Richmond v Carlton – The Good, Bad And Ugly

Many predicted a belting. It was far from that, but it was a case of deja vu for the Tigers and Blues as the AFL season opener delivered a highly-competitive game to kick things off.

The Blues’ inaccuracy and strange decision-making at times may have cost them more than the scoreline let on, with Harry McKay the chief offender, but it was the Tigers punishing the Blues on the turnover that gave them the lead, allowing them to stretch things out to 25-points by the time the final siren sounded.

Carlton were great early, using precise kicking and good decision-making to cut the Tigers’ press to ribbons. It is one of the rare times that allowing the forward handball and closing in on the next recipient in line did not work for Richmond, but as the teams fatigued, the precision dropped away at the pressure remained. Game – Tigers.

We’ll cover a heap in this review and dive deep into the performances of the stars, the “medical” sub, the players debuting for their new clubs, and the moments that mattered.

It’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly… did you miss us?

 

 

THE GOOD

 

RETURN OF THE KING

So, in the final minute, Kane Lambert went back to have a shot at goal. He missed, and as a result, Dustin Martin finished the game with only four goal assists.

Yep, “only” four of them. A pretty pathetic effort. I mean, he is no Stevie J, is he?

No, he is not… he is so much more.

There seemed to be very few last quarter scoring attempts at the Richmond end that Dustin Martin did not play a significant role in manufacturing. He had a game-high 12 score involvements and imposed his will on the contest at certain points. A little unsteady when turning in this game, particularly early in the contest, Martin’s bullocking runs, fend-offs and finishing were a highlight of yet another season-opener.

If there was any doubt around the hunger to compete from the best player in the game, Round One should dispel them. He finished with 31 disposals and pumped the Tigers inside 50 on eight occasions, which is all the more impressive when you consider how often he was stationed inside that area, himself.

He created mismatches, exploited those not strong enough to match him body-to-body, and powered away from larger players at ground level.

There could be a strong argument for another Tiger to be hailed as the best player on the ground in this one, but the impact Dustin Martin had on this contest was incomparable to everyone else. He was the straw that stirs the drink, the ripple that starts the wave, and was once again the spark that ignited the Tiger flame.

One game into the 2021 season and there is no doubt in my mind that, health permitting, we could be about to see something special from Dustin Martin. It’s as though he always suspected he was pretty bloody good. Now, with three Norm Smiths in as many tries, he is fully aware…

… and that spells trouble.

 

THE NEXT LEVEL

I loved what I saw from Sam Walsh in this game, and as a neutral, found myself watching him intently, and nodding in approval when he stood up in tackles and dished to a teammate.

We’ve spent the last couple of seasons wondering when the support would come for Patrick Cripps. Well… spoiler alert… it’s here! And it’s been in the making for the last couple of seasons. The Blues were patient last season, opting not to throw him into the middle against the bulls of the competition, but with another preseason and a bit more strength through the hips, the former number-one pick appears more than ready to take on the job.

Some of Walsh’s contested work in this game was elite. Yes, he got caught on a couple of occasions and was penalised for holding the ball, but compared to the number of times he was able to stand in the tackle, look for an option with two blokes hanging off him, and fire out a handball, it isn’t worth dwelling on – his inside work was wonderful for someone who is still just 20 years old.

Walsh’s gut-running into the last quarter put players many years his senior to shame. There is so much talk in the AFL about teams that have players with six or seven preseasons under their belt and what a difference it makes – it makes bugger all difference to Walsh – he was in everything, often competing for the footy in defence, only to be present at a stoppage inside 50 as part of the same play.

We all… or at least I, tend to bang on about the 2018 AFL Draft, featuring Walsh, Rozee, Butters and Bailey Smith, and who amongst them will be regarded as the best from that group when all is said and done. The conversation and opinion can ebb and flow depending on who is playing the best footy at that time, but right now, it is hard to look past Walsh, whose efforts in this one screamed class, improvement and the promise of more to come.

 

LEADERSHIP IN THE MAKING

During the off-season, the old mongrel started throwing names around as potential future captains of each club. For the Tigers, two names seemed to top the list. Nick Vlastuin was viewed by many of you as the Tiger in waiting, but right behind him was the name of Jack Graham, and for those unanointed, they would have been baptised in the church of Graham-ism in this game.

There was the risk that the Tigers could have lacked some punch out of the middle with the absence of their captain, Trent Cotchin, who… well, had the squirts. Poor bugger; it’s not pleasant, is it?

Well, the Tiger faithful need not have worried about a drop off in pressure, because Graham revels in it, and loves to throw that big body of his around. I’ve found that in recent seasons, Trent Cotchin has become more of a pinch-hitting midfielder; one who impacts in moments rather than having a continued, consistent influence. He is still prevalent due to the leadership he demonstrates and the way he implores his teammates to follow him into battle via his actions, but in terms of sustained brilliance… I think we’ve seen his best.

But we have not seen the best of Jack Graham. That said, this game was pretty close.

He had a game-high, and career-high 11 inside 50 deliveries to kick the season off, indicating that the 23-year-old may be ready to assume a larger responsibility in this Richmond midfield.

We’ve all got memories of Graham clutching at his shoulder in the 2019 Preliminary Final. In pain and obviously compromised in terms of what he was physically able to deliver, his efforts in pushing the Tigers into the Grand Final were wonderful, and now we’re seeing the other side of him – the potential star and possible future captain of the club. He had another career-high in this one, topping 33 touches (his previous best was 24) and in a competition that sees teams thrive when they get organic improvement from existing players, Graham may be one of the factors that propel the Tigers to a third straight flag.

 

SAAD TIMES

I thought Adam Saad started a little shaky in this one, missing assignments, overcommitting to contests and getting burned, and generally seemed to be trying to find his feet. However, the longer the game went, the more Saad seemed at home in the Blues back half.

The highlight of his evening came in the form of a brilliant chase-down tackle on Jake Aarts in the final quarter, but an equally determined chase earlier against Shai Bolton, and some repeat efforts to run and carry saw him throw a sense of chaos into the Richmond structure at times.

The Blues were content paying a high asking price to acquire the talents of Saad, and you could see why in this contest. He runs hard both ways and though he probably does not lower his eyes anywhere near as much as he needs to, forwards are well aware that if he is in possession of the footy anywhere near the middle of the ground, they are going to get a chance to beat their opponent.

With Saad starting well, it will be interesting to see where Zac Williams slots into this Carlton side next week. Williams in for either O’Brien or Dow seems logical, but it would not surprise me to see Sam Petrevski-Seton make way for the Blues’ other star recruit.

One thing I did notice was Saad looking to pull his kicks a little whilst darting here and there. This is an aspect that some, myself included, have questioned about his game, which at times seemed to resemble a chicken with its head cut off, running for the sake of running. He would then slam the ball onto his boot and get as much distance as possible. That may remain the case at times, but he showed plenty of composure in this game, particularly in the second half, and if he becomes more consistent with that vision, his influence on the Blues will be marked.

 

BOLTON IT IN

I have to admit – I was not impressed with Shai Bolton in the preseason. Both in the practice game and the AAMI Series game, Bolton looked a little disinterested. Maybe it was because he was looking forward to this one so much that he had the cue in the rack in those games?

He came to work in this one. I loved his one-two work with Dusty on the ball, his intent and bodywork to get rid of Sam Walsh at one point, and the confidence to take his time, assess the situation and then look for an option. It was a classy display, and his 25 touches, nine clearances and eight inside fifties speak of a player who was damaging around stoppages and looked to make the opposition pay every time he touched it.

Many have chosen Bolton as the player ready to take the next step at Richmond this season – I kind of felt he did that last year, but if he has another gear to switch into, the Tiger Army is going to have plenty to cheer about this season.

 

 

THE BAD

 

WHERE THE SUB RULE GOES NEXT

This’ll be done to death over the next 24 hours, so I’ll keep my thoughts rather brief.

The AFL needs to drop any mention of “injury” or “concussion” when referring to the substitution rule. We can all see through it, we know that teams will quickly become expert at manipulating it, and really, it was a great excuse for the coaches to have an extra man on the bench, which they’ve wanted for ages, anyway.

Jack Silvagni may have been hurt. So may have Nick Vlastuin, but if either of them fronts up to play in the next round, it makes a mockery of a rule that was brought in with good intentions, yet is ripe for the picking.

I am happy to eat my words – I’ll swallow them down and replace them with an apology if we see Silvagni and Vlastuin out for a couple of weeks, but I get the distinct feeling at least one of them will be rocking up ready to play in Round Two.

And I also reckon that 16 other coaches watched this game tonight and thought “ahhhh, so that’s how you do this, huh?”

I expect more of these injuries to bob up late into the third quarter this weekend. It seems like the perfect time to replace an injured player with fresh legs. Players will need to practice their limps.

 

PLAYING ON…

We’ve seen Nick Riewoldt do it and allow Heath Shaw the chance to create a Grand Final memory. We watched Matt Taberner obliviously play on last season and be run down in the goal square, squandering a golden opportunity. And in this game, we added Harry McKay to the list of players who have opted not to go back and kick a set shot from 15 metres out, and paid the price as a result.

We know Harry does not have the most faith in his goal kicking. We’re aware that he would rather go around the corner from 15 metres out than kick a drop punt, but were we aware that he would blindly play on rather than go back and take a set shot?

Jayden Short seemed to know, and as McKay’s eyes lit up at the thought of an easy goal-line snag, he dragged the big Blue down in a tackle. The resultant kick dribbled across goal and a chance went begging for the Blues, adding to the wasted opportunities in front of goal that did manage to score.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

THE TURNOVERS

Oh man, Lochie O’Brien’s double-error in the last quarter was painful to watch.

Alone in the middle with an open forward line ahead of him, O’Brien received the inboard kick and… nup, he didn’t receive it. He fumbled it.

You may hear about inferred pressure and how it can cause players to make mistakes. You’d want to hope that was the case with O’Brien, because if this is just who he is, then the Blues may have to wind back all the positivity they spewed out about him in the preseason and have a good hard think about whether what he provides makes him a valuable part of the team.

After his fumble, O’Brien gathered the ball and proceeded to completely miss his teammate inside fifty, instead sending the ball right into an ambush of Tigers. The yellow and black wave rolled down the field in response, catching the Carlton defensive structure out of whack. It left Adam Saad alone to defend against Dustin Martin with a high ball coming in. Even if you didn’t watch the game, you know how this part ends.

Martin was too good in the air, took the mark, swung around onto his right foot and curled his second goal in. There wasn’t much Saad could do about, but there was bloody plenty Lochie O’Brien could have done ten seconds earlier.

There has been much speculation about the two top ten picks the Blues had in 2017. O’Brien went at pick ten. Dow went at pick three. You know who else went in the top ten? Luke Davies-Uniacke, Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra, Aaron Naughton, Jaidyn Stephenson, Nick Coffield and Hunter Clark. I’d take any of those two above O’Brien and Dow at this point and both have plenty of work to do, both physically and mentally, to compete in this competition, ongoing.

 

SELECTIVE HOLDING THE BALL

If there is one thing I dislike about footy, it is when a superstar gets caught absolutely cold, holding the ball and the play is allowed to continue. It must infuriate the tackler, as they execute this aspect of the game perfectly, the ball is not disposed of legally, and the whistle is simply put away.

The worst case of this occurred in the last quarter, as Jack Graham executed a textbook tackle on Patrick Cripps between wing and half forward. Dragging the Carlton skipper to the ground, the Tiger hit the deck as well. He looked at the umpire as the ball dribbled from Cripps’ grasp.

Play on.

Play on?

How the umpire came to that decision is unknown, but it seemed to me it was a classic case of the ball being allowed to move on in any way, as long as it moved on at all. I suppose the fact that it was Cripps being tackled to the ground kind of helped. In the NBA, they call that a “superstar call”. We should be better than the NBA – it is about the individual there. Here, it is about the team, and this tackle from Jack Graham should have been rewarded.

Hell, if perfect tackles resulting in incorrect disposal are not going to be rewarded, why tackle at all?

It happened in the first quarter as well – I believe it was Jake Aarts getting away with a clear throw in a tackle from Lachie Plowman. Frustrating…

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

DID JACK RIEWOLDT HAVE THE GAME HARRY MCKAY SHOULD HAVE HAD?

Yes, he did.

McKay finished with 2.3 and the botched attempt from the goal square I wrote about above. Realistically, and factoring in that he does have a penchant for being a bit wayward, four goals is about the return you would expect from a bloke who takes five marks inside 50 as a key forward.

Instead, it was Riewoldt who finished the game with a bag of four. And that leads me to the next question…

 

WAS JACK RIEWOLDT’S ACCURACY THE DIFFERENCE?

Not THE difference, but it was possibly one of the biggest factors in the outcome.

The Blues squandered shot after shot in the third quarter, whilst at the opposite end, Riewoldt was able to get on the end of two kicks inside 50, but ended up shooting at goal from the line on acute angles. A lot has been said about the goal he kicked in the 2020 Grand Final from a similar spot on the field, but these two kicks were just as good.

Yes, the stakes were much lower in this one, but his kicking for goal, including another shot from a tight angle in the last quarter were the kind of classy finishing you just don’t see enough of in modern footy. It was an ageing full forward doing what he has done so well for years now – making every possession count.

Although you may see some instances of great individual kicks at goal over the course of the year, as a one-game package, those three set shots from Jack in the second half were glorious examples of how to kick perfect drop punts from an angle.

Oh, and his other goal was the product of sneakiness. Taking the mark 55 metres out, Riewoldt simply stood, waited and then pointed out Ed Curnow running through the protected zone without an opponent. I love sneakiness… vastly underrated quality. Some would call it a gift.

 

WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE FOR MARC MURPHY TO PLAY?

His use of the footy was very good in this one, and if you’re going to afford him space to operate, Murphy is not a panic merchant with the footy. He’s many things – a communist, a pig, a panic merchant, but he is NOT a porn star!

And thank you, Grampa Simpson…

In all seriousness, 11 touches from Murphy is not enough bang for buck. He may be getting on, but out in space, he is the type of player that would make a forward’s eyes light up. Not only does he hit targets, he finds the right ones. Too much attention on the key forwards? He looks inboard at mids floating down from the centre.

So, do you keep him at half-forward and hope he finds more of the footy?

I’d play him off a wing and drift into a half-forward role from there. Restrict his running, save his legs and still retain some of the elite delivery inside 50 without restricting him to that area of the park. Let the young legs run and the experienced legs deliver the footy. If Murphy plays the attacking wing role, the Blues may need to help him with some of the defensive side of the position (not his greatest strength) but the benefits could be enormous.

 

HOW GOOD CAN NOAH BALTA BE?

I’ve held off on this for a while, as I am a big believer in holding my cards close to my chest until you see a big enough sample size to make an accurate assessment.

Balta has a lot of improvement in him – he is just 21-years-old. He is as athletic as anyone his size that I’ve seen, and his ability to read the ball in flight is improving all the time. Is he Alex Rance? No… not by a long shot, but does he need to be? The role he is playing right now is good enough, but as time goes by, he may start to develop into a similar player.

Rance was the defender of his generation – his All-Australian selections distance him from his peers quite comfortably, and whilst Balta has some similar traits, he is still a raw, powerful piece of clay that is gradually being molded into something. How that looks in a couple of years is anyone’s guess, but if Balta is not in the top handful of key defenders in the game by the end of the 2022 season, I’d be a little surprised.

 

 

OTHER BITS

Plenty of players looked absolutely terrified to kick with their opposite foot in this game. A lot of the “outside of the foot” attempts, or running back into trouble to get on their preferred foot. There was a real push away from this at one stage – can you remember that? Coaches were huge on players being good enough to hit a target on either side of the body.

That seems to have fallen by the wayside. The thing is – and we will use Tom Williamson as the example – the opposition knows it, and the instant Williamson tried to get back onto his left foot in the third quarter, Shane Edwards and a teammate swarmed the Carlton defender and won holding the ball. Learn to get the ball on your right boot, Tommy Boy.

Poor old Liam Baker just had Patrick Cripps bust through two of his tackles in this game, making him look like a child. However, when the tables were turned in the last quarter and Baker had the chance to break the tackle of Cripps, it didn’t quite work out for him, the Carlton captain crunching him in a ripping take down.

With the game in the balance, the decision of Sam Petrevski-Seton to lay a bump on Tom Lynch instead of tackling him was mind-boggling. SPS, who may not be the sharpest spoon in the drawer, elected not to tackle, and instead threw his body into Lynch, who simply rode the contact, straightened up and, luckily for Sam, missed the shot at goal.

I’m not sold on SPS – I don;t know if he has found his position in the AFL, or whether David Teague is trying to fit him into a role he thinks he could be good at, but doesn’t feel comfortable in?

Did we like the longer quarters again?

I bloody loved it! An AFL game is like a marathon. I haven’t listened to Gerard Whateley on SEN this evening, but my guess is that he had a whine about it again because he needs his beauty sleep or something. The game was great – shut up about it.

Blues fans would have been happy to see Harry McKay crashing into Nick Vlastuin in the first quarter as the ball was dead. It seemed like a bit of a cheap shot, I suppose, but I have to admit, there is a large part of me that digs the gladiatorial aspect of the AFL, and Harry crashing on in there intent on doing some damage was a statement I enjoyed.

Interesting to watch the game with Mrs Mongrel in parts – I say in parts because the parts that mostly interested her seemed to be when both Nick Vlastuin and Dustin Martin were tackled by their shorts and their pants came down. And the hilarity ensued, let me assure you…

So, who comes back into these sides?

I think Astbury gets a fine for his back elbow to his opponent early in the game. It doesn’t deserve a week. Cotchin has to come back in, maybe at the expense of Ross or Pickett.

For the Blues, if Betts is right, does he replace O’Brien? And what of Jack Martin? His preseason form is damning of where he is at as an exceptionally talented, yet seemingly unmotivated player. But they’ll get Mitch McGovern back – rejoice, right!?!?

 

 

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