantalising prospect of further improvement in the second half of the season exists as they regain several key players from injury.
Among them are Coleman medallist Harry McKay and No. 1 ruckman Marc Pittonet, who are so important to Carlton's structure.
Caleb Marchbank has suffered another injury setback on the comeback trail and the Blues hope the highly-rated defender can return soon to provide much-needed support for Jacob Weitering, who is in All-Australian form.
In its next two games, Carlton will start firm favourite against arch-rivals Collingwood and Essendon, with the mid-season bye between those contests.
But the Blues' draw becomes much tougher after playing the Bombers, starting with Richmond in round 14.
In the run home, they also have to play Fremantle (Marvel Stadium), St Kilda (Marvel Stadium), Geelong (MCG), Brisbane (Gabba) and Melbourne (MCG).
The round 16 blockbuster against the Saints on a Friday night is shaping as a season-defining game, with both clubs likely to be eyeing a top-four spot.
Charlie Curnow and Max King, who were match winners for their teams with six-goal hauls last weekend, will go head to head and McKay might have returned by then to support Curnow.
The Blues hope Pittonet would return to back up young ruckman Tom De Koning against powerful St Kilda duo Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall.
In a victory for common sense, the AFL has heeded the overwhelming advice from its vast supporter base and stuck with the traditional afternoon timeslot for this year's grand final.
Remaining in the family-friendly timeslot is the right call for a multitude of reasons - the quality of the game is generally better under the September sun and a later start creates a frustrating long wait for proceedings to begin as well as greater potential for alcohol-related issues.
After experimenting with a night and twilight grand final outside Victoria in the past two seasons, there was huge pressure to make the switch, but thankfully the AFL has repaid the faith of the diehard supporters who parted with their hard-earned cash to buy memberships, even when they could not attend games during the pandemic.
This should put an end to the annual discussion about the grand final starting time, but you can guarantee there are those who will never give up the fight.
The TV moguls and their executives have tried to seduce the AFL with the incentive of making it the greatest show on earth, with accompanying fireworks and entertainment at night.
They tell the AFL what it wants to hear - the TV audience will be much larger and provide a profound boost to the game's profile in the developing markets of NSW and Queensland.
But the reality is the effect would be minimal and those who want to watch the game will do so regardless of whether it is a day, twilight or night fixture.
At least outgoing AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan will not have to worry - he has passed this "hot potato" issue onto his successor next year.
Another AFL tradition, the centre bounce, remains under threat as debate about its viability rages within the umpiring fraternity.
But it is a unique, distinctive part of Australian Football and should not be discarded.
There are three field umpires at each game and surely the official most adept at bouncing the ball correctly should be designated the task rather than sharing it around.
There was less congestion when umpires bounced the ball at stoppages around the ground rather than throw the ball up - if the AFL wanted to open up the game, maybe consideration should be given to bringing back this rule.
As for the argument of precious seconds being lost when a centre bounce is recalled, surely the technological geniuses at the AFL's disposal can manufacture a system to ensure the clock is reset to ensure this does not happen.
The AFL made another correct move with its decision to change the timing of the AFLW season.
Playing games between August-November makes far more sense than in the heat of summer, even if the early AFLW rounds clash with the men's finals.
In late spring, the women should garner greater interest despite competition from other sports, culminating in the finals to be wrapped up before the end of the year.
The new AFLW pay deal provides a pathway for budding young female footballers who have grown up playing the game and the competition should reap the benefits in the near future.
While the standard at the elite level continues to improve, the increase to 18 teams next season will dilute the talent pool.
There is a fair way to go for the competition, but it is an investment worth the perseverance.
Has Howard got it right?
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59
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