In the corresponding fixture last year, it was Hawthorn that showed up Richmond at an empty MCG. They started fast and the Tigers were always playing catch up footy. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t the result we were expecting.

On this day, however, we got exactly the response that the pundits were hoping for. Hawthorn look like a side that is finally committing to a rebuild and putting faith in their youth… and it’s about time you did that, Clarko you little rascal. Last week they worked themselves back from 40 points down to beat an Essendon side that.. well, let’s be honest, they won’t be anywhere near world beaters this season, but comeback wins like that work wonders in the confidence department.

On recent history, early in the season is the right time to take on the Tigers. In 2019, they didn’t hit their full stride until the second half of the season and in 2020, despite the season being put on hold for a few months, probably didn’t get going until about round seven or eight and after that, it was going to take plenty to put them away.

Regardless of the above, it was Richmond that did what needed to be done here in Round Two, but it certainly didn’t come without its challenges from the brown and gold counterparts.

Let’s try and break it down with the review for the week (Apologies for it being a little later than usual).

 

THE TIGER TRADEMARK

The Hawks adapted better after quarter time, but Alastair Clarkson and the boys will want to be looking at the footage from the first quarter, because the pressure from the Richmond lads in this particular term was first-rate, and if there were any doubts that they were going for three in a row and four in five years, this exhibition erased them immiediately.

Hawthorn had the footy 12 more times in the opening term, but Richmond laid 17 tackles to 16 and most, if not all of their goals came from Hawthorn turning the ball over. The Hawks were fumbly and as the quarter wore on, they were victims of perceived pressure with quite a few ‘unforced errors’ if we’re to borrow a term from a bat-and-ball game.

It’s a rare occurrence when I agree with David King on things with football, but he made mention of the fact that AFL today is based on clean disposal – if you are not clean with your disposal at ground level, then most sides will make you pay and at the top of the list is the back-to-back reigning premiers.

A lot of the players in the opening quarter were prominent: Kane Lambert had the three tackles. Dion Prestia, Josh Caddy and Jack Graham all laid two tackles each and the likes of Dusty, Liam Baker, Daniel Rioli and Marlion Pickett applied pressure at one point or another.

They were +6 in the tackles by full time, albeit tackling numbers weren’t at an all-time high, as the game was played with a bit more flow than in tight – but it won’t matter too much to Richmond; it looks like they’re gonna be up at the pointy end once again this year – great news for the Tigers fans and dynasty enthusiasts…

… not so much for the the rest of the AFL supporter base.

 

IS IT ANOTHER THREE VOTES FOR DUSTY?

The thing with this Richmond team is that there was probably no one standout in this side in this particular contest. If we’re discussing the better players – Dion Prestia was very prominent in extracting clearances out of the middle, Graham and Shai Bolton were getting their touches and looking prominent around the ground, Kane Lambert again so consistent in his work-rate and Trent Cotchin continuing to lead from the front – all of them were very good again.

Dusty Martin, however, was just once again in the league of his own. It was interesting to see Shaun Burgoyne match up with him to start the proceedings. Clarko’s never been one to shy away from experiment, but this was shocking footy.

Before Hawthorn supporters come at me the way the Eagles supporters came at me last week for attempting to be constructive with my criticism, Shaun Burgoyne has been magnificent for the AFL, but he is so far gone in terms of playing peak footy. At his peak he was brilliant to watch, both at Port and at Hawthorn, but he was matched up on Dusty early and was just left trailing so many times – Dusty had 11 touches in the first quarter alone and was key at winning the footy from the source.

By half time, he had 18 disposals and a goal, and Clarko still persisted with Burgoyne around the stoppages and the centre bounces until late in the first half, when he assigned James Worpel was to him. Personally I’d rather have a player with more scope to improve in him to work off of him as opposed to Burgoyne. It may not come off on the scoreboard, but e experience will be valuable to the younger Hawks in the next few years. Nothing beats working against Dusty for experience points, am I right?

Regardless of that, Dusty churned in another brilliant performance, finishing with 28 disposals and a game-high 11 score involvements. I loved that he was unselfish, trying to get his teammates involved a fair bit. Could’ve had three or four but gifted them off to his teammates, I think Jack Riewoldt got on the end of a few easy ones. But goals are goals, no matter which way you kick them

.

CJ? I’D LIKE TO SEE THAT!

He might not have been Hawthorn’s best player in this one, but I was really impressed with how Changkuoth Jiath played his brand of footy.

He might get crucified by the supporter base for his turnovers, but he doesn’t exactly want to play a conservative style and I think we need to see more of this; not just from him, but in the AFL in general. A couple of times he went to impact a contest in defence, which left his man open and it led to a scoring opportunity for the Tigers, but if you’re the coach, you want to encourage him to do it more. He’s still a very raw prospect in terms of exposure on the big stage.

He had the 25 touches in this one, with 11 intercepts and eight marks to go along with it. He loves to try and take the game on with every possible chance he can, and it’s one of the more exciting things to look forward to if you’re a Hawks supporter. He loves to run, he’s looking to create and he’s not shy of taking on opposition – did you see that fend off on Dusty?

Takes a whole lot of Chutzpah to take on a player who should be in consideration of being discussed as the greatest of the modern era.

 

WHAT TO MAKE OF TOM MITCHELL’S GAME?

*Takes a deep breath* My co-host of the A3 Footy Podcast Alex Miller sent me text during the game with a whole lot of expletives to describe Tom Mitchell’s game, expletives that will not be shared with you all here.

He got his 37 disposals, but I don’t know if the impact he had with these disposals warrant him as a guy who I’d say was best on for the Hawks. There were moments that I saw which saw him get into the right spots to be the outlet pass out of defence and that shouldn’t go unnoticed. But his best footy is when he’s both winning it at the coalface and then running on the outside to get others involved. Against Richmond, he struggled to do the former.

37 disposals – 25 of them handballs – that’s not a great start, but 13 of those are contested – that’s alright, he led all Hawks in that category as he should be, that’s bread and butter for him. Only the four clearances – yikes. Four score involvements – double yikes, that’s telling you he’s not getting involved as much as he should be. 170 metres gained. I hope you see the pattern here Hawks fans.

Mitchell’s a damn good player, and that’s undisputed, but he’s at his best when he’s winning it directly at the source, racking up the clearance numbers and getting the ball forward at every opportunity. He did it very well last week against the Bombers, but whether or not Richmond put the effort into him around the stoppages, he was a bit more of a non-factor than the stats sheet suggests.

 

ANOTHER YELLOW AND BLACK BRICK IN THE WALL

Back to the Tigers’ first half in particular, their defensive unit is as good as any in the competition – they don’t need no education as the great music group Pink Floyd once sang.

Noah Balta and Dylan Grimes will get their plaudits for the way they peel off their direct opponents and help impact the contest in the air – Grimes in particular did an amazing job across all four quarters. Balta was very prominent early and then just sort of got on with the job with very little fuss – god his marking hands are so good – could he stake the claim as the best key defender in the comp in five years? Still very young at 21, doesn’t turn 22 until October – bloody scary right?

One man I want to highlight here is Nathan Broad, who I’m sure has had quite a few critics over the past few seasons with his decision making skills when he has the ball in his hand, but if you put him as another intercepting player, he is made to look really good, like he did in this one. He led all Tigers for intercept possessions with 10 for the game and had three intercept marks off 15 disposals. His reading of the play is very underrated.

And then it’s capped off by the Rolls Royce service out of the defensive half by Jayden Short and Shane Edwards. The Tigers have plenty of capable ball users, but none are as efficient and are consistent as these two. You can make an argument for Bachar Houli as well, but Bachar isn’t out there at the moment – 47 disposals, 13 rebound 50s and running at high-percentage disposal efficiency in this one – Short at 95 and Edwards at 80.

 

OTHER BITS

I thought Sam Frost battled on willfully in defence. Haven’t been his biggest fan, but you know you will get consistent efforts from him and had a few brilliant runs out of defence in this game – 16 disposals, six marks and seven rebound 50s.

Frost was matched up with Jack Riewoldt for most of the day – he finished with four goals and eight score involvements, but a couple of those were handed to him by Dusty as mentioned above. I liked Riewoldt’s game overall though – he still gets involved so much up forward in the twilight of his career.

Another Hawk that tried hard in defence was Blake Hardwick, didn’t actually realise his stats were so massive until after full time – had the 31 disposals, 15 marks, eight rebound 50s and 500 metres gained.

He gets plenty of recognition already, but it was another workmanlike performance from Liam Baker, never hesitates to make his direct opponent earn his touches, and that’s what I like the most about him – a tough but fair type, which can be hard to differentiate from those defenders who are just jerks.

Toby Nankervis’ game in the ruck was pretty solid, won himself four clearances from 12 disposals and had himself 11 of his 20 hitouts to advantage against McEvoy and Ceglar’s nine between them.

I did like the move of pushing Ceglar back as the spare in defence for the Hawks after quarter time. His marking hands are his biggest asset and he went back with the flight very well, which is a good string to add to your bow.

Kyle Hartigan and Tom Lynch was an intriguing battle. I’m no Hartigan fan and a couple of instances saw him trail a little bit and give away a free kick or two, but for the most of it, held up alright, but Lynch did well at leading up at the ball and got himself a pair of goals for his troubles.

I’m excited to watch the development of Tyler Brockman in the coming years. Last week against Essendon, he was electric with his awareness around the ground. More of the same this week with 2.1 from 12 touches and eight marks

Jason Castagna’s work rate was very impressive in this one. Kicked 2.0 from 16 disposals and nine marks. I’ve got mixed feelings on him. I understand that he brings work-rate and pressure, but his kicking just annoys me so much at times – but he was quite tidy here.

Tom Phillips the 24 touches, but went at 45 percent efficiency – pretty disappointing, but Pies fans will say ‘I told you so.’

Lastly, fingers crossed that the ankle injury to Will Day is not serious. He didn’t look too happy in the third term when he went off, so that’s alarming – he’s been super impressive with his work both in the air and with his use of the footy so far in his short career.

And on that worrying note, it’s an end to the review this week. Solid effort from the Hawks, but the Tigers aren’t going anywhere in the premiership race this year, going two from two to start off their quest for the magical three-peat.

A few media outlets were wondering whether or not all the stuff outside of footy was going to distract the Tigers, but they’ve answered in the best possible fashion at the start of the year. Next week against Sydney will be a mouth-watering clash, given how well the Swans have been tracking thus far.

Hawthorn will have eight days to rest up before they take on Geelong in the yearly Easter Monday clash. It’s a bit hard to get a read on the Cats so far this year, but they might not be any more vulnerable than they are right now without a few of their first-choice players.