As we turned the corner for the last quarter, there was a strong feeling of dejà vu. In Round One, the Tigers had controlled most of the game, only for the Blues to storm back and claim their first win over Richmond in… well, it was a bloody long time.

When Shai Bolton slotted the first goal of the last quarter, the feeling got stronger – he did the same back in Round One right before the Blues’ onslaught started, but on this occasion, despite a few very nervous moments, and a score review that seemed to aid in the momentum switch, Richmond managed to hold on to record a 15-point win.

Some would say the game was marred by a pull-apart at three-quarter time – I would say it enhanced the contest… a bit of harmless biff to angry up the blood set the scene for a frantic last quarter that saw Harry McKay come to life and the Blues mount a challenge.

In the end, it was the Tigers by 15 points, Mrs Mongrel rejoiced as she tipped Richmond and that was also the margin she chose, and Richmond moved back into the top eight, with an eye for another run at the title.

Here are The Mongrel’s Big Questions?

 

WAS THERE REALLY ONLY ONE MOMENT THAT MATTERED?

No, that is a dumb question to start with, and I should be ashamed of myself for asking it. I’ll go sit in the corner…

I’m back.

The score review that called Jack Newnes’ snap shot at goal as touched was a huge moment in the game – not just because it robbed the Blues of a goal – and I use the word robbed figuratively – but because even after the delayed restart to proceedings, the Tigers were able to sweep the footy from end-to-end and finish with a goal to Shane Edwards after Shai Bolton again got the better of Sam Docherty.

What could have been a one-goal game was suddenly back out to the Blues needing to kick three to win it, and despite Carlton demonstrating a lot of guts, you could feel a bit of the air leave the stadium as that occurred.

My concern here is not that the decision was overturned – on the vision I thought it was touched, for the record – but rather how poorly Carlton set up to defend. Richmond were “on” as soon as the behind was signalled. They were certain it was going to be called, and they managed to find a Carlton team unprepared to stop them.

The Blues allowed an easy defensive fifty exit and for some unknown reason, permitted Doc to be caught in a one-on-one against Bolton at ground level. Doc is a star and a wonderful reader of the footy, but that was like taking a beautiful labrador and forcing it to try to keep up with a greyhound.

We could all see what was coming next.

When the Blues get to their review session, there will likely be a number of players dreading having to watch the down-the-ground footage of that play. The running support, the mids folding back, and the half-backs getting back to be the deepest defenders and prevent the charge were simply caught sleeping, and not to be hyperbolic, but it may have cost the team the game, or at least made it a lot damn harder to win it.

 

SHAI BOLTON – HERO OR VILLAIN?

So, to open the fourth quarter, and following the angst that saw a series of pull-aparts to end the third quarter, Shai Bolton went early with the celebrations, turning to the trailing Sam Docherty, showing him the footy, and sticking his tongue out before slamming the footy home for a goal.

You either love this stuff or you hate it.

It was clear that the Blues fans hated it, as evidenced by the loud boos as it was replayed at the ground. The commentary team also hated it, and they let you all know that Damian Hardwick would have chased Bolton down and belted him had the young Tiger tried anything like that on him, but here’s a thought.

What if that is EXACTLY what Bolton wanted from that passage of play?

What if he turned to Doc (everyone loves Doc, right), acted like a jackass, kicked the goal anyway, and then Doc flattened him? The net result would be that Bolton would have received another shot at goal and made it a 12-point play, so I completely understand him attempting to bait the former Carlton skipper into lashing out.

Docherty is a pro, and he did not take the bait, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth a shot.

Many will gloss over this possibility when they report on the action. They will see it as arrogance, as disrespectful, or – heaven forbid – someone having a bit of flair about them… you know, the kind of thing that puts backsides on seats?

Sure, Bolton’s actions could be considered cocky, but when you have the skill to back things up and are happy to take the ensuing pressure of acting like that, I say more power to him. Had it been anyone else chasing him, we may have been discussing how smart he was to bait the opposition into such a stupid mistake.

I guess you never know til you try…

 

AND A BIT MORE ON BOLTON

Moments like this in a game tend to divide AFL supporters. As written above, you either love it or hate it, but supporters as a collective seem to be at war with themselves when a player does something that is out of the realms of what they deem normalcy.

On one hand, you have a sector of the AFL public lamenting that players are like robots, unable to show emotion, unable to be who they are and show they have a personality.

And then, when they do, people jump all over them like they’re your parents’ bed.

I’m not sure we get to have things both ways.

Bolton is a brilliant, if at times undisciplined player. His positives far outweigh any negatives to his game, but there are still negatives. He does lack for self-control at times, as evidenced by consecutive weeks where he failed to give the footy back to his opponent, costing the Tigers 50 metres on both occasions. He is a competitor, and you can tell that there is a little of the US-style swagger about his game. He loves the spotlight – relishes big moments, and when he delivers in those moments… or is about to deliver, I guess, he soaks it all in and makes sure all eyes are on him.

Is that not what we want to see from a superstar of the game? And Bolton is fast becoming a superstar, have no doubt.

Do we want the humble champion, he strolls in, kicks the goal, high-fives a few teammates, and jogs back to his position? Or do we want superstars to act like superstars and invite the attention, the love, and yes, the criticism?

For me, after hearing years upon year of players trot out cliches in interviews after receiving the “proper” media training, it is somewhat refreshing to see a player take on the responsibility of being the focal point and loving every second of it.

You may not like what Bolton did before he kicked the goal. You may have booed if you were at the game, or sneered at the TV if you were at home, but I can guarantee you that any little kid watching that game saw their new favourite player back himself, invite the heat, and stand up when it mattered.

That’s the type of stuff that will draw people to the game whilst the rules and interpretations continue to drive others away.

Shai on, you crazy diamond.

 

WILL CARLTON HAVE ANY KEY DEFENDERS LEFT SOON?

The recruitment of Sam Durdin should have been a feel-good story this weekend. Coming into the side after being picked up in the mid-season draft, the former Kangaroo was ushered immediately into the side to cover the depleted tall stocks in the Blues’ defence.

And now, he joins those depleted stocks on the sidelines, subbed out of the game with a knee injury.

For context, we often talk about the “back six” and those who play the roles. Well, since last season, the Blues have lost the following.

Liam Jones – Retired

Jacob Weitering – Injured

Zac Williams – Injured

Mitch McGovern – Injured

Oscar McDonald – Injured

Caleb Marchbank – Always injured

Luke Parks – Injured

David Cuningham – Injured

That’s eight players on the sidelines – pretty difficult to have a back six with eight of the blokes on the sidelines, huh?

It’s quite amazing that the Blues have been able to keep things together thus far. In this one, some incredible courage (as if you’d expect anything else) from Sam Docherty,  and some nice intercept work from Jordan Boyd almost wallpapered over a fumbly and clumsy effort from the defence, but couldn’t quite manage it.

In the end, it was often more Richmond’s poor delivery that saved the likes of Lewis Young and Adam Saad than it was their own ability. Young, in particular, had a bad case of the butterfingers, which is great if you’re in the kitchen, but not so good when you’re in the middle of the MCG. Still, he managed to kill his share of contests…

How many, you ask?

Oh, just the lazy 22. Yep, 22 one-percenters from Young in this one. That is rare air, people – only one man has ever accumulated more in a game – Harris Andrews.

Young now sits alongside him and Dougal Howard as the only players that have ever had 22+ one-percenters in a game.

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS DION PRESTIA TO THE TIGERS?

He is the engine room. He is the spark that lights the flame for this Tigers outfit, and when the ball is on the deck, his clean hands – in wet or dry conditions – make life easier for those around him.

Prestia started fast in this one and was one of the architects of the Tigers’ jumping the Blues to establish their game-winning lead. If there was a loose ball to be won, it seemed as though it was either going to be in the hands of Prestia, or Sam Walsh in the first quarter. Whilst Walsh ruled the outside, his hard run and repeat efforts seeing him blow past more opponents than the Tigers would like to admit, Prestia was in the clinches, seven contested touches evidence that when the hard ball was there to be collected, Prestia was unafraid to get his hands dirty.

He finished the game with 19 contested touches and 13 clearances in another stellar performance.

So, I have to ask this – is he the most important mid the Tigers have?

I’d say so. Sure, some can have a big impact in patches – Dusty and Bolton can light things up for periods – but Prestia is the constant. His health is paramount to the Tigers’ success this season. If he hits September with a good body of work behind him and no injuries threatening to derail his September, his work to feed teammates in space will cause a great number of headaches for whoever is unlucky enough to draw the Tigers in week one.

 

SHOULD WE START A NEW STAT TO ASSESS THE IMPACT OF LIAM BAKER?

I know we keep one-percenters, which gives you an indication as to how many little things a player does in a game – spoils, shepherds, knock-ons, and so forth. But does it really do justice to what Liam Baker does for the Tigers?

Can we sit there are watch Robbie Tarrant, for example, come in over the top and killing a contest (a one-percenter) when the forward is hopelessly out of position and has no chance of winning the footy, anyway (Hello to Harry McKay for the entire first half) and compare that to some of the desperately brilliant acts of Baker?

His smothers, his shepherds, his little bumps as a player disposes of the footy, and his running back with the flight to break up what would normally be an easy mark for the opposition – they are not one-percenters. They are so much more. They’re more like 100-percenters, as that is how much of himself he is giving on those occasions.

If we had something like Meaningful One-Percenters – we could call them MOPs… I don’t really give a shit what they’re called – I reckon Baker would lead the league. Sting could write a soppy song about him, because every little thing Baker does in a game of footy is magic.

Alas, the stats say that Baker had three one-percenters for the game. I know I am asking a question in an article that is supposed to be answering questions, but what in the hell are these statisticians watching? Do they not see what he does at ground level? Do they not see his second and third efforts to pressure an opponent and cause a turnover? Did they not see him scamper back to centre half-back to fly with the flight and spoil a much bigger man in the last quarter?

Maybe not, and I am sure to many, the 27 touches and six intercepts are the stats that matter.

Not to me, though.

What Baker brings to this team is something other clubs would kill for. He brings heart, he brings soul, he brings aggression, commitment, and relentlessness. You cannot teach them – players either have them or they don’t, and they can be summed up with one word – mongrel.

Liam Baker has as much, or more mongrel in him than any other player in the competition, and whilst others may laud the steps he has taken in terms of getting his hands on the footy, I hope that you, after reading this, start to appreciate the little things he does as much as I do.

Assuming you don’t, already? I have faith in you guys.

 

WHO WON THE GRIMES V CURNOW WAR?

If you asked me this at halftime, I would have asked for the mercy rule.

Dylan Grimes was murdering Charlie Curnow out there, using a combination of strength, intelligent reading of the play, and some of the best closing speed in the game to keep the Coleman leader to just one touch as the Tigers asserted their authority.

Some may argue that Grimes was aided by the wet weather and I don’t discount that at all, however, up the other end, we had Tom Lynch with eight touches and three goals to halftime, so what was the reason for that?

Tom Lynch wasn’t playing on Dylan Grimes, I guess.

After halftime, it seemed as though the Blues were able to move the footy a little more freely and, as a result, Curnow was able to catch Grimes out of position a couple of times. Sadly, he could not convert enough, finishing with 1.2 for the game and in the process, handed Grimes the win in this encounter.

Amazingly, the scenario was not too different from the McKay v Tarrant clash, with the former Roo all over Harry in the early part of the game. After three quarters, McKay had just four touches and one goal, but as the third quarter ended, McKay seemed to spring to life.

 

WILL WE EVER SEE HARRY MCKAY HAVE A DOMINANT FOUR-QUARTER GAME?

I really don’t know – he seems to have big quarters quite often and then, for the remainder of the game, he becomes this lumbering behemoth that mistimes his run at the footy and allows the defenders to crash in over the top of him.

That five-minute period in the last quarter, it appeared as though McKay was ready to drag his team across the line. He was pushing off a fatigued Tarrant too easily, and Hardwick appeared very reluctant to move Dylan Grimes onto him after doing such a great job for the majority of the game. The help was not arriving quickly enough and McKay started walking very tall, confident that he was The Man in this game at that point.

McKay simply ran Tarrant off his feet in the last quarter, and you can see on a couple of occasions that Tarrant realised he was beaten and gave up on the chase or the lead.

If there does come a day that McKay puts it all together for four quarters, we could be looking at a 12-14 goal game. That is how dominant he is when he is up and about, but I wonder what it is that is holding him back?

Once he works it out, there could be carnage.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CARLTON SMALLS?

They were a non-factor in conditions that should have suited them perfectly. Let’s run down the list.

Figuratively, I mean – don’t commit vehicular homicide… you’ll miss the rest of the season.

COREY DURDIN – Couldn’t get near it inside 50 and was forced to search for touches further afield. Did not find the footy at the fall of the ball and could not remain involved in the game – one goal for the evening.

MATT OWIES – Owies, indeed. Just one touch inside 50 for the whole game. Often caught behind and lacked intensity in his chasing. Six touches, with just three of them effective and no scoreboard impact.

JACK MARTIN – I’m gonna come out and say it – he was the worst of the lot. Plays like a complete seagull and when you consider his vast talent, I don’t know what the Blues can do with him. How many times can you plant your foot in someone’s backside? I reckon Voss will be asking himself that question in the long run when it comes to Jack. Eight touches and a goal on a night made for him to rise.

So, between these three jabronis, we had a total of 11 score involvements for the game.

Shai Bolton had nine by himself.

I’m not expecting any of these blokes to match what Bolton does, but when you have three players stationed inside forward 50, they should be able to combine for more than that.

 

SO TOM LYNCH IS DIRTY AGAIN, HUH?

I had to laugh when I read a few comments from Carlton supporters claiming he should be suspended for poking Adam Saad in the eye. Do these people think that was intentional? Who is this bloke – Rowdy Roddy Piper? I used to love it when Hot Rod did it, but he bloody meant it.

Lynch did not.

Look, Lynch does, and has walked a very fine line at times throughout his career. He likes to niggle and be physical. He’d make an annoying partner, I reckon… except for the dirty part, right ladies? Eh? Eh?!?!

Aaaanyway, if you think he meant to poke Saad in the eye, you’re a massive nuffie. Wake up.

 

THAT STAT THAT MATTERS

On a wet evening, the Blues consistently overused handball.

That’s a pretty simple statement to make because I am not factoring in the circumstances, or their intent. Carlton wanted to employ a running game to break through the Richmond defensive set up. Across the board, they’re probably a faster team than the Tigers, and I reckon Michael Voss thought he had a good shot at steamrolling through the guts with a wave of navy blue.

But the weather had a bit to say about that style of game, and the Tigers seemed to be aware of what the Blues were attempting. Every time Carlton switched back into the guts, Tigers appeared from everywhere. They were like annoying co-workers when you say you might go to the pub for a quiet one after work. Suddenly, and without warning, they emerged to ruin your good time.

The Tigers were +11 in tackles in this one and more importantly, made their tackles matter. There were 12 holding the ball free kicks paid in this game – nine of them were to Richmond. They attacked the bodies of the Blues and closed down the corridor, but just as impressively, they made big plays inside their attacking fifty, as well.

It was Jack Riewoldt doing the hardest yards down there, locking in five tackles for the game – three of them yielded holding the ball wins for the Tigers. It was great to see the old Tiger digging those claws in and refusing to allow easy passage on the rebound, and it was a tone that the team embraced and emulated.

 

HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SING THE PRAISES OF NICK VLASTUIN?

Anyone who listened to our podcast back in the days when myself and the missus had extra time would be aware that I cannot accurately pronounce his name properly, no matter how many times I hear it or have it sounded out to me – it’s like one of those words you write down and it just looks wrong, and no matter what you do, it never, ever seems right.

That’s me trying to pronounce Vlastuin… where does the F come into it?!?!

Anyway, the podcast days are over… for now. A three-month-old does that to your time, but it does not stop me from singing Nick’s praises here.

In the AFL currently, we have a standout selection of half-backs that will make selecting the AA team a nightmare. From where I sit, both Tom Stewart and James Sicily are in the box seat to grab places, with Jack Sinclair looking likely at this stage, as well. However, this bloke from Richmond… I once called him the Red Menace of Punt Road, just continues to churn out high-quality outings on a regular basis. .

Missing the first month of footy probably stamped his ticket this year as someone that would not be considered, but here we have this incredible defender who continues to place himself in the right spots every single week.

He is now averaging 22.3 touches per game and 9.4 intercepts as he reads the play so damn well that he makes his opponent (often leading to the dumbest spot on the park and rightly ignored) look inept.

Here is a bloke at 28 years of age who has never been an All-Australian, never won a best and fairest, but would have to be one of the most respected defenders in the caper because he goes out there week after week and just…

GETS.

THE.

JOB

DONE!

I’ve yet to meet someone who does not respect the game of Nick Vlastuin. He is what my dad would have called a footballer’s footballer and even if he retires in three or four years without that AA blazer, and without a Jack Dyer Medal around his neck, rest assured that he will be remembered as a great of this club, because as far as defenders in the modern game go, he is about as good as it gets.

 

ONE LAST SHOUT OUT

Just a quickie to finish off… how many times have you heard that in life?

Marlion Pickett was outstanding in the first half. I mentioned the influence of Prestia and how he was one of the architects of the Tigers’ early onslaught – well, Marlion had his protractor out as well and was working the angles beautifully on the wing.

13 touches and a goal to halftime en route to 20 for the game… he was really important.

 

And on that note, I am off.

The Tigers get to test themselves against the Cats next week at the ‘G. Wanna know something funny… its’ a Geelong home game! Haha, they’re gonna hate that.

Meanwhile, the Blues will be praying that someone tall gets themselves right before they take on the Dockers at Marvel in what should be a belter.

As always, massive thanks to our members for the support. If you enjoy this review and want more of it, please consider becoming a member to support the work – we try to give you more than what the Herald Sun or Age trot out every week… the same old shit, and we do it while rebuking gambling companies and the dollars they offer.

If you want change, be the change. Cheers.

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