With injuries impacting both teams and forcing them to compensate, this game was always going to be about who had the numbers to stand up when it mattered.
The Tigers were missing Tom Lynch, Toby Nankervis, Jayden Short, and Jack Graham, whilst the Swans lost the McCartin Brothers, Dane Rampe, and Lance Franklin.
However, the injury crisis at both clubs paved the way for youngsters to strut their stuff, and for the Swans, it allowed two players to make their debuts.
Sydney started fast, but at the first break, the margin was just 14 points and it felt like the Swans had not got bang for their buck.
The game changed abruptly in the second quarter, when Joel Amartey, who had been the dominant forward on the ground in the opening stanza, pinged a hamstring, leading to a reshuffle and a period of… well, pretty ordinary footy from both teams, if we’re being honest. The ball lived between the arcs with neither team able to find a forward in good nick, so it seemed like a bit of pressure circle work for a while.
The game settled back into the swing in the third, with the Tigers mounting their challenge. It was a challenge that was met and overcome by Mr Tom Papley. More on him later.
In the end, the Swans were too strong, able to pull away from an undisciplined Richmond late in the game to win by 44 points.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly.
THE DIFFERENCE MAKER
Before the celebrating, the multiple goals, and the cheerleading from the commentators, it was pretty clear that Tom Papley was the standout performer on the ground. How the hell did he manage to make it look as though he was playing with a completely dry footy, and everyone else looked like they were trying to handle a cake of soap? It was still dry for everyone at that point!
After a modest first quarter, Papley’s clean hands and ability to hit the contest at full speed had the Tigers looking slow In comparison. Reading the hit outs from both Peter Ladhams and the Richmond pair of Ryan and Miller, Papley was able to create fast ball movement as he won the footy for himself at breakneck speed and set up others with nice delivery by both hand and foot.
And then, of course, came the second half torrent of goals.
Whether he was out the back or beating his direct opponent in a one-on-one clash, Papley was supreme in this game. 21 of his 25 disposals were kicks, he kicked four of his six goals in the last quarter, and he had two direct goal assists as part of his 13 score involvements.
Pretty impressive numbers, but they really don’t tell the complete story. The complete story is even better.
You see, Richmond, to their credit, fought through their shortcomings to have a real crack in the third quarter, however, every time they looked like they were going to make a concerted run to take the lead, Tom Papley stood up, stepped into their path and said “sorry boys… not today”.
Whilst many will make a lot of his four-goal last quarter, it was his efforts in the third that impressed me most. Whether hitting a stoppage hard, making perfect position as a front-and-centre player, or ducking an weaving out of trouble, Papley was a complete beast. He had eight touches and two goals in the third, as he put his Swans on his back, refusing to allow them to capitulate to the swarming Tigers.
Papley seemed to make the most of every opportunity afforded him. His efforts were rarely futile, with the Swans recognising he was hot, they continued to feed him as much footy as possible to keep him that way.
On the record, there has not been a better small forward game this season. As a matter of fact, I defy you to tell me there has been a more complete overall game than what we witnessed from Papley in this one. He was a star shining so bright, it made the others look dull.
THE LIZARD KING
How do you follow that glowing praise?
Well, you head to the other end f the ground and take a look at the way Nick Blakey played his role in defence. That’s how.
Even if you deduct the seven kick-in play-on efforts from Blakey’s game, his poise and decision-making from full-back were pretty spectacular. He had 13 intercepts in this game, as he refused to be drawn into any physical contests, opting to use his own strengths, as opposed to falling into testing the strengths of his opponents. Blakey always seemed to give himself enough room to have a running start at aerial contests, and with eight one-percenters and seven rebound 50 disposals, he played close to a perfect game in defence.
With the Swans losing so many pieces of their defence, Blakey’s willingness to switch roles and play as a deeper defender – and do it bloody well – enabled his team to be a little more trusting that even with the big boys on the sidelines, things were going to be fine inside defensive fifty.
I always thought there’d be a time that Blakey was shifted back to half-forward. I know he struggled there as a younger man, but I had the feeling that he could have been a wonderful forward. However, the more I watch him in defence, the more I hope he is never shifted back to attack again. His run, carry, and talent when it comes to changing up his kick at the last moment to hit a better target make him a potent weapon in John Longmire’s arsenal.
I will not stop espousing the greatness of Liam Baker – he is an angry little ball of footballing greatness rolled over and over until he becomes a compounded mass of football energy waiting to explode.
Leading the game in disposals (35), Baker was once again one of the Tigers’ absolute best. His attack on the footy, his willingness to put his head over it and wear a lump or two, and his ferocity when it comes to driving the Tigers forward were unparalleled in this game.
And in terms of the Tigers, I am not sure that’s a great thing. He needs a lot more help but too many are looking like players who are content with the success the Tigers had, and are just plodding along, now.
Baker should be the leader in the Jack Dyer Medal at this stage of the season. He has barely put a foot wrong, and even when he does, he goes back to help clean up his mess and make things right. The consummate team man, Baker has morphed into both a defender and a playmaker for Richmond, and the club would be better off in 2023 if a few of the younger players adopted Baker’s example of how to go about his footy as their own.
He won’t die wondering, will he?
The Chad loves to get in range of the big sticks, and he was on the cusp of having a pretty big game in this.
But for inaccuracy, of course. That damn accuracy!
Warner had 1.3 for the game but was more pumped with his younger brother, Corey slotting his first goal in red and white.
The thing I love best about The Chad is that his first instinct is not to go backwards or sideways. It’s as though he has a drive to receive, or win the ball, and go as straight as possible in the direction toward goal. I am not saying he does it every time – he listens to teammates when they call for the footy, but there is no doubt that Warner wants to go long and direct every time he gets his hands on the ball.
With 26 touches and seven clearances, Warner was once again right up the top end of the Swans’ best players. He continues to improve and is going to be a handful in a couple of years, considering he is still just 21.
You had to feel for Joel Amartey.
Relegated to the role of defender last week as a result of the McCartin Brothers both suffering head knocks, this looked like his chance to cement his place in the team as a key forward. Pairing with Logan McDonald, and with Lance Franklin sitting on the sidelines, Amartey was the number one target inside 50 for the Swans…
… and it did not take him long to get involved.
Amartey kicked the first goal of the game inside a minute, after taking a strong contested grab, getting rid of Noah Balta way too easily in the process. He continued that form for the remainder of the first quarter, finishing with two contested marks, two goals, and three score involvements.
All was looking like it could lead to a big day out for the emerging forward when he turned to run back inside 50 and immediately clutched at his leg. The dreaded torn hamstring.
It was interesting to see Errol Gulden going over to console Amartey on the bench a few minutes later. Gulden evidently understood just what this opportunity represented to Amartey. With Franklin out, this forward line was his for the taking in this game, and he’d made the close-to-perfect start, only for his body to betray him.
Irrespective of how the remainder of 2023 plays out, the Swans know they have a viable forward option at their disposal in Amartey. He is obviously taking his position in the team seriously and was shaken by the fact he’ll be missing time. My hope is that he does the rehab, gets back in short order and starts to make Sydney make some tough decisions about which players are the first-choice forwards in this team going forward. We all love Buddy, and he deserves the adulation he receives, but this may be Amartey’s time.
He was just robbed of laying claim to it.
For now, at least.
DID SOMEONE CUT HIS HAIR?
Some of the big blokes didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory during this game.
Peter Ladhams forgot how to execute a ruck tap in the fourth quarter, grabbing and throwing the ball like a cheating volleyball player (I did that several times when I played the sport as a younger man… Jesse Ventura always said “win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat” – I took that advice to heart.)
However, none made the type of big man blues that Samson Ryan did in this game. His dropped mark in defensive fifty led directly to Tom Papley slotting his fourth goal and he struggled to hold marks for the entire game. With the Tigers desperate for someone to stand up and take some big grabs, Ryan did the opposite, and the result was that Sydney played knowing that Richmond had bugger all aerial weapons to concern themselves with.
Some may be a little pissed that Ryan has made it into this section, perhaps citing that he is just a kid?
I get that. He is 22, and I am not sure the King Brothers, or Aaron Naughton go that same grace a year or two ago from fans.
Ryan needs t hit the gym, build some strength and get himself into the type of shape that will mean he is not easily nudged off a contest, causing him to fumble his marks.
NOAH BALTA’S GAME AWARENESS, OR LACK THEREOF.
The signs were bad early in this game, with Balta opting to try to punch a ball out of mid-air when taking possession and accepting that he may be tackled was the preferred course of action. What made matters worse was that he was the only bloke in that contest.
From there, it was a rollercoaster ride for Balta for the remainder of the evening. It seemed like every time he did something of value, he’d almost immediately do something dumb to counter it. Whether it was his ill-advised handball “over” Isaac Heeney, which led to Heeney kicking a goal from the goal line, or a dropped mark, or even opting not to contest despite being the biggest unit in the vicinity, it was painfully apparent that Balta’s footy IQ was at an all-time low in this game.
It was basically back to Prep-B (my daughter’s class)… back to basics, for him.
I don’t think Hayden McLean is a great forward – I am not sure anyone does, really – not even McLean – but to see him distance himself from Balta, work around the side of the pack and fly in to clunk a big contested grab in the third quarter… it just made me question what the hell Balta was thinking, if he was thinking at all.
Balta is an athletic beast. He is 23 years old and has been built like a brick shithouse since he was in his teens, but when I watch him play, I cannot help but feel I am watching an athlete play Aussie Rules footy… not a footballer.
The Tigers will work with him, obviously. He is a supreme physical specimen and they don’t come around that often, however, it has become painfully apparent that he is going to require some really intelligent fellow defenders around him to direct him and ensure he gets the support to use those tools for good… and not evil, as he did at points of this game.
Shai Bolton can be got to.
You know it. I know it. Opposition teams know it.
He has a short fuse, limited self-control, and if you push the right buttons, he is going to do something stupid to cost his team. I suppose, you either put up with that crap, or you don’t.
The fifty-metre penalty he gave away in the third quarter encapsulated his silliness. He had just given the Tigers an incredible gut run a minute or two before, continually pushing the ball forward, contesting, backing up and going again. It was the type of run that players with big hearts make.
And then… he got frustrated and the Swans knew it. After he tried to kick the ball off the deck, almost killing his Sydney opponent in the process, Errol Gulden made a half-hearted effort to remonstrate. Bolton, of course, went from zero to about eighty in a split second, took Gulden high and had 50 paid against him.
Bolton is a mercurial talent and we saw flashes of it in this game, but these are the types of actions coaches tolerate only when a team is up and winning or looking like contending. Playing on the edge is only acceptable when your team is not on the edge of the cliff. With Melbourne to come in Round Six, the Tigers are teetering and the dumb actions of Shai Bolton are just the sort of thing that could tip the team over and send them plummeting.
And for those who think I am focusing a little too much on one bloke and one incident, you need to broaden your scope. He was incredibly undisciplined last season, as well. Obviously, a bit of work needs to be done with him, as the opposition now know that he is set off very easily. They’re gonna use it against him.
I know I would.
AND THE BIG QUESTION AT PUNT ROAD?
Where is Trent Cotchin at?
With just seven touches in the first two and a half quarters, the former captain looked like he was nowhere near it in this game, with is only good moment coming when he went to ground way too easily after being pushed, to earn a fifty-metre penalty.
If that’s your best moment of the game, you know you’re in pretty deep shit.
All the talk this preseason was about Cotchin training with the forwards. The preseason contests had him contributing in that role, as well, but since the start of the real stuff, Cotchin has not been a threat. With one goal to his name in 2023, you have to wonder whether he will start being ‘managed’ every couple of games to both ensure he is not going up and down on the one spot, and to give the young blood time on the ground without subbing the bloke out.
Personally, I think Cotchin still has a role to play. He is now what I like to call a “moments man”, inasmuch as he can still make a big impact in moments, but not over the course of the game. In a pretty one-paced midfield, he makes them slower, and given he has not excelled as a half-forward, could a run behind the footy work?
If not, the Tigers are fast running out of options to keep a club legend – and he is that – on the park, this year.
If I only had a dollar for every time I’d been asked that… I’d have about a dollar.
I’ve mentioned the one-paced Richmond midfield somewhere in the mix – Hopper, Taranto, Prestia – the only one with genuine pace to burn is Shai Bolton. The Tigers are just a bit slow, eh?
How can a bloke with two Bob Skilton Medals remain underrated? We should ask Jake Lloyd, who had ten intercepts as part of his 25 touches. The bloke just works into the game every week and gets bugger all credit for the run and spread he provides.
Just one mark to Peter Ladhams… come on, big fella – this game was begging to be shown who was boss and you let it slide.
Remember when they called Jordan de Goey “Dusty-lite”? Well, it pains me to say it, but this version of Dustin Martin is “Dusty-lite”. Not that we can expect him to be the same player he was in 2018/19 but he really seems to be lacking that power that made him special. Father time catches up with us all.
Loved Isaac Heeney’s game. Just when I was starting to think he was coasting a bit, he added seven tackles to his 20 touches and two goals… Swans fans have been waiting for this glimmer of form.
Solid, if unspectacular outing for WIll Gould first up. I remember watching him in the 2020 preseason and liking what I saw… glad to see him finally getting a run.
How juicy was that cut on Jack Riewoldt’s head!?!? Looked like he was auditioning for a role in AEW. I thought Jack tried really hard all game in this one. Took a couple of very nice grabs, proving there is life in the old bloke, yet.
So, where do we see these teams heading?
Sydney will play finals because they’re a damn good team – they should have cleaned up Port last week, but went to sleep. There was no sleeping this week.
As for the Tigers, I’m sorry to say it, but they’re a middle-of-the-road team – a nothing team in the context of the season. They’ll have a few nice wins, a couple of shock losses, and in the end, they’ll settle between seventh and 13th. No Man’s Land.
And that may just about do me. Massive thanks to all those who support The Mongrel. I work hard to get you these and at the moment, I have been being a bit of an ass and keeping them locked… sometimes for good because I reckon we’re worth 20c per day. I hope you do, as well – maybe even more! Cheers – HB