It was a Richmond kind of game, wasn’t it?

The Tigers put the Western Bulldogs to the sword in the first half, using a combination of their trademark pressure and elite ball use going forward to tear their opponents apart.

Late in the game there was a quote from either Luke Darcy or Richo on commentary that summed the Richmond Football Club up – “they know no other way.” All the indicators were there for the premiers as they obliterated a lacklustre Dogs side, establishing a seven-goal lead at half time and cruising to a win in the second half.

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

 

THE GOOD

 

THE REMINDER

Look, he may not really give a rat’s arse what people say about him. He may not read a newspaper column, listen to a podcast or even pay attention when his coach is speaking half the time. Hell, I sincerely doubt he reads he our stuff, but with all the chatter about how good Christian Petracca has been, and whether he is becoming the best player in the comp, do you think it might have caught Dustin Martin’s attention?

Maybe just a little?

Far and away the best player on the park this evening, Martin picked up 26 touches of the highest quality as he gave a clear indication that he, and his Tigers are far from a spent force in this competition.

Everything he touched turned to gold in this game. His kicks inside were precise, his delivery inside 50 was classy, and his finishing in front of goals, even when running at top pace, was a sight to behold.

Was it vintage Dustin Martin?

Not quite, but it didn’t need to be. He no longer needs 30+ touches to be the most influential player on the park. To be honest, he could have been the best player out there tonight with 20 touches. When the Tigers needed him to be “on”, he was.

With 11 touches and two goals in the first half, Martin put his stamp on the game before it was beyond doubt, but his running goal from the boundary in the last quarter put the icing on a cake that, to me, had already been iced.

Double icing!

No wonder I’m getting so fat!

Dusty was a brute in this one. Standing in tackles, running with a freedom we maybe haven’t seen for a while… he looked every part the best player in the game. If you thought that ship had sailed, check the docks – the SS Dusty is still moored there, and it may not be going anywhere for quite a while.

 

NO EASY TOUCHES

At three quarter time I did what most normal footy fans do. I quickly ran to the toilet to beat the rush (I have a wife and kids… you’ve gotta be quick here!).

But after that business was conducted, I emerged feeling lighter and more refreshed to peruse some stats. It was eye-opening.

Over those first three quarters, the Tigers outmarked the Dogs 66-34 in comprehensive belting. This was not just a case of the Tigers having better hands or the Dogs not being able to hold onto grabs – Richmond completely shut them down.

The Dogs thrive on those uncontested marks, and are even pretty good at taking contested grabs. Players like Crozier, Wood, Keath, Bont… they can clunk marks with the best of them, but it is the transfer of play and the two or three marks in succession that get the Dogs running. They create overlap and run in waves.

Those waves crashed into a sheer cliff face known as the Richmond Tigers in this game, who pressed up hard and made it very difficult for the Dogs to find unmarked targets. Whenever there was a contested marking situation, the Tigers crashed in hard, ensuring no one was going to lift the boys in red, white and blue with some big grabs. It was clinical.

And it was impressive.

The Dogs took seven contested marks for the game – remember last year when Aaron Naughton took nine by himself?

The Western Bulldogs ended up with 49 marks for the game. The Tigers dragged in 80. That tells the story, right there.

 

WHO NEEDS CLEAN FOOTY?

Ah yes, clean footy.

You often hear people talking about good looking footy, right? I know this might not go over well, but at times I don’t enjoy watching Richmond play. They have the penchant for turning games into real scraps and allowing their pressure to grind out wins. Hey, it’s effective, and it has resulted in flags, but I do pine to see the Tigers open up the game to see what they can do.

We saw a bit of that tonight. And it was wonderful.

The thing is, Damien Hardwick is not a silly man. Sure he looks a little goofy, and I do like his self-deprecating humour, but underneath the smile and wit is a calculating man who knows the opposition weaknesses inside and out.

And he had the Bulldogs sussed out very early in this one.

You see, the Western Bulldogs are a team that requires clean ball use to be effective. Yeah, they may have shown things in patches that give the indication that they are up for the scrap, but really, they are smooth movers and they like the footy on the outside.

To Richmond, it doesn’t matter where they get the footy. They have stacked their team with hard workers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. No… that doesn’t do them justice. They are more like coal miners coming up out of the hole in the ground covered in dirt. They’re not just content to get their hands dirty and leave it at that – they’re rolling around in the muck if it means they win a contest. They’re the guys who relish the fight and want the hard work.

Back in the 90s (I think) there was a book published called ‘The Hard Way’. It was about Hawthorn and the way they had risen to glory – it was a club history that embraced Hawthorn’s hardness and the way they came from nothing to establish themselves as a power. If there were to be a sequel written, it would be about this modern Richmond team.

They will fight, they will scrap, and unless you are willing to match their intensity, you will lose.

The Dogs were either unable, or unwilling to match the intensity of the Tigers in this game. As a result, they lost.

 

The Mongrel 50 – Volume Three

 

THE NEXT BIG THING?

Tiger readers have been telling me for a while to keep my eye on Noah Balta. They were telling me that a couple of years ago, and I reckon right now they’d be sitting back on their couch, nodding to themselves.

Told ya, Mongrel.

Yes, you did… and it’s not like I didn’t listen – it is more that the Tigers have just been incredibly disciplined and patient with him, allowing him to develop and refine his craft before unleashing him fully.

Balta was great in this one, but before I go on, I reckon a lot of credit needs to go to Dylan Grimes FOR the success of Balta in this game.

Watching the game back now, the amount of times Grimes was engaging his opponent, or allowing Balta a free run at the contest made his young teammate look like a million bucks. A big tip of the hat to Dylan Grimes from me.

Anyway, back to Balta – playing on Josh Bruce for the most part, he read the ball beautifully in flight to collect a game-high nine intercepts. Yeah, Josh Bruce might have ended up with a couple of goals, but one came very late in the piece and, if anything, was like a consolation prize.

Some may be a little premature in hailing him as the second coming of Alex Rance. Those kinds of expectations are a large burden to carry, and I reckon Richmond fans don’t need him to be the second coming of anything. Perhaps just being the first incarnation of Noah Balta will do just fine.

At just 20, and in a team as well-structured as this, Balta has the brightest of bright futures ahead.

 

BOLTON AWAY

I picked this bloke as my breakout star of the season at some stage (it was probably last week… nah, it was before the season, I promise!) and he is delivering in spades right now.

Shai Bolton is all class. He looks so balanced and in control with the footy in hand, ready to give the ball if the pressure arrives, or open up the game with creativity. He is so fast across the ground, has a ripping change of direction, and runs with this kind of hunched preparedness that gives the impression he is just a little more alert than those around him.

He had 19 touches in this game but it felt like a lot more as every touch he has seemed to mean something. So many players are involved in meaningless chains of go-nowhere possessions at half back; backward and sideways kicks that do nothing but chew up time.

Not Bolton.

He moves with a purpose and makes thing happen. His touches hurt.

When Dion Prestia went down injured and the Tigers had Trent Cotchin out as well, the opportunity arose for Bolton to step into the middle and demonstrate what he is capable of. He has not only filled the shoes of those players well in their absence, he is making a strong case to remain in the midfield mix permanently.

If you were Damien Hardwick, would you be keeping him there? I’d be sure as hell thinking about it.

 

MILESTONE MAN

I know there were a couple of milestone men out there for the Western Bulldogs, and I don’t want to dismiss Caleb Daniel – I think he was very good in a role that was continually under the pump, but on this occasion, you have to give credit to Jack Macrae.

It was something I really didn’t do last week, and I had a couple of Doggies supporters let me know that I need to watch how hard he works not only to win the footy, but away from the footy as well.

So, I went into this game with that in mind. Luckily, I didn’t have to watch too much away from the footy, as it seemed that wherever the footy was, Macrae was in the direct vicinity too.

He finished with a massive 37 touches (20% less game time, remember?) as he tried his best to prop up an overmatched Dogs midfield. In a team that had plenty of middling players not doing enough, his work ethic and determination should be highlighted in the team meeting. I hope Luke Beveridge gets the isolated footage of Macrae’s work and tenacity and shows it to the rest of the team as the benchmark they must meet.

If the rest of the team committed themselves to the cause the same way Macrae did, this review may be a fair bit different.

 

PICKETT SIGNS

There was plenty to like about the Tigers all night long, but the first quarter of Marlion Pickett conjured images of a September afternoon in 2019. We really started to see some signs of life from him.

He looked polished, starting on the wing and using his explosive speed and balance to create both for himself and his teammates.

At quarter time, Pickett had six touches to his name, but it was the two direct goal assists that made him stand out. With Daniel Rioli out of the side (great move – he has stunk it up this season), the people with spots in the team right now have to work hard to keep them, and I liked what I saw from Pickett early in the game.

Now he just needs to do it for four quarters again.

 

FAKE TOUGH V REAL TOUGH

A lot of positives here for the Tigers.

We often hear about tough guys in footy, right? The ones who want to mix it up, get aggressive and engage in a bit of niggle.

The thing is, AFL footy fields are about as safe a place as you’ll find in terms of physical violence. Hell, I am more likely to be assaulted walking into my local Coles than anyone running out to play footy on a Wednesday night. That’s why I don’t get the bravado – it’s fake toughness. You’re way too protected for anything to actually happen, therefore it’s easy to fly the flag.

But there is another sort of toughness in footy that doesn’t get the attention that “flying the flag” does. It comes in the form of throwing your body in to disrupt plays, make things difficult, or even win the footy.

And that is the kind of toughness Trent Cotchin brings to the Tigers.

He probably has to do it in smaller doses these days – those hamstrings can go “ping” at any given moment, but when the ball is in dispute and you want someone to put their head over it and make a genuine contest, I would select Trent Cotchin for the role just about every time.

His numbers aren’t anything to write home about in this one – 17 touches and six tackles are a good day’s work but they’re not going to have statisticians wandering off to have some alone time. Only those who watch the game closely would be excited by what they saw from Cotchin in this game.

It was an unrelenting attack on the footy irrespective of the situation. 17 touches and six tackles? Forget that. This was a captain’s knock, and when you weigh up the way Cotchin went about it and contrast it with stupid “flying the flag” actions from players like Ed Richards, costing a turnover eighty metres away, you can make a clear distinction between real tough and fake tough.

Trent Cotchin is real tough.

 

SOLDO

Playing on Tim English is an interesting prospect. He is either going to stand up and hurt you or lay down and be badly beaten. Largely, it is up to how hard his opponent works that dictates this outcome.

And Ivan Soldo brought his work boots this evening.

This is not an aspect of the game that will be covered comprehensively, but English’s ability to run and spread, offering an outlet for the Bulldogs defenders, has been vital to their success. When he has had 20+ disposals this season, the Dogs are 3-0.

There was no way Soldo was going to allow him to get those sorts of numbers.

Big Ivan was always going to win in the ruck, but it was his second and third efforts, and willingness to work around the ground that aided his team in this one.

Soldo sat the English test this evening, and he passed with flying colours.

All that said, I have no idea why English – a guy who has proven to have a huge tank – sat up forward for half the second quarter and left Jackson Trengove to be murdered in the ruck. Management of his minutes?

 

Round Nine Mongrel Preview

 

THE BAD

 

NOT ON YOUR TERMS

I wrote above about the Dogs needing the easy ball to be effective.

Did we see the Tigers lay out the blueprint on how to dismantle them this evening? I understand that not every team can apply pressure the way Richmond does, but late last season, and even early this year, there was a perception that the Dogs had a bit of a soft underbelly. People speculated that they didn’t like the game when it wasn’t on their terms.

Are they a bit iffy about getting their hands dirty?

There was only a 7% difference in the Tigers’ favour in terms of disposal efficiency, but it felt like so much more. The Tigers just handled the in-tight handballing so much better than the Dogs, and had 13 less turnovers for the game.

For brief periods, the Dogs managed to break through the Richmond defence and their forward-handball game of chicken (watch the Tigers next time – they give you the chance to beat them if your disposal under pressure is good enough. They want you to take them on with forward handball) but for the most part, it was a double-grab here, or an ill-directed handball there that brought them undone.

And when the Dogs couldn’t find space, they were cooked.

Switching options were completely closed down, forcing down-the-line footy. And that plays right into Richmond’s hands.

Was it that Hardwick outcoached Beveridge?

To a point, but when your players are being outworked and out-hustled, there is not much you can do from the coaches’ box.

 

PLAYING YOURSELF OUT OF THE TEAM

I thought Billy Gowers fought back well in the second half, but I’m not sure he’s done enough to save his place in this Western Bulldogs team.

To put it mildly, his first half was atrocious.

Our resident Dogs supporter, Alex Docherty asked the pertinent question at half time; how is it possible to have three clangers if you haven’t actually had a touch?

Well, Gowers found a way.

As I said, he improved after half time, as he was moved into the middle to get his hands on the footy. Let’s face it; he couldn’t have been much worse, but the sad thing is that I actually reckon he is a better option as the back-up tall than Josh Schache at the moment. Yeah, Gowers was playing like a bloke that hasn’t seen much footy this season, but at least he has a bit of mongrel in him. I’m not sure what Schache could have offered, but I can guarantee urgency and a strong attack on the footy wouldn’t have been amongst them.

I’d give Billy another week and have a little faith.

Not too much, though. One more chance. And if he doesn’t deliver, and Scheche is healthy, they can try him again.

 

Inner Circle Members – Round Eight Defensive Rankings

 

THE UGLY

 

NO SHOWS

 

I’ve been dancing around this, talking about blokes putting their head over the footy more than others, and some not liking the hard ball.

I even brought up the perception of the Dogs as being just a bit soft earlier this year. Yeah… I thought they dispelled that against the Giants as well. However, there were players out there tonight who clearly weren’t up to the physical standard set by the Tigers.

Shall we name a few?

When I say “we”, I mean me, so I am guessing you’re all for it.

I touched on Gowers above, but heart is not his problem, so as much as I suppose people are expecting me to whack him – nope. He puts in.

Patrick Lipinski – Is his nickname ‘The File’? If so, take this game and file it under “insipid”. He is an outside runner but was made to look like a plodder.

Ed Richards – Touched on the fake hard man stuff above. Needs to start earning his spot in this team.

Jason Johannisen – I’m not even going to check that I spelt his name correctly this week. That requires effort, and if he isn’t putting it in, why should I?

Josh Bruce – On rails. His best and worst are so far removed from each other.

I reckon there were four or so players that could hold their heads high in this one for the Dogs. Macrae, Cordy, Daniel, Wallis and maybe Crozier. The rest – there better be an injury to Bont, because I am tempted to add him above. And Bailey Smith, despite his 19 touches, was fumbly and probably had his worst outing of the season (if we eliminate the game he was knocked out).

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WHO ARE THE BULLDOGS THAT CAN MATCH THE TIGERS INSIDE?

Are there any? Is Bont going to throw himself in? If he does, he could be one.

Josh Dunkley would have been handy.

Libba… I’m not sure he can match it once the footy gets to the outside.

Mitch Wallis? The Dogs needed two of him tonight.

Bailey Smith? Gotta be clean to beat the Tigers, and he double drabbed a little too much for my liking.

So, in a nutshell, IF all those players were up and about, yeah they can match them. However, realistically, they won’t all be up and about at once, will they?

 

WAS HAYDEN CROZIER’S NAME CIRCLED ON THE WHITEBOARD?

I reckon it might have been. He has been great this season and is as gutsy as they come when attacking the ball in flight. If the Tigers saw him contesting a footy, they cracked in. This had to be a directive – no easy intercepts and no easy rebound 50s for Crozier.

Mission accomplished.

 

DO THE TIGERS NEED TO WIN CLEARANCES?

Evidently not.

More work is being put in now to looking at secondary clearances. The Tigers don’t mind someone else getting their hands on the footy if the quality of the clearance is poor. A sneaky chip or handball sideways is nothing to be concerned about. It’s the string of clean handballs they don’t like, so they don’t allow it.

The Dogs had more clearances in this one, and it didn’t matter at all. They were mostly inconsequential touches.

 

WHO IS THE BRIGHTEST OF THE YOUNG TIGER STARS?

You’d be tempted to say Balta after tonight, but I’ve bought Noah Bolton stock early and am enjoying it rising in value markedly.

That said, I reckon we could see something from Jack Higgins next season. That he has come back this far is amazing, but after another pre-season, he might just make good on that enormous potential yet.

So yea, right now, Bolton. In 12 months… maybe Higgins.

 

WAS BAILEY SMITH HIMSELF THIS EVENING?

He didn’t seem it.

He seemed slower to make decisions and get the ball onto his boot, resulting in hurried disposals to no one in particular.

His stats say he went at 68% for the night. I call bullshit on that, because he was really iffy in the first quarter, yet Champion Data are telling me six of his seven touches were effective? They were hack kicks to nowhere. That system is broken.

 

ARE THERE ANY CONCERNS FOR THE TIGERS?

Hmmm, I thought his pressure was good, but Sydney Stack seems to be lacking the confidence he had last season. That spark just seems to be missing.

Jack Riewoldt is still struggling to get involved, but the signs were good in the way he contested the footy. He hit the packs hard and ensured the ball was brought to ground every time.

 

OTHER BITS

 

So is that the challenge of the Doggies done, you think? I’m not willing to write them off. This is a crazy season and this team is capable of turning it on. Getting Josh Dunkley back will change things significantly. He’s a tough nut.

I can still see them playing finals.

Geez, Jack Ross flies under the radar, doesn’t he? 17 touches and I hardly noticed him. I’ll do better on the rewatch, I promise.

Had a fellow writer talking down Jason Castagna during the game. I couldn’t believe my ears (or eyes, in this case). The bloke finds the footy inside forward 50 so often – it’s the most difficult place to find the ball. Should have had at least three tonight but that banana kick from 35 out… he just needs some confidence in his kicking.

Easton Wood put a few marking opportunities to ground in this one, particularly early. I believe it was due to a combination of the dew and the Richmond pressure. He normally gobbles them up.

 

Look, that’ll do me tonight. Great win by the Tigers to solidify their position in the top eight (someone said they were ninth going into today – is that right?). The Dogs have some work to do, and their captain needs to start leading by example. He had a sore hip last week – if he needs a rest, give him one, because 15 touches in nowhere near what this team needs from him.

The Tigers and Lions face off next Tuesday, whilst the Dogs get Port on Monday night.

Day one of twenty down, and it was a good one for the Tigers.

 

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