I love the start of a new season, and truth be told, whilst I took my family to the zoo today… as enjoyable as it was, I couldn’t wait to get home and watch the footy tonight. I mean, the zoo is great – I love it, and the fact that the tiger there was prowling around looking agitated made me fear for Carlton a bit… but I dismissed it quickly and came home to watch without prejudice. I am not really a superstitious man.

That said, as the Tigers jumped the Blues, I started to fear the worst again. I didn’t want to see the green shoots cut down, but a goalless first quarter had me thinking the Blues were about to be mauled.

I was wrong. Carlton worked their way back into the game via some good team pressure, and showed plenty in the process.

I looked at this game like a bit of a boxing match. The Tigers came out early and racked up points in the first few rounds, jabbing and scoring, and occasionally rocking the Blues back on their heels. They seemed to have the fight in hand, but Carlton needed time to compose themselves, and when they started picking their own spots, they started landing a few blows, themselves. The Tigers counter-punched, dodging and weaving just enough to ensure they weren’t going to lose too many rounds, and the as the Blues tired, Richmond landed a few heavy blows late to finish their foes off.

I wouldn’t say it was a polished display by Richmond at all, and though I enjoyed the Carlton fightback, as a spectacle it left a little to be desired.

Let’s cover the best and worst of the contest in the Good, Bad and Ugly of the season opener.

 

THE GOOD

THE EARLY TOM LYNCH SIGNS

Could the Tigers have scripted it better? Could regular Mongrel reader, Paddy Farrelly have been happier when he won on Lynch kicking the first goal? Could other readers wait to message me and rub my nose in it like I am Lynch’s mortal enemy as Lynch kicked his second goal?

The answers to all three questions were “no”. Lynch got his first after Jack Riewoldt took the pack out of play, and Lynch took a contested mark without leaving his feet. His first goal had the Tiger fans grinning, and the side went on with it early.

His second came from vintage Richmond pressure (the 2017 vintage… not anything before – they’re bad drops). Dan Butler, who was pretty ordinary offensively, but excellent for defensive pressure, nailed Nic Newman in a tackle. The ball fell to Dan Rioli, who fed Lynch for his second goal, and the Tigers looked like they were ready to run away with it.

Lynch faded drastically, and you expect that given his knee injury and the slow recovery from it, but the signs were there. He got his hands to several long bombs, and with time, will start clunking them. Derm Brereton believes Lynch is the best contested marking forward in the game, and if he gets those same opportunities in 2-3 weeks’ time, I can’t see him allowing them to hit the deck.

Where would we rate Lynch’s performance? Three goals from seven touches is nothing to write home about, but if I offered three goals before the game, I think many Richmond fans would take that.

It’s his first hit out, and he looked dangerous early before he got fatigued. Following that, there was a long period where he was basically a body on the field with no influence at all. If anything, he played an old-school full forward role, as though he was tethered to the goal square. Even with three goals to his name, I’d only give him a five out of ten.

 

TRENT COTCHIN

I’ll get to Cripps in a minute, as he was opposed to Cotch several times in the second half, but what I want to do is credit some stuff that doesn’t show up in the stats.

There is no better player in the game at taking a 20-80 situation and turning it into a genuine 50-50 than Trent Cotchin. At times, he can be third in a race for the ball with two opponents, dive at it, take an opponent’s body with him, tie the ball up, or knock it into further dispute, and change the way the game is headed.

 He does this in situations that, when looking at the big picture of the game, may not matter. The ball is running toward the boundary, and he toe-pokes it slightly in the direction of a teammate. Two Carlton players are running on the outside and one is about to collect the ball and dish it off, but Cotchin barrels in and a stoppage ensues. There is no stat given. It is simply a ball up without a tackle laid by the Richmond captain, but it has an influence. He does these things in circumstances where any other player would be happy just to allow the ball to trickle out of play, or put on pseudo-pressure as the opposition clears.

Not Cotchin.

He is a desperado, much like my mate Joe Ganino at about 2am at the 40 and over dances he goes to. He’ll do anything to make things go his way (Cotchin, not Ganino). He finished with six inside 50s, six clearances and eight score involvements as part of his 31 touches.

Some may express concern that he ran at just 51% efficiency, but don’t count me amongst them. Sometimes you have to look beyond the numbers, and when there was a contest to be made tonight, Trent Cotchin made it. He is a captain to be proud of.

 

PATRICK CRIPPS

Speaking of captains to be proud of, I’m not sure what else Paddy Cripps can do for Carlton. 32 touches, 21 contested possessions and seven clearances highlighted another great night at the office for him.

Actually, there is something I think he can do that he isn’t currently, and that’s send his team inside 50 more. For all those touches, he did that just twice this evening, which is kind of hard to believe. To me, it indicates that he is getting the ball and farming it out, which is great, but it also indicates that either he is going short when he gets it in the middle, or he’s looking to switch play. He is a great player with good vision, but I want to see him start hurting teams with the footy more when he gets it as part of a chain.

You see the way Richmond look to get the ball into the hands of Dusty Martin when they’re streaming forward? It didn’t quite work tonight, because Dusty’s kicking was a little off, but those opportunities are what I want to see Carlton do with Cripps. The run is there, and he’ll make the space to get open if he can – I want him to be the one kicking to Curnow, McKay and McGovern.

All that said, his ability to stand, take the tackler on, work his arms free and fire out a handball at crazy angles is close to unparalleled in the game currently. What a beast of a man. At one point I looked at him charge at a stoppage contest, and I thought “why doesn’t someone just drop a shoulder into him when he has his eyes on the ball and he is chugging along?”

And then I realised that players probably value the health of their shoulders more than they do stopping a rampaging Cripps.

I guess I’ll be writing a lot about Cripps this season, and if Carlton can get a few wins on the board, C
rippa looks like a great Brownlow bet already. The thing I like about him the most – he just doesn’t lose his feet in one-on-one contests. While others are on their hands and knees, Cripps grabs the ball and powers away. Stay on your feet, kids.

 

NIC NEWMAN

There was a point in the first quarter where Daniel Rioli grabbed the ball, saw Nic Newman ahead of him and thought “I’ve got this”. He proceeded to take Newman on, dance around him and hit Jack Graham 40 metres out.

I thought that it made Newman look slooooow, but then I realised that Rioli can probably make anyone look slow.

Newman rebounded to be one of the better running defenders in the game. He exited defensive 50 on a game-high 12 occasions, and trailed only Jayden Short (kick ins) and Dustin Martin (monster) for metres gained on the night. He also dragged in nine marks across half back as the Blues looked to him as an avenue to get out of trouble.

This comes as a great relief to Carlton’s over-reliance on Kade Simpson to perform that role. Simpson still had 27 touches, himself, but having Newman able to fill a similar role allows the Blues to open up either side of the ground from defence depending where those two are situated. A well thought out recruitment, that one.

 

KANE LAMBERT

Is there a less praised mid in the game that performs at such a consistently high level? Maybe Jack Macrae?

Often overshadowed by Cotchin and Martin, Lambert is a complete workhorse, and does so much of the grunt work for the Tigers. He had 30 touches and nine score involvements on the night, and just continues to get under the guard of opposition on-ballers.

Whether he is linking in a chain, or making that annoyingly good inboard kick to open the game up, teams would be well-served in sending someone to Lambert to stifle his influence.

 

ZAC FISHER

This bloke led the game in clearances, and showed that his stick-figure physique may be a thing of the past. His two efforts to tackle Dustin Martin in this game were wonderful.

While only one resulted in holding the ball, the message he sent was clear – the boy is fast becoming a man. It was great to see him demonstrate just how to slip under the fend-off of Martin and drag him down – if you think teams haven’t done their homework on this in the past 18 months, think again.

He finished with 12 contested touches amongst his 22 disposals for the game, and looks like he is ready to take the next step this season.

 

NANKERVIS V PHILLIPS

I had this down as a complete win to Nank before the game, but the more I watched, the more I thought Phillips made a really good account of himself.

Is that even a saying? I’m running with it. So, he made a really good account of himself. There… I did it.

Nank did sneak forward for three goals, equalling his career-high, but Phillips was a beast once the ball hit the deck, and his second efforts were fantastic. He led the game in tackles, which is something usually only Brodie Grundy does amongst the rucks, and whilst he didn’t hit the scoreboard, he did have three individual clearances to break even with Nankervis.

Overall the points clearly go to the Tiger ruck – three goals in any game obviously swing the pendulum in your favour, but the Blues have plenty to work with in Phillips. He just needs to get involved in the play a little more around the ground.

 

MARC MURPHY

I’m not a Murphy fan… never have been, but credit where it’s due; he was very good on the outside tonight. In a role probably more suited to his strengths, his run and carry, combined with his linking through the middle, suited him so much better than having to be the in-and-under stoppage player he clearly isn’t cut out to be at this stage of his career.

His goal in the third, off a superb piece of play from heir apparent, Sam Walsh, brought the crowd to its feet, and emphasised just how dangerous he can be.

That said, he probably needs to use the ball a bit better – he was prone to banging it inside 50 without looking for options at times. Now, onto Walsh…

 

SAM WALSH

This guy ain’t a green shoot – he is a sapling that’ll be a towering tree before you know it. Not many players have that kind of poise and balance at that age, but Walsh has them, in spades.

I wrote above about the Murphy goal, but without Walsh holding the ball up momentarily, and drawing all defensive players in the area to him, there would’ve been no space at all for Murphy to work in. Walsh knew what he was doing. He bought some time for Murphy to work into a better position, and demanded the focus of the defence by holding that ball up. When the attention came, he offloaded the ball, and watched as Murphy goaled around the corner.

It was a goal assist of the highest order, and with 24 disposals on debut, the gauntlet has been thrown down to any of the other Rising Star contenders to pick up.

Carlton have a star on their hands. Let’s hope this number one pick is the one who will lead them back to the promised land.

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THE BAD

 

CHARLIE CURNOW

At 22, Charlie is bound to have ordinary days, but after watching him in the JLT series, where Darcy Moore gave him an absolute bath, I was a little concerned. I’m a little more concerned now, as the Richmond defence combined to give him another bath tonight.

The Tiger defence can make most look poor, and when you cycle through names like Grimes, Astbury, Rance, Broad and Vlastuin, you get different strengths and weaknesses to exploit, but as a whole, they are solid and tight, and you have t make every opportunity count.

That means, you can’t be dropping more marks than you take. You can’t half-ass chases, and you can’t look like you’re out there for show, with your only goal coming out the back after the pack missed the ball.

By the way, that was the only way he got a sniff against Darcy Moore a couple of weeks back – the easy way; out the back. You need to do better than that, and of all players wearing navy blue tonight, Curnow was probably the worst. Particularly when you factor in what he has to work with in terms of talent. Actually, no… Fasolo was the worst.

Maybe Curnow’s been reading a bit too much of his own press, or maybe he had an off-night, but for the Blues to be a force, Curnow needs to be exponentially better than he was tonight.

He stunk it up.

 

THE UGLY

 

THE ALEX RACE INJURY

We were all trying to be hopeful, right up until Alex Rance was interviewed after the game, and he stated that early signs didn’t look good. It was followed by Damien Hardwick in the post-game press conference confirming that the club suspects it is an ACL injury.

The magnitude of this loss will be felt all season if the worst fears are true.

His game prior to the injury was a mixed bag. Neither great nor terrible, Rance was doing what he had to do in the backline, and taking the deepest defender, whether that was Charlie Curnow, Mitch McGovern, or Harry McKay. I think he probably split the contests, if we’re being honest. That said, his chase down to catch the quicker Michael Gibbons and cause a spillage was vintage Rance.

Anyway, if this turns out to be the worst case scenario, what will this mean for Richmond, and Rance in general? Even the best case scenario would see him miss multiple weeks (they mentioned six for a medial strain in the Fox Footy review), and that would probably rule out any All-Australian selection. It’d end a five year reign for Rance where he has been the constant in the AA back six.

For the Tigers, they are a robust team, and they have both Dylan Grimes and David Astbury who can take any forward in the game and beat them comfortably. Grimes in particular, is a defensive freak, and his closing speed, as displayed when he ran down Marc Murphy in the last quarter, is blistering.

The Tigers have players like Ryan Garthwaite and Callum Moore waiting in the wings for a chance at a regular gig, as well as Noah Balta wanting a regular role. Maybe this opens up a spot for them in defence?

But we’re being optimistic about something that will hang heavily over the Tiger camp for the next couple of days. Fingers crossed, by some miracle it’s not an ACL – the game of AFL is better with Alex Rance on the park. Get well soon.

 

THE JACK HIGGINS HANDBALL

Look, I’m a Jack Higgins fan, and I love the way he goes about his football, but mate… when you mark 25 metres out from goal, and you’re in the side to be a dangerous forward, don’t screw around with the ball when the other team thinks they’re a bit of a chance at pinching the game.

Higgins took a mark, and should’ve went back to slot a goal. Instead, he opted to handball to the ambling Tom Lynch (which, at heart is a great gesture) but Lynch was a) not expecting it, and b) as rusty as the old Holden Gemini I used to drive (one time the muffler just fell off while it was parked in the driveway – I kid you not).

It didn’t come off and only some muscle from Martin allowed Lynch a second chance to score, which he did.

Had Carlton not ran out of gas, a mistake like that could have cost the Tigers dearly. Tom Lynch is a big boy – he will find his way at Richmond, and showed in the first quarter that he will contribute. He doesn’t need charity, and Richmond doesn’t need Jack Higgins being a bit of a knob with the ball right in front of goal.

Kick the goal, mate. Mucking around with it does no one any good, and can come across as disrespectful to your opponent.

That said, I loved every other thing I saw from Higgins tonight, and I think that he could be a real smokey for a AA berth this season.

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QUICK BITS

 

I thought Mitch McGovern started like a semi-trailer, but once he got going, there were some really positive signs. His mark and quick give on the wing allowed the Blues to get into attack really quickly. Now, he needs to do something akin to that 3-4 times per game. Once is nice, but it’s not enough.

Dusty… what a crazy player he is. 30 touches, 15 contested possessions, and a game-high 11 score involvements, yet I kind of feel he wasn’t in Richmond’s top three. I think he wasted it a little tonight, and though I am sure he was just kicking the rust off, you’d like to see a more polished performance next week. Of course, I am judging him by what I’ve seen him do in the past, not by what others are doing currently.

It was probably the best game I’ve seen Lachie Plowman play. I’ve been asking for twelve months… what is he? A mid-size defender… yes, but what are his strengths? Whatever they are, they were at their best tonight. No glaring mistakes, no uncertainty… he actually looked like he belonged, and that’s probably the first time I’ve thought that.

Richmond are the masters of the knock-on, currently. Two I wanted to point out were Jack Riewoldt tapping the ball into the path the loping Nankervis in the third quarter for a goal, and the other was a really intelligent tap over his head from Tom Lynch which gave the run of the ball to Daniel Rioli early in the second quarter. It created momentum and resulted in a goal to Kamdyn McIntosh. Both were wonderful examples of quick thinking, and I’m not sure either of those deft touches were given the credit they deserves.

If you watch them back, you’ll see what I mean.

Really liked what I saw from Paddy Dow early on. He looks like he’ll work into this season really nicely after having all the expectation on him last year.

Nice game from Jacob Weitering as well. Was that some confidence I saw in flying for marks as opposed to second guessing himself and getting caught in no man’s land, as he did all last year? Good signs.

Ed Curnow at half forward… I’d like to say it worked, but when he’d get the ball at 50, he couldn’t really threaten, so let’s call it a work in progress.

Am I right to be concerned that through the JLT and into R1, the Tigers are yet to string four quarters of footy together? They haven’t strung three quarters together, actually.  shall we put it down to rust, or is it something more? 

Does Liam Jones get a week for being an idiot? Flattening Jack Riewoldt way off the ball will earn the ire of the MRO. I’d like to think it’d be a fine, but I think they’ll make an example of him.

Daniel Rioli was good without being spectacular tonight. Good, consistent, hard running reaped rewards, with nine score involvements.

A couple of really brilliant shots at goal tonight. Both Nic Newman and Harry McKay nailed long bombs from outside 50 near the boundary, and Jack Higgins slotted one, taking the advantage after Daniel Rioli won a free on the boundary as well. Lucky he kicked it…

Solid outing for Jack Graham. I enjoyed seeing him drift down to half back once Rance was injured to help out. I know I am late to the party here, but he is one solid unit. The AFL app says he is 82 kilos… I’m 87, damn it! Back on the diet I go…

Is there a better handballer in the game right now than Shane Edwards? Let me know if there is, because while others tend to drop it at their teammates’ feet or knees, he rarely misses a target by hand. When he is the one executing the handball, the recipient just doesn’t have to break stride. Gotta love that.

As always, you can tell a lot from the bottom six of the 22 on the park. Bottom six for the Blues included Garlett, Charlie Curnow, Fasolo… then probably Plowman, which makes my kind-of praise for him seem strange, Gibbons and I’d throw Sam Petrevski-Seton in there as well as I don’t reckon he does anywhere near enough.

For the Tigers, it’s Balta, Rance (due to injury), Butler (offensively) and then I get stuck. The Tigers play their roles well.

 

And that’ll do for the first Good, Bad and Ugly of 2019. Let us know what you think in the social  links below, or add a comment to the review… also below. You know you wanna.

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