Tigers recruit Dion Prestia (4th L) proved vital in the midfield as Richmond took care of Hawthorn. (AAP: Julian Smith)
There have been more false dawns at Richmond over the years than three-vote games on Brownlow night for Gary Ablett Jr, but Sunday’s 29-point win over Hawthorn should have the rest of the AFL paying attention.
The Adelaide Crows may have made the headlines as Round 20 came to an end, with their attention-grabbing demolition of cross-town rivals Port Adelaide in Showdown 43.
But over at the MCG earlier on Sunday afternoon, the finals-bound Tigers produced a performance that may also prove extremely important as the rest of the season plays out.
A game against the Hawks where the Tigers were expected to win would have been a classic banana-skin scenario for much of the last 30 years.
On this day at the MCG, however, it proved to be no problem, as Damien Hardwick’s men racked up their sixth win in seven matches.
Richmond was missing its spearhead Jack Riewoldt, who had again been ruled out due to an eye injury. With no direct route to goal, the Tigers shared it around.
Former Geelong midfielder Josh Caddy had the best return of his career, booting four goals.
Corey Ellis backed up his goal against the Suns last week with a double versus the Hawks, while Richmond’s star Dustin Martin proved handy when left at full-forward for a while, booting another two goals for the Tigers.
With Martin spending time up forward, the weight of responsibility fell on recent recruit Dion Prestia. The former Suns midfielder handled himself admirably, gathering seven clearances and 31 disposals, laying six tackles and generally leading the charge for the Tigers.
Richmond narrowly lost the clearances, but won the centre clearances and contested possessions — and in the end, the game.
The Hawks are no easybeats at the best of times, especially with their season on the line, and Alastair Clarkson’s men were fresh off a victory over the form team of the AFL in the Sydney Swans.
So to avoid the banana skin and get the win was a pleasing sign of maturity from the Tigers, and could be a pointer towards September.
Tigers defence getting it done
Richmond’s Alex Rance may garner most praise, but the Tigers’ overall defence is very impressive. (AAP: Julian Smith)
When asked for the top defences in the AFL, most people would probably nominate the Sydney Swans — at least the post-round-six version — or maybe the ladder-leading Crows.
But statistically, the number-one-ranked side in the competition right now is none other than the men from Tigerland.
The top four defences
- #1 Richmond — 77.5 ppg*
- #2 Sydney — 77.6 ppg
- #3 Pt Adelaide — 79.0 ppg
- #4 Adelaide — 79.6 ppg
* ppg = points conceded per game
Richmond has conceded an average of 77.5 points per game this season, just a tick ahead of the Swans.
Obviously Alex Rance is the star full-back in the AFL, a man capable of shutting down key forwards like Lance Franklin and others on a regular basis.
He is not the only big contributor, however. Nick Vlastuin’s toughness is important for the Tigers, as is Dylan Grimes’ ability to play multiple roles, not to mention David Astbury’s marking and rebounding.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers are not a high-scoring team — their best return of the year came in round one when they kicked 20.12 (132) against Carlton.
But while the conventional wisdom that defence wins flags may not be that accurate (Fremantle, anyone?), the Tigers’ ability to pressure sides and stop them scoring means they don’t have to kick a massive score every week.
What do they have to do from here?
Richmond has a dreadful recent record against Geelong, but round 21 would be a great time to start evening up the ledger. (AAP: Julian Smith)
The last time a Tigers side finished in the top four after 22 games was 2001 — that year they lost in the preliminary final to eventual premiers the Brisbane Lions.
The last time they ended the home-and-away as high as third was as far back as 1995, when they also lost in the prelim to Geelong.
It has been 35 years since the Tigers finished higher than third, when they topped the ladder in 1982 before losing the grand final to Carlton.
So it hasn’t been a barrel of laughs for Richmond supporters over the years. But this has been a curious year in the AFL.
Absolutely nothing has been predictable, so a Tigers run at the flag is a lot less strange right now than, for example, predicting the Bulldogs winning from seventh in 2016.
But before Richmond fans start budgeting for grand finals tickets, there is a lot that can go wrong for the Yellow and Black.
Port Adelaide and Sydney are probably the only teams that could knock them out of the top four at this point, and as we’ve seen the Power are not travelling particularly well.
Tigers remaining tasks before finals
- Rd 21 — Geelong (Kardinia Park)
- Rd 22 — Fremantle (Subiaco Oval)
- Rd 23 — St Kilda (MCG)
But none of Richmond’s last three games are easy. Richmond has not beaten Geelong in its last 12 attempts, and a trip to Kardinia Park would be an even steeper test if Sydney had not just provided a roadmap with their win on Friday night.
The Cats — minus injured skipper Joel Selwood — will be needing some wins or some help from above them if they are to avoid a trip to Adelaide Oval on week one of the finals, so four points for the Tigers here would be a big bonus.
Then comes a trip west to face Fremantle, albeit a Dockers side with not much to play for with finals out of the question.
Finally the Tigers will come home to the MCG to play St Kilda.
The bottom line is this: the Adelaide Crows are deservedly the favourites for the flag right now, but if Richmond can hold the line and finish in third (or even better), then no-one will be wanting to face the Tigers at the MCG in September.