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AFL preview series: Richmond Tigers – 5th (theRoar)
« on: March 13, 2018, 12:58:26 PM »
AFL preview series: Richmond Tigers – 5th

Cameron Rose
13 March 2018

After the Western Bulldogs fairytale of 2016, no-one could have predicted that something so special could have been not just matched, but surpassed, a mere 12 months later.

The similarities were stark. Both teams won 15 games in the home-and-away rounds, with a similar percentage. They each ranked third for defence, but had an attack that ranked no better than mid-table. Both sides got white-hot during September, and finely honed gameplans executed to perfection carried them all the way to premiership glory.

Richmond became the second half specialists through September, with each of their finals following a similar pattern – grind away at the opposition in the first half, and throw everything at them until they were desperate for the respite of half time.

Geelong, GWS and Adelaide used those half time breaks to think about what had hit them, and wonder how much more they could take. Richmond used them to re-charge, and then elevate their level.

Richmond won the second half against Geelong by 42 points, winning the game by 51.

Against GWS, it was a 35-point margin in the second half, in a 36-point game.

They bettered Adelaide by 39 points in the second half of the grand final, winning the match by 48.

The Bulldogs suffered from premiership hangover, a time-honoured tradition that follows winning a flag with a young team.

Richmond enters 2018 with a list ranked 12th for age and 10th in games played. Can they avoid the same fate?

B: Nick Vlastuin David Astbury Dylan Grimes
HB: Brandon Ellis Alex Rance Bachar Houli
C: Kamdyn McIntosh Dustin Martin Shaun Grigg
HF: Shane Edwards Jack Riewoldt Kane Lambert
F: Dan Butler Jacob Townsend Daniel Rioli
Foll: Toby Nankervis Trent Cotchin Dion Prestia
Int: Josh Caddy Jason Castagna Jack Graham Nathan Broad
Em: Shaun Hampson Corey Ellis Reece Conca

Richmond’s best team above sees no change from the grand final outfit. It’s not unprecedented that an entire premiership 22 will remain on the list the following year, but it is unusual.

The Tigers only have one 30-year-old on the list at the moment, which is back-up ruckman Shaun Hampson.

Jack Riewoldt, Bachar Houli, Shane Edwards and Shaun Grigg will all turn 30 through the season, but there is no evidence to suggest their form is heading south. Alex Rance is 28, Trent Cotchin and David Astbury are 27, Dustin Martin, Kane Lambert and Dylan Grimes are 26.

This is a list where its experienced players, all extremely important personnel, are still in their prime, or close enough to it.

Pressure, pressure, pressure was the name of the game for Richmond in 2017, and based on their drafting activity, they’re going to go again. There are now 10-12 players that could be classified as small forwards with an ability to apply pressure as their number one priority.

Make no mistake, the Tigers are going to do what they’re good at. When you sweep through the finals series with an average winning margin of 45 points, why not double down and go again? Make the opposition catch you.

There was a little bit of talk pre-Christmas about playing Toby Nankervis and Hampson in the same side, but this would be a grave error. They proved last year how overrated ruckmen can be, using Shaun Grigg as a back-up, so why would they go in with two?

Nankervis can take a nice grab, and is a neat kick, which may seduce the coaching staff into thinking he can play forward as a second tall, but it’s easier to intercept mark around the ground than it is when you are the key target. And he is too lumbering to apply the required fierce pressure.

Richmond’s list through 2017 was punctuated by good health. The nucleus of the backline, Rance, Astbury and Grimes, didn’t miss a game between them. Brandon Ellis played all 25.

The pressure forwards, Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna and Dan Butler, missed two matches between them. Jack Riewoldt only missed a couple as well.

We can’t underestimate the chemistry between these sets of players at either end of the ground. For the backs, it’s about knowing when you can cover and when you can release. For the forwards, it’s about knowing when to double or triple-team an opposition rebounder, and when to move onto the next target.

Through the middle, Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin played every game, as did Grigg. Kane Lambert, third in the best and fairest, only missed one match, with Nankervis in the same boat. The engine room was firing on all cylinders through the year.

Richmond used 38 players in 2017, an unusually high number for a successful side. Only two clubs used more, the rebuilding Gold Coast and Carlton. Adelaide, by comparison, used 31. It’s a great sign for the Tigers depth that they were able to expose a lot of their list while still winning enough games to finish third.

Corey Ellis will get opportunities this year, possibly from as early as Round 1. The club hierarchy want him to graduate to become a best 22 player, and he was an emergency for the grand final, so wasn’t far away. Reece Conca is usually picked when fit, he’s a Hardwick favourite.

Anthony Miles and Sam Lloyd have proved themselves at the highest level, and are waiting in the wings as depth players after tearing up the VFL last year. Jayden Short was unlucky to miss September after playing 16 games. Shai Bolton is electric, and is next in line for a pressure position up forward.

In the depths of Richmond’s despair in 2016, I wrote a piece imploring Damien Hardwick to free the players up, “release the guns” as it were. The entire list was overcome with paralysis by analysis, and were playing the ugliest, most stagnant, uninspiring football imaginable. Hardwick obviously identified the same weakness in himself and his team, corrected it, and is now a Tiger legend.

It has been almost cult-like the way all Richmond people in club land, players and staff, have spoken about a premiership forged in the fires of connection with each other. They obviously found a way to form an impenetrable bond, with Hardwick at the forefront.

If everyone involved can ensure the magic of this link is maintained, a hangover should be kept at bay, and there’s no reason to think the Tigers can’t be a contender again.

Prediction – fifth

P.S – Long time readers of The Roar will know I barrack for Richmond. I put the Tigers in fifth so as not to be accused of one-eyed parochialism, but we all know they’re going to finish on top, probably not drop a game, and win the grand final by a record margin.

Yellow and Black = Back to Back.

Cam Rose’s AFL ladder prediction so far:

5: Richmond Tigers
6: Melbourne Demons
7: Greater Western Sydney
8. Essendon
9. Hawthorn
10. Collingwood
11. Western Bulldogs
12. St Kilda
13. West Coast
14. North Melbourne
15. Fremantle
16. Brisbane
17. Carlton
18. Gold Coast