Given the last time these two met was an absolute shocker in terms of game quality, I could not believe how much I was looking forward to this one,

12 months can make a huge difference in footy and the Swans have turned from a dour, defensive team to a side with run and carry, buoyed by the emergence of some high-quality young talent.

With a solid group of veterans and a group of their early twenties players finding their place in the team, they suddenly look like a legitimate danger. And Richmond found out just how dangerous they can be, as the Swans sliced through them like a hot knife through butter in the second term.

The rampant Sydney piled on eight goals to three as the Tigers stood and looked around for answers.

None were forthcoming.

It was a resounding win for Sydney over the reigning premiers and one that bodes well for the future of the Bloods.

Who were the standouts? What were the moments that mattered most? Who lowered their colours, and where do the Tigers go from here?

Let’s dive in with The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE CLAMPS

We’re all ready for the headlines about the young swans and how their youth movement has opened up a free-flowing style of play that the Tigers could not handle, right?

Because we know that’s what is going to happen. However, the return of George Hewett to this team means that they once again have a run-with player that won’t be distracted by that pesky, oval-shaped object they all chase around the ground.

Hewett’s job in this game was to limit the influence of Dustin Martin forward of centre. That’s it – that’s all he had to do. Sounds easy, right?

There have been plenty who have tried and failed before him, but Hewett’s game flew completely under the radar. Yes, Dusty had the footy 20 times, and the Champion Data (ugh) stats tell us he went at 80% efficiency, but answer me this – how many of those touches were the devastating Dusty touches we’ve become so used to seeing?

His kick to handball ratio was 1-1 and for the first time this season, he was unable to find the chest of a leading player inside 50. he pumped the footy in there, but they were largely directionless kicks, designed to give the forwards a chance, but not positioned to make it easy for them.

That’s not a knock on Martin – anyone that’s read my work here for the past couple of seasons knows that I see him as a modern football maestro, but when someone is able to negate his influence, you have to give them credit.

The bigger bodies of Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy and Callum Mills were able to keep him from streaming forward from the centre bounces, but as soon as that first contest was over, Hewett assumed control of the job and did a wonderful job in curtailing the brilliance of the three-time Norm Smith winner.

If you don’t see Hewett in the votes, that’s okay. If you don’t see paragraphs in the paper about his efforts, smile and nod – you’ll know that he did his job in excellent fashion in this game, and you’ll know where to come to see credit given where it’s due next time.

 

FLORENT BLOSSOMING

Though falling three touches short of his career-high for disposals, Ollie Florent may have just played his most important game for the Swans to date.

With 24 touches through the first three quarters, Florent’s influence on the contest was huge. 23 of his 28 disposals came on the outside, as he worked either from the stoppages or from his wing to create distance between himself and either Josh Caddy or Kamdyn McIntosh for the most part.

Big things were expected of Florent over his first four years in the system, but it may be his fifth season that he breaks out and puts his stamp on the competition. He seems ready, and those around him seem as though they are now at the level that allows him to play his natural running game.

He seems to be enjoying his footy at the moment, as evidenced by his little bum tap to Shane Edwards after tricking the Tiger veteran into moving off the mark (and having to clearly point it out before the umpire noticed it). This led to a Sydney surge forward, resulting in a goal to Sam Wicks.

There will be a few players that every right to feel robbed if they don’t pick up votes in this one, and I get the feeling Florent may just be one of them. He was smooth, positioned himself well all afternoon, and was a clear winner for the Swans when the heat was in the game.

If you’re going to judge players based on what they did in what was effectively a dead-rubber of a last quarter, go right ahead. It was, however, Florent’s weakest quarter of the game. I prefer to assess him on what he did while the game was alive, and when it was, he was one of Sydney’s best.

 

NO MORE THREATS

Remember when people would talk about the potential of moving Callum Mills into the midfield? And then it would never happen.

I think it was about 2019 when the drums were beating really loudly that the move was going to be made, but still, there he was at half back, learning… being patient as he awaited his opportunity.

The genie is now out of the bottle, and Callum Mills has graduated from being a precocious talent to being the leader of this Sydney midfield. His 31 touches were a career-high and his eight clearances doubled his previous best efforts.

The Swans and John Longmire have nursed Mills through his AFL formative years. Their patience seems to have paid dividends, with a mature Mills now looking as though he could become the player the Swans have wanted as the bridge between the Kennedy-Parker era into the Parker-Mills and the kids era.

 

KICK TO WICKS

This is what happens when you don’t give your opponent the respect he deserves.

The Swans have some elusive small-to-mid sized forwards, and in this game, it appeared as though the Tigers were just a bit oversized down back.

Grimes, Astbury and Balta are excellent defenders of the long, high ball inside 50, but the combination of Wicks, Warner, Papley and Gulden gave them nightmares.

Gulden evidently went to the Joel Selwood school of dropping at the knees, expertly drawing several frees around half forward for tackles slipping too high, whilst Warner… well, I’ll cover him in a minute, but the word ‘spectacular’ leaps to mind to describe a few of his efforts.

That leaves us with Wicks, who seemed to float inside 50 at his leisure and simply commanded the footy be kicked to him due to his wonderful positioning and timing.

Wicks continually flew under the radar of the Tiger defenders, taking five uncontested marks inside 50 as the Richmond defenders, namely Broad, Short and Baker looked around at each other like they were dementia patients wondering how it kept happening.

Wicks finished with 21 touches and 13 marks as he did as he pleased without so much as a smidgen of legitimate defensive attention. His three goals could have very easily been five but for poor kicking at goal and his two direct goal assists give the indication that he is more than happy to dish off when a teammate is in a better position.

The Swans have found plenty this season – whether it be a fit Isaac Heeney, a future key forward or a couple of midfield guns, but the way Wicks has come along in just ten games should be enough to have Swans fans wondering whether it is too soon to think about cancelling any plans they had in September.

 

WARNER-ING SIGNS

Seeing Chad Warner break from the centre stoppage, take on a tackler, beat the tackle and set sail for home was the kind of play that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

If this game were at the SCG, that goal would have brought the grandstand down. As it stands, it just has to go down as one of the most scintillating pieces of play through the first three weeks of footy.

But it was only a running goal, right? What’s the big deal?

Well, first of all, the timing – the Swans were surging, and there are not many points in any season where a team that finished 16th the year before gets to put the reigning premiers to the sword, but Warner was smelling blood at this stage. He burst from that stoppage to collect the footy and with a Richmond player launching himself at him in a desperate tackling attempt, his ability to fight through the contest, settle and slot the running goal was brilliant.

And then there was the issue of the bloke tackling him.

This was no scrub – this was Jack Graham; arguably the best tackler wearing yellow and black. He has registered double-figure tackles five times in his carer. He’s the bloke that dislocated his shoulder in the Preliminary Final a couple of years back and kept bloody playing, laying more tackles despite being in immense pain. When he tackles you, you stay tackled!

Unless you’re Chard Warner, apparently.

Warner finished with 20 touches and two goals in another excellent outing from the Swans young brigade. Do not be surprised if he becomes the third Sydney youngster in as many weeks to get the Rising Star nod – he was electrifying at stages in this one.

 

IMPROVED PAPLEY?

There were periods last season where Tom Papley must have felt that he was required to do everything in the Sydney forward line. With injuries across the board, Papley was relied on to kick goals, create opportunities and apply pressure. There was no Buddy, no Heeney and… no one else.

He had 26 goals and the next best was Will Hayward, with ten.

But things are a little different this year. Buddy has been on the park, and though he rested in this one, having him there is a bonus. Heeney is healthy, and the target he provides allows Papley to play the ground-level roving role he is so proficient in. He hits the packs hard, has wonderful control of the ball at ground level, and when you afford him any space, he makes you pay.

The unselfish version of Papley not only finished with four goals, but actively sought out players in good position to dish the footy to. There was no tunnel vision and no blinkers on in this one – just a player capitalising on a team running at their optimum.

Papley’s game here was exactly what John Longmire wanted to see. He is an elite small forward with a strong body and the ability to take a hit and not collapse in a heap. With Papley in this kind of form, the Swans and their fleet-footed forward line could create massive problems for teams as the season wears on. 3-0 to start the season… there is no question in my mind that this is where Papley belongs as a player, and I am really pleased he decided to remain a Swan last season.

 

MCLEAN’S MOMENT

This may seem inconsequential to some, but I thought this was a huge point in the game.

After being jumped to start the second quarter, the Tigers seemed to be mounting a small comeback of sorts. You could almost feel it as they surged forward, resulting in back-to-back goals from Jason Castagna and Jack Riewoldt. The Tigers needed one more to really swing the momentum back in their favour, and you could feel it starting to turn.

Enter Hayden McLean.

It’s not often that you see Dylan Grimes cleanly outmarked, but as Luke Parker unleashed the footy inside the Swans’ attacking 50, McLean used his body to position himself perfectly and took a strong mark 35 metres out from goal.

He went back, converted the goal and halted the small amount of momentum that the Tigers were building.

Footy is a funny game. One goal quickly becomes two, then three, and as teams start to believe in themselves and believe they can overcome a slow start, anything can happen. McLean’s moment stopped the Tigers dead in their tracks and the Swans would go on to kick five of the next six goals, breaking the Tigers and establishing a 40-point half time lead.

One mark or one goal in the second quarter does not seal the win for any team, but they can be important, and even in a game where the Swans put their foot on the throat of the Tigers, you can back to that moment and watch the body language change. If Richmond were starting to ask questions of Sydney, they got their answer in the form of the McLean goal as a response.

 

THE BAD

 

BAD DAY FOR BOLTON

There were a few hints of this through the preseason games. If you go back and watch, which I am sure you won’t, the practice games saw a version of Shai Bolton that would have raised some eyebrows. Second to the footy, fumbly, and averse to body contact, he looked like a player that didn’t want to be out there.

And he looked just as poor in this game.

Bolton got his hands to the footy, but just couldn’t hold onto it. He dropped marks, missed goals and just could not gain the ascendancy in his clashes with Jake Lloyd and Harry Cunningham, both of whom ran off Bolton with ease.

It was clear that Damien Hardwick wanted Bolton as his forward 50 threat, but he was so soundly beaten that you have to wonder why he was not moved up the field to get him more involved, particularly as the Tigers had very few winners in the middle. Maybe even a run as the release player on the wing could have afforded him the chance to get into the game.

In this contest, Bolton played like a man devoid of confidence. Having watched him for a while, we know that is not the case – he loves taking the game on – but he did not thrive under the close attention of the Swans defenders in this one and will need a redemption game against Port this coming week.

 

THE PRESTIA BLOW OUT

The 2019 best and fairest has not had a good run of luck over the past year… if you don’t count winning a third premiership, I suppose.

But that had nothing to do with luck, did it?

Prestia has had a horror run with injuries, and his presence in the middle was sorely missed. The Swans were able to control the centre breaks 17-11 and you have to wonder how much of a difference Prestia could have made in this one?

It looks like the Tigers will have to make do without Prestia for a month or so as he recovers. A case of “been there, done that” for Richmond as they once again look to find cover for the player many believe is their most consistent midfielder.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

NO SENSE OF URGENCY

Look, this can sometimes happen to reigning premiers when they sense something is just not right.

The Swans were, to their absolute credit, the better team on the day, and they managed to work hard to stifle any forward handball and connecting play by the Tigers, but far out, Richmond did not make it easy for themselves.

A team that normally thrives under pressure was systematically dismantled by the desperate Swans, and they did not give a yelp. Watching the Richmond mids run at half pace back to their defensive fifty to help was damning and the loss was deserved.

Players that usually sensed the moment and flicked the switch at times such as these seemed to fumble around in the dark, unable to even locate the switch. Jayden Short was incapable of finding a target, Josh Caddy was an undisciplined dolt, and Liam Baker made repeated errors that gifted possessions back to Sydney.

Throw in the fact that players who usually love getting down and dirty – Jack Graham and Kane Lambert – just didn’t seem to have any inclination to win the hard footy, and you have the makings of a disaster.

I am sure there will be those amongst you who think that the Tigers simply did not show up, but that would be discounting the effort and execution of the Sydney Swans. The Tigers did show up, but they were just unable or unwilling to match the intensity of their opponents. This happened a couple of times early in the 2020 season and it might occur again. Be prepared – but I wouldn’t get used to it

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

DID TOM LYNCH REDEEM HIMSELF IN THE SECOND HALF?

Well, he kind of had to, didn’t he?

I didn’t include Lynch in the section above with the non-competitive Tigers, but he was nowhere near it in the first half. He refused to fight for front spot, was looking for easy touches and was a bit of a liability defensively as well.

He played lazy football.

In the second half, I remember thinking that Lynch would need to snag three goals to redeem himself, and he did that, but was it enough? He had five touches and a goal in the dead-rubber last quarter, but he was quite prominent in the third.

The Tigers did not kick often to his advantage, but good players work hard to stay involved. It was night and day for Lynch in this one – if you choose to rate him on his overall game, he gets a pass-mark. If you look at his output when the heat was on, it was a fail.

 

WHO WON THE RIEWOLDT V RAMPE BATTLE?

I reckon people forget that Rampe was on track for another All-Australian selection before he broke his hand for a second time last year. He played through pain and was a worthy winner of the Most Courageous Player Award from the Players’ Association.

In this one, he and Jack Riewoldt engaged in a fantastic battle in the Richmond forward line, with Rampe emerging victorious. Like Lynch, Riewoldt did not get exceptional delivery, but when the two contested, it as Rampe looking like the player with the upper hand.

Riewoldt is the type of player you cannot give an inch to – if he gets a set shot anywhere inside 50, you may as well mark it down as a goal. His accuracy this year has been exceptional and it was on display again as he converted his only goal for the rvo, but with eight intercepts, it was Rampe controlling the defensive 50 and in the process gave the Swans a wonderful launchpad from the back half.

 

IS THIS SOMETHING FOR RICHMOND TO WORRY ABOUT?

No… don’t be silly.

They lost to Hawthorn early in 2020. They were sitting with a less than stellar record at the half way point of the season as well. This Richmond team rounds into the season. They don’t come out and get over-excited early in the piece and leave nothing for late in the season.

They’re not the footballing version of Joe Ganino!

Richmond are fine. They had a bad day and ran into a team ready to take advantage of it. Don’t panic.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Jordan Dawson as yet. All off-season I was banging on about how he could be one of the most devastating half backs in the game if used properly, and then he goes out and becomes just that… and I leave it til the “other bits” section. Classic Mongrel…

Anyway, Dawson powered the Swans, with 12 of his 27 disposals either pumping the Swans inside 50, or rebounding from defensive 50. With a prodigious boot on him, when he takes the kick ins, teams had best be set up to repel that strike down the guts. If you lose that first contest, the Swans are going to be kicking for goal really quickly.

Strong outing for Sam Reid as the lead up target. He was nowhere near a dominant force, but handy in bits, and as a second ruck option, more than held his own.

Speaking of the ruck, Hickey worked off Nankervis really well in this one and finished with a couple of goals and three clearances. Nank had 15 touches, but was not as damaging. Hickey’s scoreboard impact gets him the nod quite easily. Of course, that may have been different had Nankervis had a clear mark paid inside defensive fifty…

Whoever listed Jayden Short as the Tigers’ best on the AFL website needs a swift kick in the backside. For mine, Jason Castagna was consistently good, whilst I didn’t mind the effort of Marlion Pickett to get back and help his defenders as well.

Finally, heavy hit on Kamdyn McIntosh from Dane Rampe saw the Tiger wingman helped off the ground. Whilst you don’t want to see blokes ironed out, this is as close to being called play on as you’re ever likely to see in modern footy. Two blokes going hard at the contest and sadly for McIntosh, he was collected by Rampe, who got their a split second before him.

Amazingly, Rampe was awarded a free kick for… something. I think it was for taking his legs, but really, I have no idea how the umpire picked that out. “Free kick Sydney… ramming your face into your opponent and knocking yourself out…”

For the record, Rampe has zero to worry about on that one.

 

And that’ll do me – fantastic win by the Swans as they move to 3-0 and fire a huge warning shot across the bow of the good ship AFL. Will they be able to sustain this blistering form, or will the marathon that is the AFL season see the sprinters fall back to the pack?

 

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