Since the 2022 trade period, I felt that the Tigers made a bit of a gamble with the recruitment of both Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper. Coming off an era of success, the efforts to remain in the hunt were always going to be spectacular.
A spectacular success, or a spectacular failure? The jury remains out.
We’ve seen teams attempt to stave off rebuilding several times – Hawthorn and Geelong most recently – with wildly different results. How Richmond responded to the recruitment of two ready-made midfielders was always going to be a story to watch.
It turns out we got a bit of both with the two recruits.
Whilst Hopper’s first year in yellow and black was far from ideal, missing seven games and not really able to recapture the form that made him such a force in the middle at GWS. Meanwhile, the news that Tim Taranto had won the Tigers’ pre-season time trials would have made the Richmond fans smile. He had done the work and was ready to perform.
And perform, he did.
Every week during the season, each recruit was assessed on his performance and awarded a score out of ten. It quickly became apparent that we had a cohort of players that were going to contend for the mantle of Recruit of the Year, and some that were either going to take time to adjust to life in a new environment, or get their bodies right.
Taranto was in the first group. Hopper settled into the second group.
What that meant was that Richmond got about half of what they were hoping for in 2023.
Joining Taranto in that top group were Tom Mitchell, Izak Rankine, and Josh Dunkley.
And then there were injuries to some in that top group during the season.
Rankine tore a hamstring, and his challenge ended. At that time, he had fallen at least a game off the pace, as is the nature of small forwards having down weeks. Josh Dunkley missed a couple of weeks as well, leaving just Mitchell and Taranto to fight it out.
And then came the continued substitution of Mitchell, which left Taranto as the last man standing.
However, the above statement does Taranto’s season a disservice. Yes, he fronted up for every game and became a prime mover in the Richmond midfield, and yes, other players incurred injuries or reduced playing time, but none of that is the Richmond recruit’s fault. He had some incredible performances. He wasn’t just ‘there’. No, he was there, and he was making an impact.
If you’re looking for consistency in a new player, Taranto embodied it for the Tigers. Always hard at it, he was also able to emerge as a threat inside 50, slotting 19 goals for the season. At 28.8 touches per game, averaging a career-high in his first season as a Tiger bodes well for the future. I’ve always thought that a player takes 12 months to truly find his feet with a new team, and if that is the case, Taranto could be in for a massive 2024.
Of course, Kane Cornes will likely find a way to keep him out of the All-Australian team to protect his own ego, but people who watch Taranto’s in-and-under works (ninth in the league in total clearances, and tenth in contested possessions) appreciate what he provides for the team.
If there was a weakness in his game, it was that it seemed he had not yet wholly gelled with his teammates, resulting in Taranto not finding a rhythm to his contested work. Instead of having a release man ready to take the footy and benefit from his hard work, it seems the Tigers had too many players looking to win the footy (Taranto, Hopper, Prestia – all play a see-ball, get-ball style of game) and a lack of genuine outside leg speed when Shai Bolton was not deployed in the middle.
A good coach should be able to remedy that with an entire preseason to work with. I reckon a few of the questions floated to any potential coach will revolve around how he sees the midfield working more cohesively.
But that is for the 2024 season preview.
For now, the Tigers got half of what they were hoping for in 2023. The Tim Taranto half was amazing, and his work at the coalface provides Richmond with a genuine bull to work with for the next several years. The upside here is that Hopper played at nowhere near the level he is capable of in 2023. With another preseason, and an injury-free run into the season, the combination of the two may mean that the Tigers are far from the spent force many are thinking they could be.
Of the 2023 recruits, Tim Taranto was the standout. When others fell over, he stood up. And even if they had remained standing, he was better than them all in the home and away season, anyway.
Was it a gamble?
Yes, most trades are. However, when Tiger fans look back on the season of Tim Taranto, they will quickly come to the conclusion that it was easily the best of anyone in new colours.
Complete standings in the Mongrel Recruit of the Year as follows
1 – TIM TARANTO
2 – JOSH DUNKLEY
3 – TOM MITCHELL
4 – IZAK RANKINE
5 – JASON HORNE-FRANCIS
7 – LUKE JACKSON
8 – KARL AMON
9 – BLAKE ACRES
10 – CONOR MCKENNA
11 – LACHIE HUNTER
13 – JAEGER O’MEARA
14 – LIAM STOCKER
15 – BOBBY HILL
Sorry, Rory Lobb fans (of which, I am NOT one)… he’s a fair way down the list.
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