CARLTON has seen a lot of growth in their emerging key position players under Michael Voss in 2022.
One of those players is 22-year-old Tom De Koning, who has relished the opportunity in recent months in assuming the No.1 ruck mantle due to the absence of teammate Marc Pittonet.
Known for his impressive aerial ability, the developing tall is finding his feet against some of the competition's best rucks.
That was never more evident than Saturday afternoon, where De Koning put his stamp on the contest opposed to Fremantle's Sean Darcy and Rory Lobb.
After recording 13 disposals (nine contested) and contributing to Carlton's clearance dominance, De Koning lauded his teammates for their performance and stick to the task when things got tough.
“I think just being able to play a consistent four-quarter performance shows huge growth in our group,” De Koning said.
“There’s a real belief and I think we had a real focus on being tough, reliable and selfless: playing that brand of footy and being a great teammate is what really got us over the line.”
Noting their focus has shifted under a coaching group which is still in year one at the Blues, De Koning has noticed a real buy-in from the team in the new system and values that they have implemented over the year so far.
“Consistency has been a real focus,” he said.
“It’s really starting to ingrain in our performance and our culture within the group so it’s been a real focus that’s been preached from the coaching group – the players have really bought in on our certain roles to be a great teammate, which is different for everyone.
"I think we’re all playing our role well and that’s what’s helping us get these wins.”
Having to shoulder the majority of the ruck load, De Koning has been very appreciative of Jack Silvagni, who has had to step into a rotating ruck role to assist De Koning.
It's a partnership which formed in the second half of last season, and has once again been called upon in recent months.
“I know for sure I definitely couldn’t play my role without ‘SOS’ [Silvagni] out there,” he said.
“He really cracks in when he goes in the ruck and I think he could play just about any position on the ground.
“You always know he’s going to give 100 per cent and bring that tough, reliable, selfless brand of footy that the coaches are looking for. It’s really handy having him on our side, that’s for sure.”
The culture around IKON Park is blossoming each week, with De Koning feeling a sense of belonging and connectedness amongst the playing group and wider football staff.
“This is my fifth season and it hasn’t been easy: we won two games in my first year and I think that is what is making this year really special, seeing where we’ve come from as a group and the fact that we’ve all stuck together,” he said.
“No one has really left since I’ve been here and we’ve brought in some good players that have been really handy for our list.
“I think the belief and confidence is growing each week, so if we can maintain that four-quarter performance, then we can be really damaging.”
To finish off the season strong, De Koning believes if the team can keep playing their way and buying into the game plan, they’ll be a real threat moving forward.
“I think the main thing is continuing to reinforce those good habits that the coaching group has brought in,” he said.
“Our game style, which we feel can stand up in big moments and stand up against the best teams in the league, as well as embracing that new game style – that is what builds the belief, because we know we can match it with the best teams and if we can maintain that consistency, who knows where we can get.”