Two of the leading contenders to become Carlton’s next head coach will be on show in what threatens to be a huge AFL mismatch at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
Premiership favourites Hawthorn are riding a seven-game winning streak, having slaughtered fellow flag fancies Fremantle and Sydney by a combined total of 161 points in the preceding fortnight.
In contrast, 16th-placed Carlton have dropped their past three games, although the Blues have been more competitive since John Barker stepped in as interim coach in late May to replace the sacked Mick Malthouse.
Barker – a former Hawks players and assistant coach – is in contention to win the Carlton job on a fulltime basis, with current Hawthorn assistant Brendon Bolton also right in the running.
Bolton’s stocks soared last year when the Hawks went on an unbeaten five-match run on his watch while head coach Alastair Clarkson recovered from Guillain-Barre syndrome.
“From what I can gather, he’s one of 20 (contenders) and they will whittle that down at some period of time to five or six,” Clarkson said on Thursday.
“It’s probably at that period of time that we’ll have some advice for Bolts about just what implications that will have for Hawthorn in the next few weeks.”
Clarkson insisted there would be no let-up from the high-flying Hawks on Friday night against a Blues team struggling for form and with a long injury list.
“Our approach to this week’s game is no different to what it’s been for the last two weeks,” Clarkson said.
“Four points are up for grabs, players are jostling for spots.”
We’ve got a lot of players at (VFL) level that are playing really good footy.
“They are probably seeing some opportunities coming towards the end of the year of trying to get into a side that’s trying to play finals.
“We expect to prepare just like we have for the last couple of weeks, to come out and acquit ourselves very, very well.”
The Hawks will find themselves back in the top two for the first time since the opening round of the season if they beat the Blues on Friday and Sydney can find a way past West Coast at Domain Stadium on Sunday evening.