Carlton ruckman Matthew Kreuzer is ready to take the competition by storm after an "amazing" pre-season, Blues skipper Marc Murphy says.
Last year, Kreuzer topped 20 games for the first time since his second season, 2009, missing just one game en route to a ninth-place finish in Carlton's best and fairest award.
Kreuzer's return to fitness represented a welcome change of luck for 2007's No.1 draft pick, whose career has been disrupted by a succession of injuries, most seriously a knee reconstruction and recurring foot fractures.
The 27-year-old's good run has continued this pre-season, and Murphy is excited by what his long-time teammate could produce in 2017.
"Kreuzer has had an amazing pre-season. He's in as good a nick as I've seen him and I reckon he'll take the comp by storm," Murphy said at the AFL captains' day on Thursday.
"I'm excited by what he's going to show now that his body is in really good shape and he's been able to get through a full pre-season.
"His ruck work has been really elite and, with his follow up, he's almost like another midfielder when the ball hits the ground.
"I think on Friday night he had the most tackles, the most contested balls and the most first possessions for us.
"He's going really well and I'm really excited to see him play a lot of footy for us this year."
Matthew Kreuzer wins a ruck duel with Max Gawn during pre-season. (Photo: AFL Media)
Carlton did not win a game during the JLT Community Series, suffering heavy losses to Melbourne and – after fielding an extremely young team – St Kilda before a credible 21-point loss to Fremantle last Friday night.
Murphy was not concerned by the Blues' form ahead of their round one blockbuster with Richmond next Thursday night, saying the performance against Fremantle suggested the club was hitting form at the right time of the year.
"On Friday night, I thought we played some pretty good footy bar the fact we made a few little errors that we should have scored from that they then went down and scored from," Murphy said.
"We looked back at our review and saw some really good signs. We're going into the season really confident.
"Apart from those couple of performances (against Melbourne and St Kilda), our pre-season has been really strong and we've really built on our game-plan from last year."
The Blues surprised many footy followers when they won seven games in coach Brendon Bolton's first year at the helm last season, with some forecasting a tougher year for the club's young list in 2017.
Murphy, however, sees plenty of scope for improvement.
Chiefly, he thinks it will come from the Blues' recruits – recycled and new, both young and experienced.
Former Giant Caleb Marchbank – "he's in the top three runners at the club," Murphy enthuses – will help bolster Carlton's backline.
Ex-Cat Billie Smedts and former Giant and Docker Rhys Palmer will help take the load off Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Patrick Cripps in the midfield, while recent draftees Sam Petrevski-Seton – "a special talent" – Cameron Polson and David Cuningham will add class and youthful exuberance to the on-ball mix.
And the three-goal haul of former Giants forward Jarrod Pickett against Freo tells Murphy 2014's No.4 draft pick is starting to believe he belongs at AFL level now that he's gaining confidence in his body.
"I think our improvement is going to come from a lot of the guys who are largely unknown outside of our footy club. We've got a lot of young guys who are really fit and have put on a lot of weight over the last couple of years," Murphy says.
"You then add in guys like Marchbank, Smedts and Palmer, who have had really good pre-seasons and can really help our list.
"I think you'll see pretty big improvement from all of these guys and it will really help us."