Righto… let’s see how honest you all are.

How many people saw the Dees at 6-0 at this stage of the season when you were making your pre-season predictions?

If you say you did, I reckon you’re either a returned time traveller (hope you did your time-quarantine) or you’re a flat-out liar. The third option is that you might just be an eternally optimistic Demons supporter? If you are… welcome to the scenario you dreamt of.

The Dees moved to 6-0 for the first time in over 50 years and they did it in style, against the team that has been the benchmark of the competition for the last four seasons.

Big games from Christian Petracca, Jake Lever and Ed Langdon were punctuated by a Melbourne side that were up for the fight against the Tiger machine and took the game up to the reigning premiers.

Plenty to get through in this one – here The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

MATCHING THE PRESSURE

There would have been a few nervous Dees fans in the first ten minutes of the game.

The Tigers were all over them applying the type of pressure that has become synonymous with the Richmond Football Club over the past four seasons. Melbourne were faced with the same choice every club has when they encounter the Tigers – you either match the pressure, or you get eaten alive.

And these Demons were up for the fight.

It is not often that you see a team able to Out-Richmond the Tigers, but that was the case in this game. The pressure from the Dees from halfway through the first quarter until the end of the game was relentless. They threw their bodies in, and they risked life and limb to win the footy, stood in tackles, waited under high balls when the imminent threat of a collision must have been on their minds… they did everything they were asked, and probably even more.

And then they dished it out, too.

You could sense the shift in momentum.

Usually, when the ball becomes a little more slippery, it is the Tigers, with that irrepressible wave of yellow and black, that will the footy forward, but on this occasion, that wave crashed into a red and blue cliff face, and slunk back into the sea.

It was the Demons who pushed for territory, without taking possession and without a disposal. They used every means necessary to push the ball forward their way, keeping the Tigers on the back foot and making them defend, defend, defend.

Eventually, the tide went out and it was the Dees on top. Richmond fought valiantly, but in this game, they met their match. Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Max Gawn, even Ed Langdon put their bodies on the line, got crunched and got off the deck smiling, as if to say “is that all you got?”

On this occasion, it was all the Tigers had, and the Dees had a bit to dish back their way as well. They were asked the questions early, and they answered them emphatically. After years of over-promising and vastly under-delivering, the Dees did what they had to do.

They’re for real in 2021.

 

NO NEED TO PANIC…

With two goals in the first ten minutes, the Tigers looked on. Jack Riewoldt was at his opportunistic best, and whether on the lead, or sneakily sneaking out the back (I like sneakiness), he looked very dangerous. He kicked the first two goals of the game and it looked like the Tigers were going to put paid to the upstart Demons.

However, we need to credit Simon Goodwin here.

He had a plan, believed in it and had faith in those 23 guys out there to implement, even if things didn’t start the way he wanted them to.

When we look at the influence of Riewoldt, it was that first ten minutes that saw him do his damage. After that, the actions of Adam Tomlinson and the help from the other Melbourne defenders completely took him out of the game. Melbourne has built a solid defence, with bog bodies (May), good readers of the footy (Lever) and fantastic athletes that have never really found their position (Tomlinson) until now.

Goodwin could have panicked and could have started throwing his magnets all over the board like an overexcited Kevin Sheedy in a three-quarter time Grand Final huddle, but he stayed the course, made some small tweaks and watched as things fell into place.

The midfield lifted and started winning the footy. This dried up the quick supply to the forwards, and suddenly, we had a game on our hands. Jayden Hunt got running, Christian Salem started owning the footy, and the pressure, though still there, started to switch and be placed on Richmond.

 

THE MAN

All week, you could hear those from Melbourne defuse the notion of Dusty v Petracca. It was the official club line and they had to adhere to it. Dusty has sat atop the mountain – he has his place in footy history secured,. and in his 250th game, this was not the time to start discussing the chances of someone knocking him off his throne.

But if you’re a footy fan, my guess is that you thought about the prospect of the King and the heir apparent, didn’t you? You at least wondered whether Petracca would stand up under the intense Tiger pressure. You wondered whether Martin would pull a game out of the box and prove that he was the best player in the game once again, right?

As much as the club didn’t want to acknowledge the potential Dusty v Petracca clash, every footy fan that loves the game did, and if you’re a Dees supporter, you’d be pretty excited with what you saw.

The first quarter saw the two come together a couple of times, with Petracca clearly the aggressor. He cannoned into Martin early in the contest at half forward, and a few minutes later, tackled Martin over the line, after handballing the ball to him… interesting tactic there, Mr Petracca.

But they were not directly opposed to one another. Petracca and Dusty ran their own race, with Martin seemingly struggling to get involved early.

By half time, Petracca had amassed 19 touches to be amongst the best on the park. Dusty had just six possessions and no impact.

There is no argument about who was better in this one – Petracca was a monster. His 38 touches and a goal were a decisive part of the Melbourne victory, whilst Dusty was ruled out of the game in the third quarter with a concussion after a rather innocuous-looking clash of heads with Jack Viney in a moment that has ramifications for more than just this game.

The one thing that stood out in Petracca’s game was not his combative nature or his work at stoppages (both excellent, by the way), but his refusal to be taken off his feet even in the wet conditions. Petracca simply stays in the contest and continues to fight and hustle until he wins. It became more and more apparent that whilst Richmond players were happy to go sliding in to attack the footy, Petracca was well aware that once he went to ground, he was out of the contest. As such, he remained on his feet as often as he could.

And as such again, he was bloody good to watch!

 

THE TWIN TOWERS… PLUS ONE

Do the Dees have the best one-two defensive punch in the game? And if so, is the presence of Adam Tomlinson like the third hand that comes out to slap Lieutenant Frank Drebin as he holds both hands of his girl in The Naked Gun?

 

Cards on the table, I am a huge Steven May fan. I love the way he plays his role and the fact that he was out there 13 days after copping that massive elbow from Tom Hawkins only adds to my admiration for him. He started the game dropping back and playing the role of goalkeeper as the Tigers pushed hard, before having to knuckle down on the dangerous, low-possession/high-impact forward that is Tom Lynch.

Lynch managed to turn May around in some contests early, and looked as though he might be trouble, but May rallied well and Lynch was forced up the ground to collect all but three of his 11 touches outside forward 50.

Ans then there’s Jake Lever. Man… he may be the best intercept player in the game right now. With 17 disposals and 13 intercept possessions, Lever was the key to the Melbourne defence. Both he and May have had the makings of a wonderful duo in defence for the last year and a bit, but we are only now seeing what they can do with the right supports around them.

Lever had an equal game-high four contested marks as he patrolled the Melbourne defensive fifty like a hungry Doberman, waiting to take a bite out of any errant kick that strayed into his yard.

And it was the work of Tomlinson that allowed him the scope to do that.

After some early hiccups, the former Giant found his groove and owned his contest against the dangerous Jack Riewoldt.

I’ve watched Tomlinson for years now, and I never really felt like he’d found a position. He was tried at half back, the wing, half forward and on-ball, but at his size and with his athleticism, I did always wonder whether a key position post was the role he was meant to play. He has an enormous tank, and his ability to stay with a forward on the lead is fantastic. He may lack a little bit of true footy smarts, but given a job to do, as he was in this game, he is highly capable of locking down on a leading forward and shutting him out of the game.

Full disclosure – I thought he would end up an Ivan Drago-looking centre half forward when all was said and done. Pretty pleased that he is, instead, an Ivan Drago-looking full back. He did kill his share of contests with that fist of his.

Too early, Creed family?

I wrote that Jake Lever was the key to the Demon defence, but it was Adam Tomlinson that made it all possible. There will be a few people who’ll pick up the newspaper or look online at some stats the morning after this game and think that Tomlinson did okay. I mean, Riewoldt kicked two goals, right? It’s not like he held him goalless!

But what he did do was take the shaky start and turn it into something incredibly positive. Tomlinson may have finally found his home on the footy field, and it is in the one spot I didn’t think he would,

 

THE RUNNING MAN

One of our Freo-loving writers, Matt Passmore, once told me he wasn’t worried about Ed Langdon leaving his club because the bloke couldn’t kick.

Look, he’s not wrong, and there have been times when Langdon has absolutely butchered the footy the way some of the Channel Seven commentators butcher the English language, but he makes up for that with the kind of gut-running you simply cannot teach.

Ed Langdon runs as hard at the conclusion of a game as he does at the start. Plenty of people talk about the running capacity of Brad Hill or Andrew Gaff – people, cast your eyes on this bloke and watch him go to work. He is a machine!

He will fly under the radar again in this game given some of the other performances we witnessed, but Langdon’s continued efforts to power over the ground in the slippery conditions not only gave the Dees an outlet when they needed one – it also made his opponent work his tail off to keep up with him

Answer me this – how many times did you hear the commentators call Kamdyn McIntosh’s name in this one? He had 14 touches, but the bloke was so frigging exhausted from having to keep up with Langdon, that he went at 43% efficiency for the game. And for the record, Langdon was at 73%.

He owned his wing in this one, and when you can do that against a competitor like McIntosh, you know you’ve had a ripping game.

 

SALEM’S LOT

As the rain tumbled down during the second quarter and things got a little willing, there was one bloke out there that looked like he was playing with a dry footy.

Gathering 14 of his career-high 39 disposals in the second term, Christian Salem had the footy on a string, and as he collected four intercepts and drove the Dees outside 50 four times as well, he was clearly the most influential player on the park as the Dees wrestled control of the game from the Tigers in a quarter that defined the game.

Salem has long been lauded for his fantastic foot skills, but he was everywhere in this one, with 24 of those 38 touches coming via kicks, and his six inside 50 deliveries almost matching his work in the back half, where he notched eight rebound 50s.

It was a great time for Salem to produce his best work, with the Tigers a huge challenge for his team. They say you can judge a player by how he competes against the best – well, against the reigning champs, Christian Salem had the game of his life and really put his stamp on this contest.

 

THE RUCK BATTLE

This is where the Dees should have had a real advantage, and in terms of hit outs to advantage, the Dees did hold a slender edge when it came to clearances. However, around the ground, Toby Nankervis more than held his own playing against Max Gawn, in a performance that deserves some attention.

Gawn did what Gawn does. He dropped into the hole, took punishment early from Tom Lynch and worked at both ends of the ground all day.

But Nank… he was a warrior as well, compiling 19 contested touches from his 20 overall disposals. That is doing it tough! He also muscled his way to eight individual clearances, to Gawn’s one. He did a bit of that work against Luke Jackson, whilst Gawn rested, but Nankervis was very good in this game overall, and would go close to being the best Tiger on the park

 

SIGNS OF LIFE

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Tigers. Not by a long shot.

There were some definite signs there that things are starting to click, and as we have seen over the last couple of years, it is not how Richmond start the year, but how they finish that matters.

Shai Bolton played a very solid game, contested well in the air and looking dangerous.

I liked the combative work of Marlion Pickett. His attack on Charlie Spargo to knock the footy loose, when it looked as though Spargo would simply run onto it and kick the goal in the third quarter, was huge. Of course, Luke Jackson kicked the goal, anyway…

Liam Baker found some form, racking up ten intercepts and working hard for his 27 touches.

And Shane Edwards looked dangerous in patches as well.

This was by no means a capitulation by the Tigers. They were beaten by a better side on the night, but there were signs that once things start clicking, they’ll be fine. Check back with me about August on this one.

 

THE CARE FACTOR

Now, some people may think I’d put this in the ugly section. Those people… they don’t know me at all, do they?

The altercation that saw Shai Bolton put Clayton Oliver on his backside and resulted in a second shot at goal late in the game to the Dees could be looked at as a real negative… if you wanted to look at it that way.

I mean, the game was over and the Dees were getting a bit chirpy. Kosi Pickett had just slotted a goal thanks to bit of over-exuberant defence, about 70 metres off the ball from Rhyan Mansell and Melbourne were happy to go on with it. However, despite the free kick going to the Dees 35 out from goal, gifting them a shot, I saw a bit in the actions of Bolton that I liked.

He gave a shit.

His team were down, they were getting their backsides handed to them for the last 30-40 minutes of the game, and he did not like it.

In contrast, I watched a couple of other games this weekend – namely th losses of West Coast and GWS, and too many players just didn’t give a yelp. Richmond started yelping.

You can tell that this is a team that is used to winning. Their reaction to a bit of yapping from the Dees reminded me of the Hawks during their 2013-15 run. They’d conditioned themselves not hate losing. They weren’t just going to accept some kid talking down to them. They know they’ll be back, and they’ll keep the receipts.

Yes, it was a great night for the Dees, but this is one of those games you can see the Tigers putting in the vault, cracking it open around September and reminding themselves what happened last time. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and whilst it is fine to let your opponents know all about it when you’re on top, when you’re playing Richmond, you had better make sure you are ready to back things up the next time you play.

They care, and they remember.

 

THE BAD

 

THE AUTOMATIC WEEK

It didn’t look like much, did it?

The back of Jack Viney’s thick head (and I say that with all the respect in the world for his toughness) clipped Dustin Martin on the eyebrow area in a contest and shook him up a little. It seemed like the kind of thing that would usually be shaken off, but when Dusty went up the race and didn’t emerge for a while, it was a bad sign.

Much has been made about how durable he’s been over the journey – perhaps the commentators should have shut up about that, as soon as they mentioned it, it is now looking as though he is going to have to miss next week’s massive clash against the Western Bulldogs…

… and Doggies fans would be extremely disappointed with that outcome, right?

Still, if you’re a lover of footy, and just not a one-eyed nuffie, you want to see the best players out there as often as you can, and Dusty on the sidelines with a marquee clash on the agenda means that in a small way, we’re being robbed of possibly seeing something special.

Plus, he doesn’t get his chance to regain The Mongrel Punt Midfielder Championship.

I know he’d be devastated about that…

 

THE UGLY

 

OH, FOR A SMALL FORWARD…

There are moments in seasons when you look at list management decisions and wonder whether the right call was made.

This game may have provided one of those moments for the Tigers. With a small forward combination of Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna and Jake Aarts, Richmond got bugger all from their smalls in attack.

Aarts was restricted to seven touches, but managed to hit the scoreboard in the third term to restore a little faith. Castagna couldn’t find the ocean if he was standing on the beach in this game. He looked lost, and though his pressure inside fifty was okay, eight touches and no scoreboard impact simply doesn’t cut it. And Daniel Rioli, who seems to serve a penance of a week in the VFL here and there, turned in a performance that Tigers fans are probably a little tired of seeing from him.

With ten touches and two score involvements, Rioli had one of those nothing-games that are becoming all too regular.

The Tigers are a team that waved goodbye to Jack Higgins last off-season, 12 months after allowing Dan Butler to walk. It’s difficult to think that either of those guys would be worse than those occupying their spots inside Richmond’s forward fifty in this one.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WAS THERE A MORE FITTING WAY FOR NATHAN JONES TO CELEBRATE GAME 300?

Maybe if he had slotted a goal on that final play of the game.

After all those years and all those losses on the MCG, part of me feared that we’d see him have to trudge off the ground in his 300th, adding to the loss column. He was beaming after the game, and you could not help but to smile along with him. A great servant of the club got a celebration he deserved.

 

ARE WE WATCHING LUKE JACKSON TURN INTO A STAR?

Indeed we are. His recovery after competing in their air is wonderful, and his timing in aerial contests is improving all the time. At 19, Jackson probably shouldn’t be this good already, but with two vital goals, 18 touches and a pair of contested marks, he is making people take notice.

He could be anything!

 

WHO COMES OUT FOR WEIDEMAN AND BROWN?

Right now, no one.

You don’t screw around with a winning formula, and with Tom McDonald playing like he knows he has to perform to keep his place in the team, you have a really nice problem at Melbourne. You have depth.

Perhaps Melksham comes out for Weideman, who can play as a lead up target to the wings? But even then, you lose Melksham’s ability to create (I still think he has it!) and gain something the club is not really lacking. It’ll be interesting to watch who, if anyone, makes way for the marking forwards over the coming weeks, and I reckon it’ll take a loss for Goodwin to shake things up.

 

CAN EITHER OF THESE TEAMS WIN THE FLAG

Yes… either can.

The Dees will need to maintain the rage. They’re basically half way to a finals berth already, but the season is a marathon – not a sprint. This is the same endeavour they will need to bring in September. The baseline has been set, they know what’s expected of them, and it is now up to the team to maintain this level of play.

The Tigers know what lies ahead. They are battle-hardened and will play September footy. Three-peats do not grow on trees, but with the mantle of the best team of the modern era within their grasp, they’ll be in the mix when the number of teams start to dwindle, and the spectre of the Richmond Footy Club will loom large over those in this year’s finals series.

 

 

OTHER BITS

 

Nine tackles to lead all players for Jack Graham – another gutsy performance by him.

Almost 4K words in and I haven’t mentioned one of my favourite players – Clayton Oliver. The conditions in the wet were not conducive to his quick handball game in the second quarter, with a few of his offloads going right though the hands of teammates, but he got better as the game progressed. Really wish he kicked that goal – I reckon he could have even milked another shot at goal with a bit of celebrating.

Very quiet outing for the Tiger captain, but the effort was certainly there. He is now a “moments” player, similar to Joel Selwood. I don’t think it’s fair to expect him to have 30 each week, and as time goes on, weeks where he has 11 will be as common as weeks where he has 25.

I just saw Bachar Houli listed in Richmond’s best… geez, we must have watched a different game. I thought Bachar looked a little tentative and slow in this one. Not sure he has found the rhythm of the game again since he made his way back into the side. I think it’ll come, and once Nick Vlastuin gets back, things will settle in the defensive half.

They really could have used Vlastuin out there…

Seen some good little moments from James Jordon in this one. Nothing huge, but what he did, he did well. His diving spoil to break up a Jack Graham kick inside 50 at one stage was excellent.

 

As I have mentioned a few times, the Tigers get the Dogs next week in a massive game, whilst the Dees get North Melbourne after they return from WA. It is scheduled for Tassie, but due to yet another Hotel Quarantine screw up, let’s see how it plays out.

Great win by the Dees – they’re for real in 2021.

 

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