The Invincible Blues of 2023

Since 1999, we’ve seen some dominant teams in the Canterbury AFL, like the Cougars of mid 2000’s starring Ben ‘Rocket” Nolan, Jamie “Champ” Day and Grant “Ginga” Allison, and the Blues of the late 2000’s starring James “Buzz” Bowden, Jason “Chicken” Lanyon, Jason “Ballbags” Hopkins and spearhead Richard Bradley.  There have been three (3) clubs that have gone through undefeated – the Burnside Barracudas in 1999, the Bulldogs of 2009, 2016 & 2017, and the Eagles in 2020.  This fact has been verified by league brains trust Sweaty (he’s an accountant and a quiz master, so he remembers facts like these), and Chicken, the long time captain of McCormack’s Eastern Blues.

We now have a new member joining this exclusive club – the Blues Football Club of 2023.

So let’s compare this undefeated Blues team against the other GREAT teams of CAFL.  The old players could chew your ear off over a few frothies and relive the glory days, but let’s stick to the stats.

How do these Blues stack up?

We’ll have to do some investigative digging to unearth the stats from 1999, but Chicken reports the Barracudas starred many Div 1 rugby and League players, like Aaron Whitaker and Glen Coughlan who had played NRL in Australia, England and for the Warriors. These guys thrashed all before them in the CAFL and even when Chicken (Eastern Blues) made a Captains Call to have a player count in the third quarter of a game – the Barracudas had all their points stripped from them for having 19 players on the field, they still came back to win and cantered past them by 5 goals for good measure!

Fast forward to 2008 and the Bulldogs had finished 3rd and had been the easybeats since 2006, but they decided to have a crack at the top in 2009. They prepped with a pre-season of 6 months for a 3 month playing season, and led by a Strength and Conditioning student – Todd Andrews (later to be employed by the Crusaders), they ran up and down the steps of the old QE2 stadium, lifted dumb bells and ran laps around the old Commonwealth Games Stadium till each member was more buffed than Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Players like Niki Dow, David Hume, Jason Beck, Stefan Van Gruting, Jacob Skye Thomson, Zac Williams and myself played in the red and black hoops and were tactically coached by Lachlan Keating. Averaging 88 points each game to the opposition 49, the Blues got within 11 points in Round 5 but the Dogs prevailed 8.11 59 to 8.0 48.  The biggest winning margin was 114 points versus the Blues with 18.17.125 to 1.5.11.

The Grand Final that year was played against the Cougars, starring Neil De Joux, Richie Williams, Alex Devereux and Dave DeCuevas, but the Dogs prevailed with the Doc (Jared Kilday) kicking 4 goals, and legend Nicki Dow being awarded Best on Ground in an emphatic end to an up and coming season. Bulldogs 11.6.72 def Cougars 6.4.40.

The Bulldogs have played in the Grand Final every year since their first and had other dominant periods (including an undefeated 2016, their only blemish – a draw with the Eagles), but none more so than the team of 2017 who took all before them with an average score of 110 per game to 21 against.  This team was brimming with talent all around the ground and it was hard to find a weak link for the opposition to exploit.  Players like Paddy and Kyle Smith, Dale Stevenson, Brad Mavor, Nathan Hayes, Adam Clarke and Toby Foley were a part of a well oiled machine coached by Wayne Sullivan and Zak Williams.  The old firm of Jason Beck and Jacob Skye Thomson were joined with a cameo performance from James Stevenson for one game to kick a bag.  Averaging a 110 point winning margin, the biggest was 129 points against the Eagles 20.18.138 to 1.3.9, but it was the Blues who got closest with “only” a 53 point defeat in round 9.  The Doggies of 2017 finished the season defeating the Blues two weeks later in the Grand final, 15.22.112 to 2.1.13, with Adam “Jinxy” Clarke being awarded the Nicky Dow for B.O.G.

In 2020 the Eagles shook the CAFL upside down, winning 10 from 10.  Nobody saw this BLOCKBUSTER season coming.  Well for starters, Manager Rick Van Olphen and Coach Adem Manderovic would dispute the “nobody saw it coming” statement, because they would have – they were doing all the strategic recruiting at trainings and the Australian immigration office. T he long serving stalwarts of Sam Traynor, Chris Morel, Liam Membrey and Logan Riley all picked up the pace that year, with the return of original legend Andrew Howison, and Josh Robles McGill also  returning from Aussie football. Add in a sprinkling of clover leaves from Paddy Smith and high marking James Southby, and you start to see the formation of a solid team.  Pour in the youthful talents and healthy stamina like Luke de Roo, Campbell Cleal and Finn Moffat, and the Eagles are starting to cook.  That alone would have been a competitive group, but master recruiters plundered the Aussie stocks further by signing the most dominate full forward CAFL has seen since Richard Bradley.  49 goals for the season proper to Mark Orr was a new record I am told, and he kicked four more in the Grand Final for good measure.

Fast forward to 2022 and the resurgent Blues topped their season off with an eight year, drought breaking flag against the Cougars by 33 points, with only 2 losses for the season. The Blues have backed up that performance by going undefeated in 2023 … so far.                                                      Well led by three time Coach of the Year, Andrew Leckie, the Blues discipline and focus on winning has shone through.  Talent on six lines is hard to beat, especially when top ball magnets like Faz, Mackie and the Charlton brothers are on song.  If any ball does slip through half back, then NZ ‘s finest fullback Hayden Johnston usually mops up and slots a fine kick back to half forward, where the dangers of small forwards lurk like Blackler and Benny, who usually finish strong on their feet.

Their highest winning margin was 75 points against the Cougars in round 4 – 13.16.94 to 2.7.19.  The closest margin was just four points against the Eagles in a wind affected Round 6, 1.6.12 to 1.2.8.

So how do they rank against the other INVINCIBLE teams of CAFL.  If we use the classic AFL ladder method of points for and against, it looks like this:

Team Points for Points Against %
Bulldogs 2017 986 199 495.47
Eagles 2020 1109 345 321.44
Bulldogs 2009 820 338 242.60
Blues 2023 569 276 206.16

Still, not to take anything away for a great season from the Invincible Blues – they’ve had a great season on and off the field and are looking to set up a dynasty.  The new players need to look at the scores from past years to see how much this season means to the die-hard Blues players, like Buzz and Courty, who came through the glory days of the 2000’s and the dark days after 2014.  On Saturday at 1pm, the Blues take on the Bulldogs for a chance to top their season off with back-to-back flags, something only achieved a few times as well, and for the Blues it was last in 2006-2008.

Remember the old mantra from Ballsy – Blues don’t Lose.

2023 Grand Final, 1.00pm Saturday November 11. Watch it live on Facebook

Written by Steve “Langers” Langridge and Rick “Sweaty” Van Olphen