Melbourne v Richmond – A Different Lens

A Different Lens


We are at the pointy end of the season and sides are fighting for their place in September. Richmond needs a win to stay in touch with the top 8, while Melbourne is fighting to keep a hold of its top four position. Would the Tiger Army be in full voice and celebration, or would the Dees faithful be celebrating another win on their way to September? Everything is all set for a Sunday arvo special at the MCG. Here’s how it played out.


Opening Term Intensity

You can often get a sense of a team’s mindset from the opening bounce. This match was no exception. The Dees’ defensive structure was on early. They were pushing up the ground, forcing the Tigers sideways and backwards, even by hand. It took some time for the Tigers to readjust and start to pick their way through the zone. For all their early field position dominance, the Dees could only manage 1.2 early.

This allowed the Tigers to remain in the game, and they responded with quicker ball movement, and getting their hands on the ball. Taking their opportunities, they responded with 3.0 when they had their dominance.

Much of the game was reflective of the beginning, in terms of the momentum swings and how each side navigated not only curtailing said momentum, but turning that momentum their way to capitalise.


Stoppage Relevance

The first four clearances for each side netted them 2.1 apiece. In the early stages of this game, both teams were maximising their impact at the coal face. They were getting clean ball out the front of stoppages, allowing their forwards to have multiple one-on-one contests and maximise their chances of winning the football. This brought about some slight personnel and strategic changes, as coaches attempted to limit the opposition’s stoppage scoring – while some adjustments worked, there were still considerable scores from this source.

Through the second term, and patches in the third, the Tigers took some control. It took some Max Gawn dominance, as he built into the game, to get the Dees back into the game.

In the final term, coinciding with a Viney lift and Gawn dominating (100% game time in final quarters in recent weeks and dominating. he had more last quarter clearances himself than Tigers).


Vintage Dusty

The big takeaway for the Tigers was the form of Dustin Martin, who has started to show signs that, whilst we may have seen his best, there is definitely some high-quality footy left in him.

The ability to generate scoring opportunities is the most desirable aspect of the attacking midfielder/forward. It sounds like a dumb statement, but too often, you see praise heaped upon players that get a heap of the footy and don’t really hurt the opposition with it. This game was evidence that any praise coming Dustin Martin’s way over the journey had been well-earned.

Finished with 3.2 and two direct goal assists, Martin reminded people just why he was the most exciting player to watch in the game for several years. Sure, he now spends time sharing the spotlight, even at his own club – Shai Bolton may just be the most watchable player in the league when he is “on” – but the way the crowd rises to their feet when Dusty collects the footy anywhere near scoring range lets you know just how much he has thrilled them over the years.

And he thrilled them again in this one.

At 32, he is averaging 22.5 touches and 1.2 goals per game – there are some mid/forwards in their prime that would kill for those numbers. At a time when the great Buddy Franklin is hanging up the boots, there is a big part of me that is grateful we still get to see the great Dustin Martin for a while, yet.


In Harmes Way

I’m not sure where James Harmes will be playing his footy next season, but if a team is looking for a hard-nosed, no-bullshit type of player, they could do a hell of a lot worse than making some enquiries about Harmes’ 2024 plans. he is currently playing out the remainder of his current contract with no deal in place for next season, and poses an interesting question for the Dees.

His work has multiple facets to it, and it was his ability to work into space in this game that caught the eye. Despite missing his shots at goal, Harmes was consistently able to work into space that nobody else seemed to be able to locate. That, in itself, is a talent. However, there are more strings to his bow than his offensive work (and I do remember that picture of him on a floatie in a pool wearing speedos after the 2021 Grand Final… that was pretty offensive!).

Harmes’ defensive side makes him a valuable asset in a tagging capacity. We haven’t seen it as much this season, but with finals fast approaching and opposition midfielders in need of being put in their place, I expect Harmes to a) do the job for the Dees, and b) showcase his value to both them, and any other team that may be sniffing around.


The Big Man

The reigning Mongrel Punt Ruck Champion once again flexed his muscles as the main man this week, unleashing on the Tigers in the final quarter to be the difference between the teams.

Gawn had seven clearances, 13 disposals and ten hit outs in the final quarter, as he tore the game away from the Tigers and made them miss Toby Nankervis even more. In his place, Richmond trotted out Ivan Soldo, who is always going to be serviceable but will never, ever be a genuine number-one ruckman. And they had Noah Balta in there as well.

Gawn had his way, working over whoever the Tigers threw at him, and leaving those who watched with no doubt as to who is the best ruckman in the league. This is ominous form for Max, and though the question about Brodie Grundy is often asked (and is asked in the very next section, actually), there can be no way you upset the apple cart by bringing him back in with Gawn in this type of form.

That said, what people may be missing is that the acquisition of Grundy and the minutes he was able to absorb as a pretty decent exponent of the ruck, allowed the captain a great chance to work his way into the year and now be fresh as we’re a month out from the finals.

Do you remember how beat-up Max looked this time last year? He was often the last player up off the deck after a contest, and that wasn’t because he was big and slow – it was because he was banged up. At the moment, he looks spritely and full of run – the complete opposite of 2022. So, those saying Grundy was a mistake, whilst making decent points, need to understand it is not all about what Grundy is doing and whether he is playing in the ones, twos, or sitting in the grandstands – it is about what he offered to Gawn by way of his health and preparation.


Not so Petty

Now, what do we have here? A maring forward that genuinely looks like he wants the footy and leaps at it like he owns it! That’s what we have, and he has come from the forwards’ graveyard to do it.

The Dees have a bit of a history with turning defenders into gun forwards, with the Coleman Medal-winning efforts of David Neitz, after playing in defence for several years, the standout. However, with six goals from Harrison Petty, the Dees may have found the best way to solve their key forward issues in 2023. Petty returned six goals in a dominant display, playing against a Richmond defence that, on paper, should have been able to make life very tough for him.

He took four contested grabs and made every post a winner, not missing as he powered the Melbourne forward line home with two of the Dees’ six last quarter goals. He was aided by the continued development of Jacob van Rooyen, who genuinely looks like a power forward these days. I mentioned Petty’s contested marking, and whilst JvR had only the one contested grab, one of his biggest assets is that he has no fear when attacking the footy. He hits packs like they shot his dog or something, determined to either mark the footy, or make sure there is carnage left in his wake.

When you add in the resurgent Jake Melksham, suddenly, this forward setup that was perceived as a problem started to look very menacing.

If they can maintain the rage as they head toward September, regaining Bayley Fritsch on the even of finals might just make this group a nightmare to match up on.

If there is one sour note to all this, with Brodie Grundy expected to pull his weight up forward, would Simon Goodwin be tempted to flirt with this type of form to accommodate something that may, or may not, work?


From the Viewing Gallery

Where do we rate Noah Balta in terms of the best defenders in the league? We have on writer who suggests that he should be in the discussion for an All-Australian berth, but I am not so sure. He looks great when he grabs the footy, and when allowed a run at the footy, but he also loses his man in traffic and gets a bit of tunnel-vision. I’m not too sure he is as accountable as it seems. As strong as an ox, he is on the same level for me as Aliir Aliir, and is basically Esava Ratugolea with more pace.

Harsh? Well, maybe… but he is no Alex Rance at this stage. In time, though… maybe.

And if not, maybe a role up forward beckons? He kicked an incredible goal in the last quarter, swung forward as the Tigers searched for a big target, kept it in on the goal line, avoided two tacklers, and snapped to put the Tigers in front. Bloody brilliant goal, that.

I loved some of the hard tackles from Rhyan Mansell. When he cracks in, his tackles stick!

Jack Viney – this bloke is always up for the contest and it doesn’t matter who it is against or whether he has the footy or not – you know he is going fight like a trapped animal to emerge with the ball, or take down his opponent in the process. Watching him over the past couple of months in the absence of Clayton Oliver, he just seems to work harder than any other mid when the time comes to get their hands dirty. In short, he out-competes opponents. Along with Max Gawn, his enormous to start to the fourth quarter helped propel the Dees to victory.

I’m not sure what happened in terms of a potential free to Jack Ross for high contact not paid. The umpire said it’s because “he hit the ball, and the high contact was in the process of hitting the ball.” Why is this not adjudicated as such all the time?

James Jordon. He is another that doesn’t have a deal for 2024 in place, and I wonder where his head is at? He is playing more now, but with so many games as the sub this season, it may have given him PTSD after spending the whole 2021 Grand Final on the pine. I rate him highly, but with Lachie Hunter and Ed Langdon on the wings, I feel that he is unable to play in the position best-suited to him.


Apologies for the lateness of this one. Jimmy Day and I had to wax in order to get it finished, as there were matters that were beyond our control. All the best – apologies again – HB


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