Under the roof of Damien Hardwick’s favourite venue in all of Australia – the non-MCG Melbourne Stadium (Marvel Stadium), the Tigers were aiming to end the Hardwick Hoodoo and finally win again at Marvel, or would Stewart Dew’s team bring the Sun to Melbourne and confine the Tigers to the bottom four for another week? It’s the first time ever for this fixture to have the Suns as the higher-positioned team … would this prove too much pressure, or will the Suns of the Gold Coast sky take another step forward? Here are all the key events.
A Slow Tragedy
Well, that first half happened. A low-scoring slog was presented to viewers in the first half. The Suns dominated in terms of field position, but couldn’t capitalise on their inside 50s or their forward-half turnovers. The Tigers’ defence held them at bay, and when the Tigers were able to move the ball up the field and into their own attack, they were woefully inaccurate.
In tight games, accuracy and making the most of your opportunities are essential. The Tigers were +5 in terms of scoring shots at the main break, but found themselves behind on the scoreboard. Ben King was a shining light of accuracy all day. He finished with 4 straight for the day, from 10 touches. There was no major culprit for the Tigers in front of goal, but across the ground, the Tigers’ efficiency was lacking in the first-half in particular.
This isn’t a game you’ll necessarily rewatch for the skills, but for the drama and the narratives around it, there was still intrigue.
Owning the Moments
For all the challenges of the first-half, the second-half began with a rush. For some fleeting moments, the Tigers of old threatened to overpower the Suns, only to remember that Dimma doesn’t like Marvel (jokes – until the Suns were able to show some maturity and stabilise the game).
A key reason why the Suns were able to stabilise the game was Charlie Ballard. To paraphrase Darcy Moore recently “he was f***ing marking everything!” Through the Tigers’ onslaught in the final quarter, Ballard played almost a lone hand in repelling every attack the Tigers launched (ably assisted by Will Powell). It wasn’t just his intercepting though. He was using the ball well and setting up the game. Every time Richmond would come at the Suns, Ballard limited the damage.
Before that though, the third term began as a see-sawing affair, sharing the goal order early. The Tigers tried to push back, the Suns kept running, and eventually, the Suns took over. There have been moments in games in recent seasons where the Suns have needed to respond and they haven’t been able to. However, when challenged on the weekend, the Suns didn’t just halt the opposition’s momentum, they flipped the momentum and took control of the game. Many have said this before, so there is some scepticism about this being a long-term thing, but this could be a launchpad for the Suns to show that they have grown in maturity as a team.
The End of Tyranny
Maybe this is the scars of the 2019 and 2020 finals series, in calling the Tigers dynasty tyrannical. They’ve been this formidable force and immovable object since 2017. And while the past two seasons haven’t reached the heights that Tigers fans now feel entitled to expect (it’s true, embrace it), there’s been the thought that they’re close. After today though, and I don’t say this likely because ‘experts’ have been writing off my Cats for what feels like millennia … but I feel like today may have been the death knell for the Richmond reign of terror and tyranny (Cats fans lingo for their really, really good run of three flags and being the benchmark team).
I know this will upset and/or annoy Richmond fans, but I think there are signs that things aren’t quite right and that they are unlikely to be a quick fix. For years the personnel haven’t really mattered for the Tigers; their system has just been that good. The next man in would be able to fit seamlessly into the structure, and play their role. And I preface my next statement by recognising that adding Toby Nankervis and Tom Lynch in particular strengthens them, but their identity seems to be confused as a club, on-field. We’ve long been able to identify a ‘Richmond game’ through how they run in waves, their manic pressure, and them just taking over the game – something that I’m really yet to see this season. We haven’t seen any discernible identity for the Tigers at the moment, and the players coming in haven’t been able to rise as they once could.
There are many reasons for this, and even with the on-ball additions of Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper, there doesn’t seem to be much of a light that says their season can be salvaged from here. And in recruiting the aforementioned duo, they have no first round pick this year (currently pick 3) which would aid in their bounce back ability.
As much as I dislike Richmond, when they are up and about, it’s good for the game. Dimma once said that he would walk when there was no sign of improvement. With the current trending direction, lack of style, and lack of improvement, one wonders how long he may have left as Richmond’s coach.
Perhaps they can be the Tigers of old (circa 2017) and go on an incredible run when personnel return, however, it feels as if this reign is dwindling, and obscurity awaits until they can recruit/draft the next wave of Premiership stars.
The Battle of the Bulls
The midfield battle in this game was one to watch. When you have competitive beasts on either side, it can be a slugfest, and both midfields were throwing and sticking haymakers. Whether it was Tim Taranto, Jayden Short, or Jacob Hopper for the Tigers, or Jarrod Witts, Noah Anderson, and the Aussie version of Brock Lesnar, Matt Rowell, the midfield bulls went toe-to-toe.
People go to the football for many reasons. Seeing the midfield bulls at their peak in the contest, is one. They set the tone for their team. They do the heavy lifting so that others can reap the rewards and do the scoreboard damage. And we got plenty of this in this game.
From the Viewing Gallery
Gold Coast skipper Jarrod Witts was immense in this game; especially in the third term as the Suns were able to kick away. Individually, he had 10 disposals, 8 of which were contested, 4 clearances, and a clutch goal out of the ruck. He led from the front when the game was in the balance.
Today wasn’t Liam Baker’s most damaging game, but one thing he never lacks is effort. Between himself and Noah Cumberland, these guys kept chasing all day and while their effort often went unrewarded, they can hold their heads high.
The third term was the Suns best quarter in terms of score for season 2023. They piled on 6.1 to blow the game open.
Malcolm Rosas was the starting sub, and made an impact. His poise and decision making were elite, and while he’s in the side no doubt to hit the scoreboard and use his speed to provide pressure, it was his ability to make good decisions under pressure and use the ball well that showed his value today.
Samson Ryan continues to improve. You can see his confidence grow each time he plays. Whether it’s the way he attacks the footy or even just his positioning, he is growing into his AFL career.
So, the Suns continued the Hardwick Hoodoo and confined Richmond to 16th on the ladder. Richmond won’t have far to travel for their chance to take some ground in 2023 as they host the Eagles at the MCG in the early Saturday game – a game they should win – while the Suns host the Demons in the Saturday twilight fixture. Thanks for sticking with us through this review and here at the Mongrel Punt. Are the Tigers done or do they have the ability to get themselves back into contention this year? And have the Suns actually turned a corner here, or is it another false dawn?
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