It was a fusion of yesteryears for the Tigers on Saturday night – the workmanlike grit and grunt of 2017 coupled with the class of 2018 operated in tandem as the Tigers accounted for a worryingly poor Sydney at Marvel Stadium.
The Mongrel takes you through the good, the bad and the ugly.
Terrorising Tigers Tenaciously Tackle
The Richmond Football Club’s 2017 Premiership was built upon desperation and pressure; get the ball, get the ball, get the ball and if someone else dares touch it, then we’ll get the ball off them as well.
It helped that after said ball-getting, Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt and Josh Caddy were able to put the pill between the centremost uprights enough times to win games. It’s a simplified explanation, but close to an accurate one.
On Saturday, Richmond returned to their obsessive tackling and applaudable pressure with an outfit desperate to hold their spots as returning stars heal from injury. Dan Butler’s axing was a warning to Richmond forwards: tackle, or else.
And so, the Tigers tackled. For the first half, it was oppressive, compelling, invigorating pressure that did not relent until a goal was scored by those in yellow and black. The Swans weren’t bad, didn’t lack ability – they were simply shanghaied and bullied by a group of fanatic opponents who would simply not be denied. Richmond had 22 tackles inside 50. The Swans had two. Richmond had 71 tackles, the Swans, 56.
It was pressure and it came from those who Cotchin, Riewoldt, Short and Grigg are expected to replace. The indicator of Richmond’s success is quite often their pressure acts and it was Baker (28), Ross (26), Higgins (24), Castagna (24), Bolton (23), Stack (19) who led the way.
It was a collective effort from the Tiges and they looked magnificent – for the first half.
Dane Rampe is a very good backman.
It was a mostly dirty day for a Swans outfit who were dictated the run of the game by the Tigers and then rudely interrupted from having a genuine run at snatching ascendency.
But against Tom Lynch (off the back of 6.2 against Port Adelaide), Josh Caddy and a host of speedy Richmond smalls, Dane Rampe stood tall.
Rampe is just a gun. He attends nearly the most contested one-on-ones at the club – and wins most of these contests and easily outstrips most teammates for “wins” in tussles with opponents in the back half (I’m saying most for a reason – the other Swan in Aliir Aliir, who’s having a monster year) His 22 possessions weren’t wasted (95% efficiency) and he was crucial in soaking up waves of Richmond pressure as they rolled down the length of Docklands – while he led the game for spoils with 12. He helped hold Tom Lynch to his worst game at his new club – 2 marks, 2 behinds – no mean feat as the Tigers had plentiful opportunities to score as they blitzed the Swans inside 50. Rampe is one of the best backmen in the competition and deserves to be recognised in what looks to be a tough year for Sydney.
The cubs are coming
The Tigers received a fair amount of questioning following the departure of several depth players over the post-season, including Anthony Miles, Reece Conca and Sam Lloyd.
However, it’s become evident that their young brigade has more than made up for the departed fringe of Richmond’s side. Without Cotchin, Riewoldt and Rance again, it was Sydney Stack (22 disposals and five marks), Liam Baker (21 and a goal), Jack Ross (17) and Shai Bolton (10 with six inside 50s) who have rocked up in Richmond’s side and begun to make Damian Hardwick’s job very difficult.
Stack, in game 3, has proven himself as a nuggety half-back, classy with ball in hand and as tough as they come. Baker is zippy and dangerous around goals as a midfielder/half-forward, Ross a belligerent force in the midfield and Bolton incredibly smooth in pockets and on flanks. The youth movement at Punt Road had some serious momentum.
Cotchin and co. must come back in. For who, is the problem.
Skipper “Bradbury” moves to the backline while Dion stands up
He was wound up by his teammates for skating into captaincy but Shane Edwards has done the role proud over the last few weeks. The nickname “Bradbury” may not stick but I get the feeling Edwards’ move to the back half might – revealed to be the idea of assistant Justin Leppitsch by Hardwick. He’s been incredibly classy all his career but Edwards’ slick handballs and precise right boot just look right out of the backline. He’s the architect of many Richmond forward forays and was exceptional again with 28 touches and four rebounds of the defensive 50.
And while Edwards has been great, it does help that Dion Prestia’s improvement in the guts has happened at the same time. His start to the season was slow, but Prestia was in his element as a permanent midfielder, gathering 32 touches, eight clearances, three goal assists and ten inside 50’s. He was my best on ground.
Ben Ronke may need a spell
I love Ben Ronke. I really, really do.
At his best, he’s gorgeous to watch. Fast, clever, agile. He kicks goals, he runs hard. He gets into the right spaces and does the right things.
Ben Ronke stood out like a sore thumb in a pretty sore Sydney side on Saturday. It didn’t help that his Tiger rivals, small forwards like him, were so exceptional. Ronke wasn’t. 0 tackles as a small forward is almost diabolical but, as I’ll get to, isn’t entirely his fault. Second year blues are nothing to be ashamed of, but Ronke might need a few weeks in the NEAFL to regain confidence after a 9-touch, no-goal evening at Marvel.
Buddy or bust
Lance Franklin was double-teamed, leapt into and dragged this way and that all evening, with Richmond rotating Dylan Grimes, Nathan Broad and Dave Astbury onto him (sometimes all at once). He was pushed and shoved and knocked about, yet still kicked four and broke a record (I’ll make more of a mention of it later on).
The Swans need to look for someone else at times. While Bud is a superstar and, aptly because we’re talking about Marvel Stadium, the Swans’ equivalent to a superhero, he can’t be relied on to score every goal. Sydney managed 10 goals and Buddy accounted for four, yet you’d not be wrong in saying that seemingly every inside 50 sought the tattooed megastar as Sydney ventured forward.
Buddy’s not past it – not at all. He’s one of the best full-forwards the game has seen and is still one of the best in the competition. But Sam Reid and Tom McCartin are tough opponents for a defence and need to be looked to. The Swans were so predictable on Saturday, and it hurt them. Avenues to goal aren’t always through the monolith in #23 and, until the Swans learn that, they might get pummelled a few times by defensive units well aware of their moves before they’re made. Bud’s an absolute machine but, as the Tigers showed, you can’t rely on one superstar to win you games. There must be a process, a team approach.
THAT third quarter
I commended the Tigers for a magnificent first half earlier, but I’m going to rip them for their average second one, in particular, a lacklustre third term that will cost them games against better sides.
Yes, the Tigers will play on Wednesday.
Yes, the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
But putting the cue in the rack for a term will kill you against West Coast, Geelong, Collingwood and GWS. It will barbecue a lead and lose a game. The Tigers are now 3-2, their season, after a stodgy start, underway.
But imagine if they blew that lead after attempting to play perfect football when they needed to ice the game, kicking 2.4 when they should’ve had 6 or 7 majors. They’d be 2-3, with a terrible percentage, a hungry Melbourne side waiting for them. They left the door ajar, and a better football team may take that chance.
Funnily enough, the lead they’d built in the first half was increased upon in the third quarter, but the Tigers played lazily and without that intensity that won them the game in the opening stanzas. It’s what cooked their attempt at back-to-back – an inability to play four quarters.
Yes, it’s round 5 and there’s so much season to go, but keep an eye on the Tigers’ low patches.
928. Buddy had four on the night, his third taking him past Essendon spearhead Matthew Lloyd into seventh on the all-time VFL/AFL goalkicking list. A huge effort, Bud. He’ll be the last to get to a thousand, on the way there he’ll pass Tiger Jack Titus (970) and be at the heels of Gary Ablett snr (1031) and Doug Wade (1057). Massive congratulations are due.
I really liked the games of Jordan Dawson and Ollie Florent. The former was sandwiched in a besieged Sydney defence, doomed to be clattered into by their rampaging forwards, yet had 31 disposals and a team-high eleven marks. Florent also cracked 31 in rotation through the midfield and showed good signs.
The debut of James Rowbottom was quietly impressive, the first-year Swan gathering 13 touches, laying four tackles and taking four marks. He looked assured and calm at times where young players shouldn’t – with four Richmond forwards attacking you. I like the young fella.
Jack Higgins equalled his career high with 25 disposals and I like him in the midfield. With no Cotchin there’s a big chance to give the motor-mouthed pocket rocket a run in the guts. Higgins stood up.
We’ll end it on the #4. Three goals, 25 disposals, eight inside 50s, five marks, five clearances and one filthy fend-off after a week off. He’s baaaaack.
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