For the first time in 23 years, Carlton will play in a preliminary final. The challenge? A date with a rampant Brisbane at the Gabba.
The Lions have beaten the Blues in seven of their last eight encounters, and while they will once again assume favouritism for this clash, there will no doubt be a fear amongst the club and playing group of falling short, yet again.
Here are the four questions which will determine who wins this do-or-die game and advances to the Grand Final:
Will the Blues continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate?
It may sound overly simplistic, but the Blues need to take care of the football or else they'll be preparing for Mad Monday on their flight back to Melbourne.
In their epic semifinal against the Demons, Carlton turned the ball over 92 times -- for context, the AFL average is 69 turnover per team, per game -- but the Dees, through a mixture of systematic failures and inaccuracy in front of the big sticks, were unable to punish them. It's a worrying trend for the Blues, who have had the second most turnovers in the last six weeks.
The Blues won't be so fortunate against Brisbane, who are the No. 1 team in the competition at scoring from turnover, averaging 54.8 points per game. What's more impressive is the fact teams have tried to take this scoring source away from them in recent times, yet they have been able to successfully adapt and also become the No. 1 side at scoring from clearance since Round 19.
The Lions are also one of the most efficient teams when attacking, another stark contrast to the Demons. Brisbane ranks second for points scored and second for scores per inside 50. Carlton has to be cautious, but no so cautious they refuse to take on the game.
Can Lachie Neale be contained?
There's no exact science which suggests locking down Neale guarantees you're beating Brisbane, but letting him run free and do as he pleases through the midfield is a recipe for disaster. After all, he is a Brownlow medallist, and once again amongst the favourites for this year's award.
Neale continues to be arguably the No. 1 contested midfielder in the sport, setting up everything for the Lions. He led the league in clearances this year ranked fourth for contested possessions and sixth for ground ball wins.
Since the beginning of 2022, Neale has tallied 32 disposals on 16 occasions. Care to take a stab at how many of those games the Lions won? I'll help you out; all 16. What about when he's held to 25 or fewer? Brisbane's record is 'only' 9-7. It's a similar story in the clearance game, too. Brisbane holds a 17-3 record over the last two years in games Neale has won at least nine of them. Keep him under eight clearances and the Lions' record shifts to 14-9.
Port Adelaide sent Willem Drew to Neale in their qualifying final, restricting him to 19 disposals, five clearances and minimal influence, albeit in a loss. You'd expect the Blues to look to do the same, with George Hewett the likely candidate to get the job.
Who wins the all important midfield battle?
If there's one area the Blues can potentially enjoy an advantage in this Saturday afternoon it's the midfield.
This year, Carlton has had some of the best midfield production ever recorded by Champion Data. In fact, from rounds 14-21, they became the most dominant team ever at scoring from clearance, outscoring their opponents by 269 points in that period.
Over the course of the year, Carlton ranks first for contested possession differential, post-clearance contested possession and ground ball differential. They also rank top four for disposals and clearance differential. But it's not as if Brisbane can't compete with them in this area; Chris Fagan's side ranks first for clearance differential, fourth for contested possession differential and sixth for post-clearance contested possession differential.
The midfield battle will be telling but if the Blues are able to contain Neale, yes, a significant 'if', Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay could be getting first service through the likes of Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh and Adam Cerra.
And while all the attention will be on Neale, the Lion who looms key in the midfield is Josh Dunkley. He was clearly best on ground against the Blues in Round 8, keeping a close check on Cripps while also tallying 33 disposals, 14 contested possessions, 13 tackles, 11 marks and six clearances.
Which Charlie Curnow rocks up to the Gabba?
By no means has Curnow been underwhelming in his first two finals appearances, but he certainly hasn't set September alight ... at least yet.
The back-to-back Coleman Medal winner has kicked just one goal in each final, and, if truth be told, been beaten by Tom McCartin and Steven May. The task doesn't get much easier, with Jack Payne likely to keep a close check on him up in Brisbane, although he will need to overcome an ankle injury sustained in the qualifying final win over Port Adelaide.
You might be a little surprised to learn Curnow has kicked more than three goals just five times this year and only once against a top eight side (six goals against Collingwood in Round 20). In fact, this season he averages 4.08 goals per game against non-finalists and 2.15 against teams who featured in September.
When the Blues played Brisbane in Round 8, Payne held him to just one goal. The pair were involved in three one-on-one contests, with Payne winning one of them and the other two 'neutralised' -- meaning neither player won the ball. In that game, Payne had an equal team-high eight intercept possessions, while Curnow had a team-high seven score involvements
Will Curnow be able to get hold of him and break the game open? It's what every Blues fan will be praying for, and it might just be the determining factor in deciding the outcome of this game.