The Dees looked pretty good early on, didn’t they? Even Richmond supporters would probably admit that the Dees’ pressure and attack on the contest almost matched their own in the first half.

Yeah… almost.

Are there any old-school Formula One fans amongst the Mongrel readers? I used to watch it in the days of Mansell, Prost and Piquet, but my favourite was Ayrton Senna. From the days he had that black and yellow Lotus… you know the one, with the John Player Special paint job that made it look like the coolest car on the track?

Yeah, I was a big Senna fan, and I’ll tell you why.

Senna didn’t have the most finely tuned car in the game. The McLaren car was always the best and he was driving this Lotus around and it’d break down and screw up as often as it would hold together for the whole race, but there was a time during every season it didn’t matter whether Senna’s car was worse than his rivals, because he was a better driver.

And that was in the wet.

As soon as it rained, the race would turn in Senna’s favour. I remember watching him lap car after car until he was basically a whole lap in front of the field at one point. He was relentless and fearless, skilled and daring. He was the best driver with the gameplan that held up even when the conditions were at their worst.

And that was the Tigers tonight.

The Dees were ALMOST as good when the ball was dry. They were ALMOST able to keep up and apply Richmond-like pressure.

And then it started to rain.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

FAMILIARITY AND DUSTIN MARTIN

Anyone else getting a little nervous?

You see, there is this bloke at Richmond – you may have seen him once or twice; he has tattoos all over him and gets plenty of the footy. Apparently his name is Damian Martin according to one cock-eye commentator, but you can call him Dusty. He’s a pretty handy player to have on your team, and at this time of the season, to see him in the form he’s in sounds a huge warning to fellow top eight sides.

Here’s his averages over the past three weeks.

34 disposals, nine inside 50s and 1.3 goals per game.

I’m sorry to say, opposition supporters, I am afraid that Dustin Martin is rounding into the sort of form that saw him tear the competition a new one in 2017. Remember the way he’d control a game? Remember how he looked balanced and composed while everyone else looked rushed and panicked? We’re seeing it again, and if you’re not afraid yet, you should be!

Make no mistake – Dusty is a freak, and his ability to gather cleanly, hit targets short, or go long and land it on the chest of the teammate was spectacular this evening. The Tigers may be without Alex Rance, and Trent Cotchin might be in and out of the side, but in Dustin Martin, Richmond have their number one playing the way they need him to.

TOM LYNCH UP FORWARD AGAIN

That set shot for goal in the second quarter – 50 metres out on the boundary line, and he just went back and casually slotted it… that was a tremendous goal.

I went up to the local oval the other week, kicking the footy around with my mates (I was there all by myself) and after slotting a few from 50 (centimetres) I wandered over to the boundary and started having a ping from there. Jokes aside, on an acute angle, I was one goal out of about 25 shots (and I had to chase the ball after every one of my shitty misses, too!).

Watching Lynch calmly go back with a wet ball, lean back on his kick and slot it straight through the guts on that angle… it gives you a great appreciation for how good a kick that was.

But Lynch was more than just a one trick pony in this game. His marking was phenomenal with the wet footy, and his presence inside forward 50 draws a huge crowd. People are already talking about the impact he’s going to have on September – with an average of 3.33 goals per game over his last six, Lynch is THE form forward of the competition, and if he can get hold of a team on the first week of finals, we could be seeing a September to remember this year

HOULI AND VLASTUIN

So I was going to add Jordan Lewis playing defensive forward on Dylan Grimes as one of the good, but I’ll just tie it in here, because this is definitely a case of not being able to play three defensive forwards… as that’s almost what you need to do against the Tigers.

I mean, pick your poison – do you play someone on Grimes to stop his influence in contests? Do you throw someone on Houli or Vlastuin to stop their run? You can’t stop everyone, and though I would definitely term Lewis’ role on Grimes to have been effective, how do you limit the influence of Houli and Vlastuin?

Between them they had 14 intercept possessions and gained over 900 metres as both men provided run and carry, as well as the ability to work into the right spots to disrupt Melbourne entries.

I reckon Simon Goodwin was in a tough spot here. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t, given the watertight structure of the Tiger defence. He chose to limit Grimes, and he paid in the form of wonderful games from both Houli and Vlastuin across half back.

Pick your poison, people. But pick wisely. The Tigers defence, with or without Alex Rance is one of the best in the business, and they were on song against the Demons.

SHANE EDWARDS

I was thinking before the game how there is absolutely no chance we’ll see Edwards in the All-Australian team this year. Then I was told that he is averaging a career-high in disposals and my head nearly fell off.

I hate when it does that. Very inconvenient.

Working across half back at times, Edwards has been able to get a little more easy ball, and though this has bolstered his rebound stats, it has been at the expense of his creativity as a half forward. He averaged 1.29 goal assists per game in 2018, and that is down to 0.47 per game this year. I reckon he got into the AA team last year on the basis of his ability to bring teammates into the game with creative flair. That isn’t as apparent this season.

But as far as tonight goes, Edwards was wonderful as he worked through the midfield and back into defence. He picked up a season-high 31 touches and had nine score involvements. Part of me wonders whether Edwards is being held back a little in the lead up to September. There is a fair bit of Shaun Burgoyne about him, inasmuch as he can play forward, defence, in the middle… players as versatile as him don’t grow on trees, and they have additional value when the footy starts to get hot in about a month’s time.

I would not be at all surprised to see Hardwick tap the talents of Edwards in the midfield in September to add a touch of class, especially if Cotchin is lacking a bit of match fitness.

MAX GAWN

What a pleasure it was to watch him toil away in this game. Excellent overhead, working hard at ground level… if everyone on the Melbourne team worked as hard as Gawn, they probably wouldn’t be sitting second last.

Soldo battled Gawn well, and whilst had a couple of wins in the ruck, and a great soccer goal from a throw in (shit throw in, by the way), Gawn really had his number in the air.

19 touches and nine marks in those conditions are a commendable effort. A fair bit of Gary Dempsey about Gawn today.

GOOD DRIVERS IN HEAVY TRAFFIC

This is where the Tigers had it all over the Dees. In traffic, with a wet ball, is where the best come to the fore.

I grimaced as Jack Viney and Christian Petracca double-grabbed at the ball several times, unable to match their best midfielder, Clayton Oliver and his cleanliness with the ball in hand.

But on the flip side, it was as though the Tigers were playing with a dry footy and the Demons had it substituted for a bar of soap, or a tube of lube if you’re more Ganino-esque.

Martin had sure hands, Prestia took the ball with one grab, Grimes took overhead marks – as did Lynch, while Houli, Vlastuin and Edwards not only had clean hands but changed direction quickly and left their opponents scrambling to keep up.

I hate the term ‘masterclass’. I think it is completely tapped out and overused by shitty TV shows and radio announcers with very little to say, but if ever I was going to use it, it’d be today in regard to the way Richmond performed in the conditions.

They are built for all types of footy, but when the going gets tough, they get tougher.

Going back my original point, if the rain is falling and the grip on the track is not conducive to driving in the same fashion you usually would, you change the way you go about it and drive more conservatively, right?

No… not if you’re Richmond. They’re Aryton Senna in the wet. The way they drive in traffic, their crash and bash style – you have one choice when you play them in slippery conditions; match them or get out of the way.

The problem is that no one can match them.

Now, they just have to hope that their steering doesn’t go out and they end up slamming into a wall on Preliminary final day again.

THE BAD

ANDREW BRAYSHAW

Guys, what the hell is going on with the bloke? He is a shadow of the player he was last season when he was Max Gawn’s favourite target at stoppages. He has gone backward so far that tonight, I thought he was off the ground injured for a whole quarter – I didn’t see him.

When a player can go a quarter and a half and not be sighted, you know something’s up. Remember all the talk about him not being invited to the Brownlow last year? Maybe they knew something we didn’t because his form this year wouldn’t even get him an invite to the EDFL Under 16’s Presentation Night.

At three quarter time, he’d had four touches to his name. Four damn touches. This from a young man who looked like a million bucks last year – he looks like about $1.20 this year – in ten cent pieces!

He looks like an extremely disgruntled player to me and I would not be at all surprised if Brayshaw requests a trade away from Melbourne after this season. He is being played out of position, replaced in the middle by a healthy Jack Viney, who has really done bugger all himself this season, and has also gone statistically backward.

While Viney is -3.30 per game in disposals, Brayshaw is -4.19 disposals per game in 2019.

Maybe the Dees  have too many similar players running through the middle. They can all find it, but they all hack it. Oliver, Viney and Brayshaw are all suspect by foot and having all three in there is as much a curse as it is a blessing.

Oliver is way too good to squeeze out and Viney is captain. Sorry Angus – that leaves you, and as you’re without a contract for 2020, I reckon there’d be a few clubs sniffing around to see whether you’re ready to move. You should – there are clubs that could benefit from you are able to provide.

Sadly, it seems Melbourne are not one of them.

THE UGLY

BRAYDEN PREUSS’ SELECTION

I’ve written a bit about the rain and how it impacted the play, but had anyone from Melbourne checked the radar and seen the downpour coming, do you think perhaps Preuss may have suddenly pulled up sore in the warm-up?

It would’ve made sense.

As soon as it rained, Preuss became useless – Preuss-less, actually. It’s not his fault he’s huge. In these circumstances there no way he’s going to develop silky skills and great ball handling (unlike my mate, Joe Ganino who has a great reputation for the latter… or so I hear.)

It didn’t help Preuss that on the rare occasions he did get out in the open, players like Christian Petracca missed him by ten metres and he was forced to lumber back after the ball at about half the speed of the people chasing him down.

Brayden Preuss was set up to fail at selection. With showers forecast, Melbourne rolled the dice. They lost, and so did Brayden Preuss in the process.

Or was it in the Preuss-ess? Okay, I’m getting carried away – I’ll stop now.

QUICK BITS

So, I know a lot of people like James Brayshaw on commentary, but in the first couple of minutes he claimed that Nathan Jones has been a superstar for years. On what planet, James? Way to lose credibility for the rest of the night.

In the glory years (which were basically the second half of 2017 and the entire 2018 season up until the last week of the season), Richmond’s forte has been the attack and pressure of their small forwards. In this one, they didn’t get a hell of a lot from either Liam Baker or Dan Butler, and you’d think that should there be pressure from underneath for spots, these two would be most susceptible at the moment.

Shai Bolton had a bit of an ‘almost’ game. With 1.4 to his name, it really could’ve been a big day out. I did like the defensive pressure Daniel Rioli applied in this game. He had a real willingness to put the hard yards in to make life difficult for the Melbourne defenders. The smother he applied to set up the goal for Jack Graham early in the game was excellent – a true one percenter.

Sam Frost, can I ask you a question? Where the hell are you going?

A couple of times, Frosty grabbed the ball, put his head down and ran full pace out of defence, only to stop abruptly, turn around and kick it backward. I get that he likes to run, but sometimes when you’re taking the game on, you’ve got to make sure you have somewhere to go once you get moving. Adam Saad occasionally does the same thing at Essendon – there is a real element of a chicken with its head cut off about them.

All that said, Frost’s closing speed on Tom Lynch, and Mabior Chol on two separate occasions was wonderful. Both kicks came from Dustin Martin and were perfectly weighted, but Frost robbed the forwards of shots at goal with desperate lunges to spoil.

I reckon there was a telling moment between Jack Viney and Nathan Jones on the half forward flank in the first quarter. Jones could have given the ball to Viney, but instead elected to trust his own foot skills and go diagonally inside 50. Fritsch marked and goaled but I reckon most players would have given the ball to Viney on the boundary and he would’ve played it safe down the line. Jones, knowing that Viney occasionally struggles by foot, took the responsibility on himself, and it worked.

Viney was involved again a bit later when he did the exact opposite and handballed to Max Gawn, of all people to deliver inside 50. Bad decision – big Max was lucky to keep it in the field of play. There were a few iffy decisions from Viney in this game, actually. he is still playing like someone who is unsure about the level he can play well at – a far cry from a couple of years ago.

Another under the radar performance for future Jack Dyer Medallist, Dion Prestia in this one. 31 touches, four clearances and seven inside 50s is just another day at the office for him, such is his consistency this season.

Where do we see Jack Riewoldt at? He’s obviously a fair way out of sorts, but has some time to get right before the finals. He’s got five goals in the four games since he’s been back, but there is definitely an element of sacrifice there to allow Lynch the space to do what he does.

So, next week the Dees limp into battle against Collingwood. Melbourne looked like they were ready for the season to end six weeks ago, and they might be just what the doctor ordered for Collingwood.

The Tigers; they take on the Blues in, depending on how Carlton goes tomorrow, could be a belter.

Unless it rains… then Carlton are screwed.

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