In the game of the season, Richmond hit the road to play Geelong away at the MCG (what’s a home ground advantage?) In a game with see-sawing momentum, Geelong burst out of the blocks, the Tigers fought back to get in front late, just for the Cats to showcase their premiership aspirations by getting in front at the death in Jeremy Cameron’s 200th game.
There was plenty to unpack in this one, so let’s get started.
Both sides threw a few magnets around the board, with young tiger Josh Gibcus starting forward and Geelong playing the returning Jack Henry in attack, with Mark O’Connor in defence. Both teams were wasteful going forward to congestion. Richmond were able to shred the Cats by run and carry handball, whereas Geelong used a short kicking game after forcing intercepts. As the pressure lifted, Richmond employed the more effective structure, but Geelong were able to land the killing blow. Both teams were pretty evenly matched with the main statistical numbers, with the only real outliers being a +33 contested possession edge to the Cats and Richmond taking 14 bounces to the five from Geelong, demonstrating the edge in space Richmond were able to create with their overlap run.
A Coming Of Age
Up until halftime I had Sam De Koning as clear best on ground. He fought head and shin with star Tiger, Tom Lynch, and he was able to recover on the odd occasion he was out-positioned as he always kept a clear eye on the ball and did not get caught out by “faceguarding” his opponent. It’s a common trend especially with young defenders, as they take front spot and look back, becoming very reactive to their opponent’s movements. This can set them up as victims for fakes and feint leads. De Koning, however, was more focused on the ball and attacked it when he deemed time to do so.
Battling with Lynch tired the young Cat going into the second half, as Lynch was instrumental in the Richmond fightback. The likely Coleman medal favourite took four of his five contested marks after halftime and kicked 2.1- finishing with 12 disposals, six marks, 3.1 and five contested marks for the match. De Koning had a few vital possessions when Richmond were trying to land the kill-shot in the last quarter, and took the points in this matchup by accumulating 15 disposals, three marks (two contested) five 1%ers and five defensive 50 rebounds.
The Best and The Worst
From the halftime best on ground to De Koning, to the full-time best on ground in Tom Stewart- we saw everything that makes him arguably the best defender in the AFL, as well as a very unsavoury incident that is sure to earn him some sideline time. I know Tigers supporters won’t want to hear this – and I don’t blame you, but number 44 was tremendous in this game. Accumulating 29 disposals with a whopping 17 intercepts, 13 contested possessions, nine rebound 50’s, almost 750m gained and six marks, he was a major reason Geelong escaped with the four points. He also managed to provide a bit of a roadblock in regard to Lynch and Riewoldt getting clean football inside 50.
In relation to the hit on Prestia, he chose to bump as Prestia went airborne to hit a bouncing ball away, collecting “Meatball” high, and leaving him seeing stars. While I do not believe Stewart attacked the situation with the plan of wiping out Prestia, the fact is that he is in serious trouble, as he chose to bump and got him high. With the classification likely being “high contact” and (at minimum) “high impact” he would be staring down the barrel of a two-week ban before they even consider intent.
Tigers fans likely will be seething, however, Stewart will end up with a fair whack- three weeks would be my guess.
A Captain’s Knock
Toby Nankervis was outstanding in this contest, attempting to drag his team across the finish line. He absolutely monstered Rhys Stanley in the middle and around the ground – winning the hitouts 25-18 but also added 22 disposals, four marks, five tackles and seven intercepts. In the last quarter, in particular, he held the backline together, taking four intercept marks inside the Geelong forward 50. As Nank lifted so did his troops at ground level, keeping them in the fight for the whole contest. The ruck position, as usual, seems to be a very suspect area for the Cats, as they simply cannot rely on consistent and sustained production, and it could ultimately be the reason they come up short challenging the other elite.
The Midfield Battle
I won’t bore you with match ups, as there was so much space created around the ground, it was impossible to follow. What I will say first off, was that nobody capitalised more from the injury to Prestia than Liam Baker. After sitting at half back for the first quarter and a bit, Baker was injected into the midfield and it paid immediate dividends, as “The best tryer in the AFL”- thanks Garry Lyon – was unstoppable around the clinches, normally the catalyst in creating the overlap run, with his tackle evasion and clean hands. He combined brilliantly with Jack Ross to tear the Cats up through the middle, as they struggled to match the gut running of the Tigers. The pair combined for 49 disposals and 13 clearances- giving Richmond an outstanding view of a potential 1-2 punch for the future.
For Geelong, their regular midfield group seemed to bob up at the right place at the right time, however, they were led by an unlikely source. The strength around the ball of Tom Atkins really set the tempo for what they wanted to do, and provided a bit more grunt around the ball with the absence of Patrick Dangerfield. Atkins had a game-high eight clearances, 21 disposals, six intercepts and four inside 50’s . Cam Guthrie collected 28 touches, but was not as effective offensively as he instead looked to get on the defensive side of play first and foremost- choosing the team option rather than all-out attack. Joel Selwood really struggled when the game opened up, collecting only four handballs after halftime, unable to really have an impact when his team needed it the most.
The two tactical moves in this game that withstood the full contest were two massive head scratchers. First off- I have no idea what Chris Scott was thinking with Mark O’Connor at half-back on Shai Bolton..
Bolton was an absolute menace, booting 3.2 from 14 disposals, while O’Connor (in clear comparison to Bolton) moved like an inanimate carbon rod. Nothing against O’Connor, but this tactical choice was one that almost cost Geelong the game. Chris Scott has often shown somewhat of an arrogance to pull the pin on an idea that has failed, however that arrogance also saved his skin.
With Sam De Koning fatiguing late in the game, Scott had Jack Henry sitting at half-forward but refused to put him behind the ball to aid his under-fire defence, and the move could be classed as a win, with Henry booting his second goal in the dying minutes, winning the game for the Cats. It was strange, however, that he refused to move the magnet around and deploy Henry once Richmond decided to free up Dylan Grimes as a plus-one defender during the contest.
In short, this was a gamble that paid off, but it very easily could have been the non-move that cost them the game. Winners are grinners, though, and sometimes stubbornness pays off.
The choice of Soldo as the sub was equally interesting, considering the Cats’ weakness in the ruck.
Perhaps the thought process was that Soldo could be a dominant force against a fatiguing ruck unit in the late stages and fire up the midfield unit. The lack of run provided by the “medical sub” though ultimately was a factor later in the game, as, although Ivan Soldo brings a certain skillset to the game, he is still Ivan Soldo- and it is clear with his midair volley attempt in the goalsquare, I’d expect him to be an avid watcher of the Socceroos chances in Qatar. For those that have not seen it, I suggest avoiding foods for an hour prior to watching that video, as you will lose your lunch…
Kickett To Pickett
Every team needs a player like Marlion Pickett in their side. He is one of the players in this game where the numbers on the stat sheet tend to drag down his game, and I urge you to never make an assumption about his game based on statistics. After conceding the first goal to Mark Blicavs in the opening minute, Pickett was a defensive force around the ground, causing several deflections and laying body on any Cat that dared to cross his path.
As the Tigers were pushing in the third quarter he transformed into a one man wall as the defensive zone was deployed, locking the ball inside 50. Pickett took three straight intercept marks, launching the ball back in, leading to two more scoring shots for his side, and although unable to convert truly, it was a glimpse in his instincts that often get lost amongst the action. Not that this matters to a younger generation of fan, but one of the other weapons he has is that he can go either way with disposal either by hand or foot. It’s such a devastating set of skills to have, especially combined with his evasion and physicality. I can only imagine what type of light he would be talked about had he arrived in the AFL as an 18-year-old. 16 disposals, seven intercepts, six marks, five score involvements and five inside 50’s for the tough wing in this game.
The Milestone Man
I’m not sure what the thought process was for putting the 200 gamer in the guts for crucial stages of this game (including after the Henry goal to get the lead back) but Jezza was great in this game early. As the aforementioned Jack Henry took up a position inside 50, Cameron showcased his tank – not seen often since his GWS days, moving around the park- as far as half back to provide a link option. His laser left foot was on display as well, kicking 3.1 from his 16 touches. Nine of his disposals were from the defensive half of the ground, but as weird as it looked, he made it work. With Tom Hawkins being a complete non-factor, Cameron did just enough to win his milestone match.
Dustin Martin looks set to stay as a half-forward, as his trademark explosiveness is returning – I feel he is at maximum damage around goals, the only issue being whether he can contribute with Bolton down there as well. He kicked a brilliant goal from the boundary line, however also looked a step off the pace, getting caught a few times trying to break tackles.
Tyson Stengle put in an absolute gem once again and was the best forward on the park in this game, bar none. The Cats look so much more dangerous with Miers, Stengle and Close as their three smalls in this side. No disrespect to Gary Rohan and Shaun Higgins, but I believe the baton has been passed. The defensive pressure of Miers is a massive catalyst, and it will be the thing that dictates if he stays in this side or gets overlooked at the business end.
It was mentioned that Gibcus has shown a few handy signs as a swingman, however, I would have let him warm up to the game first in his natural position in defence, as it’s very hard to have to swing back once the tempo of the game has lifted and the opposition forwards are switched on and ready.
Daniel Rioli lifted late in the game, but just was not accountable with Stengle in particular. It will be a massive learning curve for him and I hope he can find that balance between attack and accountability, as he will become a whipping boy in no time if he keeps leaking goals to the opposition in favour of hunting the ball. In the Richmond of old, they likely would have rolled cover, but the Cats’ counterattack was quick and swift. He was one of Richmond’s best with ball in hand, but, unfortunately, got caught out on the counter. He was not the only one.
Glad to see the footy gods make an appearance in this game, just prior to Maurice Rioli Jr’s goal Geelong were let off the hook with a blatant rushed behind going unwhistled, just for the Cats kick-out to be turned over, and Richmond converting. We also saw off-ball free kicks paid against Riewoldt and Hawkins – who frankly, do that week in week out, and those getting let go can swing results and momentum in games. I hope that’s a sign of things to come, as the rules seem skewed towards aiding the forwards.
Outstanding game from Dylan Grimes on Tom Hawkins; used his body to maximum effect, but also credit must be given to the Richmond unit as a whole, as they often covered the front spacing inside 30m- normally where Hawkins thrives.
I loved the intent Richmond came out with after QT, but they did shoot themselves in the foot with an overzealous attack on the man – anybody questioning the free kick count, look no further than this fact… If the Tigers keep their physicality within the rules I do believe they will cause some damage against any opponent, it just depends whether they can call on it themselves, or it takes an unsavoury act to fire them up.
Not sure about you guys, but I reckon we may hear some chatter about the “card” system in the AFL in the next little while. There are arguments on both sides, but had the hit from Stewart on Prestia been penalised with a red card, it may have had a huge impact on this game. As it stands, the fact we don’t have that system had a big impact anyway, with Richmond losing a prime mover and the Cats seeing Tom Stewart once again as one of their best.
No matter which way the debate goes, if there is a debate at all, you cannot apply things retroactively, so the Cats got away with one in this game.