In an empty colosseum to open the season, the Tigers registered a 24-point win over the Blues after looking like they may run away with the game by 12-15 goals at one stage.

A dominant opening quarter by Richmond sent a shudder through the competition, as there was no evidence of any hangover at all. The Blues had plenty of the ball, but it was the Tigers with the potency, and the runs on the board.

So, what did we learn from the season opener? Let’s check out every aspect with the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

A TEAM READY TO PERFORM

I know a lot will be made of the Carlton comeback, but that first quarter… wow, it was clinical by the Tigers.

Looking at the stat-breakdown for the quarter, it was the Blues with the impressive individual performances – Cripps with ten and four clearances, Murphy with seven and three clearances, but it was Richmond with the dominant team performance, pressuring Carlton into mistake after mistake, and then clapping them over the back of the head in the form of goal after goal.

We must remember that this was a shortened quarter – it was like the AFL was a bell ringer and Carlton were on the ropes being pummelled. The bellringer got a bit of the guilts and just rang the bell earlier. Had there been another four minutes of game time, this may have been a ten-goal quarter for the Tigers.

Jack Riewoldt was “on”, and the Tigers sensed it, pushing him as the deepest forward and exposing Liam Jones to a very mobile Jack – a stark contrast to The Riewoldt of last season. Jason Castagna looked lively and Liam Baker was close to the best player on the ground.

This team came into this game with an element of steel about them. Carlton looked like an even more disorganised version of the Three Stooges in comparison.

Yes, the Blues fought back. Yes, they deserve some credit. But no, they are nowhere near the level of the Tigers when the boys from Punt Road mean business, and they meant business in the first quarter here.

As Luke Hodge delighted in telling us, the Blues collected their goals from free kicks (six goals when I stopped counting early in the last) in the first quarter, and had the Tigers been a little more careful, it may have been a complete pantsing.

 

“I’M STILL HERE!”

So, I tipped Tom Lynch to win the Coleman Medal this season, and after watching him perform without a pre-season in 2019, I was pretty confident he was going to jump out of the blocks in 2020.

But I forgot about that other bloke up forward. You know the one – has a couple of Coleman Medals of his own… has kicked many bags of goals and has one of the best pairs of hands in the game. Yeah, you know him… that Riewoldt cat.

Jack could have had four goals in the first quarter, and finished with 2.1, missing a regulation shot for him, and handing another off to Jason Castagna in the goal square. He led Liam Jones a dance as he found himself on the end of a couple of beautiful passes from teammates, and also once again used his body to create space in order to mark.

It’s amazing how quickly we forget, isn’t it? Jack Riewoldt was the best goal kicker in the game just two seasons ago, and has the potential to do it again. Admittedly, I thought it’d be the other big forward in yellow and black doing that this season.

Good to see you back, Jack.

 

NEON DION

Forget the stats. Take them, rip them into squares and use them for something else, considering all the toilet paper is out of stock.

The three top disposal-winners on the ground all wore navy blue, but none had the influence on the contest that Dion Prestia did.

None!

The unsung Richmond hero went about his business again in this one, compiling 25 touches and gaining 546 metres for his team to lead all midfielders. That’s the thing about Prestia – he doesn’t just win the footy and farm it off to someone else to make things happen – he makes things happen, himself.

Playing a little more on the outside in this contest, Prestia took it upon himself to stifle the influence of Patrick Cripps in the last quarter, gaining a couple of very valuable wins as he refused to lose his feet in the contest, and prevented Cripps from having his way.

Richmond are reluctant to tag a specific player. They may run Jack Graham with them for a while, but largely, they back their own midfield in, and for good reason.

If you’re looking at the Tigers mids, some may rank Prestia as the third best, behind Martin and Cotchin, but in terms of continued output, and the ability to do the less-spectacular things consistently well, Prestia has no peer at Punt Road.

And he has a Jack Dyer Medal as proof.

He uses the ball beautifully, sent the Tigers into attack multiple times and finished with a goal to go along with a couple of goal assists as well. A complete performance from him in a very solid hit out for the club. Jack Dyer Medal number two could well be on the way.

 

WEITERING DELIVERS

If you’d told me that Tom Lynch would open the season with a performance where the Tigers were 50 points up at half time (or thereabouts) and he would have zero goals and zero marks to his name despite playing over 90% of the game… I may have wondered if you were either a) on drugs, or b) as stupid as Joe Ganino.

Then I would have realised that no one is as stupid as Joe Ganino.

Jacob Weitering gave Tom Lynch an absolute bath in this one, and one shudders to think where the Blues would have been without him, as the Tigers ran rampant in the first half.

It was Weitering, holding the Blues defence together with a spool of cotton and some clag he stole from primary school, that allowed Carlton to be as close as they were.

He finished with eight intercept disposals to go along with ten big spoils as he dominated Lynch in the air and when the ball hit the deck.

So complete was his game, I would actually consider him as best on ground for this performance. I say this based on the quality of his opponent. If he did this sort of thing against…hmmm, who can I backhand here… say, Charlie Dixon, it wouldn’t be unexpected. But this was against Tom Lynch, and Tom Lynch is a beast.

People have been waiting for Weitering to mature into one of the best defenders in the game for a couple of seasons now. He made significant steps in 2019. Maybe he is the Blues’ next All-Australian? In a shortened season, he’s made a great start.

 

WHO WOULD YOU RATHER?

Here’s a rather strange question. If I gave you the choice right now, which player would you choose; Liam Baker, or Paddy Dow?

No parameters, no special circumstances – just a straight-up question. Which one would you take?

Right now, I would pick Baker. A rookie elevation over the number three pick from 2017, and I would do it based on the way both attack the ball.

Baker attacks contests like his life depends on it. A rookie-listed player to start his AFL career, baker knows what it is like to have his back to the wall. He knows what it is like to be on the fringe and have to work your way into a team.

He did just that, and not just in any old team – he fought, clawed and wrestled his way into the best team in the land. Dow is being gifted a spot in the Carlton team, in contrast. He plays like a millionaire. Baker plays like a guy whose next disposal gets him a game next week.

If you get a chance to rewatch this game – I know some of you Tiger fans will – check out the influence Baker has on the first goal to Jack Riewoldt, and then the scoring opportunity for his captain minutes later. No stats are given for what he did, but his intense attack on the contest and the resultant attacking forays were all down to his hard work and commitment.

Do I want the junkyard dog or the purebred poodle?

Gimme the JYD, every day of the week.

 

A HANDY DEBUT

The big knock on Jack Martin from Gold Coast fans was that he was a little lazy. A couple have pointed out to me that he is a first half of the season specialist, often fading once the grind of the year starts to kick in.

Maybe a virus-interrupted season works well for him, as he got off to a flying start in this one, and almost carried the Blues back into the contest with a scintillating third quarter blast.

Martin looked great both in the air and below the knees. He was clean, his ability to speed away from a would-be tackler and change direction to create opportunities for himself and teammates was first class, and in a forward line depleted of most of its talent, Martin raised his game and gave Blues fans a glimpse of what he is capable of.

His four-goal haul was an equal career-high, and his composure under pressure is an aspect of his game few possess.

I was very much in the “wait and see” camp as to whether Jack Martin was worth recruiting. I waited, and I saw this evening. He is worth it, and he had a great debut.

 

 

THE BAD

 

SAM WALSH KICKING LIKE A MULE

The big knock on Sam Walsh in 2019 was that his kicking skills let him down. After a summer of hard work, and the taking of some nice pictures, emphasising his muscly torso, it has become apparent that either little work went into his skills with the ball in hand, or Walsh was attending the sessions to work on his kicking whilst wearing sunglasses with the eyes painted on.

He was shocking in this one, hacking the ball all over the park to end up with 19 touches whilst running at a disastrous 31% efficiency. Now, take into account that this percentage includes dinky little handballs, and his kicking percentage could be close to single figures.

This was probably the worst game I’ve seen Walsh play. He was rushed, clumsy and lacked composure even when he did have time and space with the ball, opting to bomb long to contests where his forwards were outnumbered rather than lowering his eyes and spotting up a teammate.

Look, he is still a baby, but so much is expected of him. If he runs out however much of this season we get to play, slamming the ball on his boot and hoping, he is doing himself, and this Carlton team a great disservice.

He strikes me as a player who will work on his game. He strikes me as someone who is not afraid of hard work. And he strikes me as a young man who will go away, watch this tape and learn from it. You’d want to hope I am a good judge of people, Blues fans?

 

THE RICHMOND FADE

Do we give Carlton all the credit, or do we point the finger at the Tigers for taking the foot off the pedal here?

Do I think it is something to worry about? No, not really. This wasn’t a case of asking whether the real Richmond or Carlton would please stand up. You saw what the Tigers were capable of when the heat was on in the first half, and under the intense Richmond pressure, the Blues wilted, and wilted badly.

After half time, you could see Carlton wanting to make a statement. In our Mongrel chat, I was imploring someone from Carlton to start throwing their weight around, and for a while, a few Blues did.

It got under the skin of a couple of Richmond players, namely Trent Cotchin, who gave away a silly free kick, only for another leader, David Astbury to compound the situation by throwing Jack Newnes to the deck (by his head, which was the problem) and hand give Jack Martin a 50 metre penalty as a result.

The Tigers lost their mojo a little in the second half, and though Carlton were good in mounting their comeback, as a neutral supporter, you could feel that the Tigers were pretty content with their position for MOST of the game. There may have been a couple of sideways glances half way through the last quarter, but the Tigers did steady, and still had a bit of run in their legs.

It was as much of a fade out as it was a Carlton comeback, and there was a little bit of a lapse in discipline at points. That will need to be addressed.

 

PRE-SEASON PROMISE… HOME AND AWAY FAILURE

I’m gonna whack a couple of players here, and it’s not something new as I whacked them in the pre-season because Carlton fans were telling me how good they were going to be this season, and I really didn’t think that was gonna be the case.

Will Setterfield was horrid in this game. Could not get amongst it, and looked a step slow almost every time he went near the ball. I had several Carlton supporters telling me that his run and carry would be vital this year. Well, his run might be, but the only carrying going on tonight was his teammates carrying his sorry performance. Six disposals for the game. I guess it means there is plenty of improvement to come, right? I mean, how much worse could he get?

Paddy Dow. This is now year three for Dow, and big things were expected. Maybe it’s time to lower expectations?

Like a deer in the headlights, Dow started the game like someone unfamiliar with the rules, immediately giving away a 50 metre penalty to aid the Tigers to a fast start. The stats say he had one goal assist, which is great, because it counters the goal assist he had for the Tigers as well. He played 76% of game time and returned just seven touches in total.

Yes, some players take longer to come on, but Dow is an ultra-slow burn. This is the year he has to break out. The Blues cannot carry players at this stage, irrespective of how high they were taken in the draft.

 

THE UGLY

 

THE CARLTON FIRST HALF DISASTER

What was going on with Carlton in the first half? They looked like a team that had been taken hostage by Brendan Bolton and forced to play a style they absolutely hated.

People are not going to like this – I know, but Patrick Cripps had 16 touches and six clearances at half time, but had hardly any influence on the game. He was infinitely better after the break, involved in passages of play that actually meant something, but in the first half, he was racking up numbers and not much else.

Still, that didn’t stop Cameron Ling from leaving a puddle on his chair when he spoke about Cripps.

Here are a few numbers from the first half. Paddy Dow – three touches. Nic Newman – one touch. Michael Gibbons – three touches. Will Setterfield – four touches. David Cunningham – two touches. I was going to throw Jack Silvagni in here as well, but that would be really unfair. He competed well, and is one for who numbers do not tell the story.

The others… they were toilet-water bad.

 

THAT POOR BLOODY BIG FELLA

Anyone else sick of seeing Matty Kreuzer get hurt?

Looking back at his career, I can remember the wraps on him when he started. He was expected to be the new breed of ruckman. What Brodie Grundy is now – that is what people expected Kreuzer to be.

However, a plethora of injuries have conspired to rob him of opportunity, and rob us of seeing just how good he can be.

I expected, by this stage of his career, to be referring to him as a multiple-time All-Australian. It is a sad situation that one so talented has never stood on the podium with other great players and fulfilled that immense potential.

When he crashed to the ground with what looked like a badly sprained ankle in the first quarter, you could forgive Carlton fans for thinking “here we go again.”

I hope it is a speedy recovery, this time.

 

A FEW QUESTIONS

 

DOES DUSTIN MARTIN NOT LIKE MARC MURPHY?

It seems as though Martin took every opportunity he could to sit Marc Murphy on his backside. Looking at the two, they seem to be polar opposites, don’t they? Martin the bull midfielders who would knock over his own grandmother to get the footy, and Murphy, the one who would help her up and walk her to her seat. I reckon that sort gets under Dusty’s skin a little, and when the chance comes to bowl Murphy over, Martin takes it.

 

HOW POTENT WILL THIS RICHMOND FORWARD LINE BE?

The short answer – very!

Rioli finished with three, as did Castagna and Bolton, and really, Bolton could have had four but for a miss on the siren. These three don’t give you four quarters, normally. They give you two… maybe two and a half, but when they do deliver, they hurt in a number of ways.

Castagna can kick them from anywhere. Rioli has a knack of getting into space in a congested forward line and finding the time to run into open goals, and Bolton uses that change of direction to keep defenders off balance long enough for him to screw a kick around the corner and make them pay.

With these three wreaking havoc at the feet of Riewoldt and Lynch, we could see defenders tearing their hair out trying to find ways to stop the avalanche of Tiger goals in 2020.

 

HOW MUCH DID THE TIGERS MISS VLASTUIN?

Was it a bit of a coincidence that as soon as Nick Vlastuin made his way to the bench after a shoulder to the head, that the defence started to leak goals?

I just answered a question with a question… sorry.

Whilst many Tiger supporters were ecstatic that Bachar Houli was named All-Australian in 2019, many spared a thought for Vlastuin, who plays the role of defensive general often for the Tigers, and when he vacated the field to be assessed in the third quarter, Carlton started making their move.

Yes, many goals came via free kicks, but Vlastuin provides the Tigers with a steady presence in defence, ready to peel off and interrupt any errant kick forward. His absence certainly didn’t hurt the Blues comeback.

 

SHOULD THE BLUES FEEL OKAY ABOUT THIS LOSS?

Hell no, and if you do, you should be kicked in the ass.

The first half was deplorable, and based on that alone, you should be very critical of some players. There are way too many passengers in this team at the moment, and being content with a good showing is what poor teams do.

If you’re content being a poor team, take plenty out of this loss. If you want to improve and actually contend again, you should be scathing of the first half, and it should be your only takeaway from this game.

 

FINAL BITS

Mrs Mongrel still loves that fact that with no one watching in the stands, Trent Cotchin’s hair looks great. She thinks he may be a little offended that she also likes Scott Lycett’s hair, and he might be making a real effort for her.

Let’s let her think that, okay?

Love Marlion Pickett’s evasive skills. You can tell a natural footballer by the way he moves in traffic, and Pickett moves like a serpent.

I feel as though the Tiger rucks really failed to capitalise on the absence of Kreuzer. Against Casboult, they should have had their way, but their hit outs were just not finding the mids often enough.

Great to see Docherty get through and play some pretty good footy. I thought he was a bit scratchy in the pre-season, but I guess that’s what pre-seasons are for, right?