R3 – Richmond v Sydney – The Mongrel Review

Who Would Rather Barrack For?
Greatness v Consistency

Since 2000, the Sydney Swans have been the most consistent team in the AFL, making the finals nearly every year, winning two Premierships from six attempts, and only missing the finals on a handful of occasions. Richmond, on the hand, have had some very lean times since the turn of the century, but when their turn came along, they went Bang, nearly, Bang and, to top it off, another Bang.

Three flags between 2017 and 2020 – the Tiger dynasty was short, but very exciting. The wave of emotion surrounding the Tigers made them an irresistible force – it still does to some degree.

Brisbane, Hawthorn, Geelong, and Richmond supporters can rightfully argue about which team has had the better dynasty. The answer is moot as all their supporters have witnessed the best their team could achieve, and they can dine out on the memories for as long as they have their faculties. Throughout each of these dynasties, the Swans have been there or thereabouts, but they can never claim to have had a golden period. A four-point win in 2005 broke a 72-year Premiership drought, and 2012 was just a great performance. The Swans have been consistent, very consistent, but they have not had a dynasty, and four Grand Final losses is a blight against their brand.

I’ll show my hand here, I have barracked for Sydney since well before the ‘Keep South at South’ campaign in the early 1980’s, and I have been loyal through thick, and at times, some very thin periods. Since 1996 I have admired the consistency of the Swans, but I bemoan their ability to not be the ‘IT’ team, for even one season, and it is a continual frustration for the Bloods hard nuts just like me. As much as Essendon fans whinge, their 2000 team is still one of the best teams (and recognised as such) in modern history (that team should have more than one Premiership).

Richmond’s dynasty is clearly in decline, while Sydney again shows signs of being a team that it is going to be thereabouts at the business end of the season. My question mark over the Swans this year is whether they can break away from the pack and become a the ‘IT’ team, for at least one season.

In years past, today’s game is the kind of game the Swans would drop for no apparent reason. A few promising wins, and then an unexpected loss has been the Swans formula for a few years now, knowing such losses prevent them from being a great team.

Sydney have more to lose today than Richmond, and that is not an insult to the Tigers, as they are rebuilding, and a few of their leftover dynasty era superstars, Dusty Martin, Dion Prestia, and Dylan Grimes are not playing today.


Toby Nankervis and Sam Naismith

In 2016, the Sydney Swans left Toby Nankervis out of their 2016 Grand Final team (as an emergency) in favour of Sam Naismith. Nankervis leaves the Swans and becomes a Tiger great with three Premiership medallions, while poor old Sam Naismith spends the best part of the next seven years recovering from injury.

In a strange, Jimmy Ayres ‘sliding drawers’ moment, Toby Nankervis will lead the Tigers out today against the Swans, while Sam Naismith has been named as an emergency by the Tigers.

Toby Nankervis got to show the football world how good he is, and I hope one day Sam Naismith gets a clear run of games to display the skills that kept Toby out of the Swans’ 2016 Grand Final team. Both players, in 2016, had bloody good prospects for the future. Toby more than lived up to his potential, and I truly hope Sam Naismith one day soon gets his reward for effort.


Sydney’s Ghosts of 2016

Alongside Toby Nankervis (three Richmond Premierships), Gary Rohan (Geelong 2022), and Tom Mitchell (Collingwood 2023), all left the Swans and found ultimate success/es at other clubs, while George Hewett (Carlton), and Zac Jones (St Kilda) are currently playing at clubs which are in the shadows of winning a Premiership, and Dan Hannebery topped his superannuation at an inflated price at St Kilda for a few seasons. They were all named in some capacity in Sydney’s 2016 Grand Final team.

I will attempt to write this review without any bias – I have avoided reviewing Sydney games on purpose as ‘red and white blood’ runs through me.


What a Match – Richmond by 5 points


Take a Bow Nick Vlastuin and Adem Yze

It is rare, and I mean very rare, when the difference between two teams is a single player, but in this bloody ripper of a game at the MCG this afternoon, Nick Vlastuin can be credited as the main reason the Tigers got up in a thriller. Kudos to Nick, who took 13 marks in defence, along with his 29 possessions as he continually repelled the Swans, especially in the dying minutes of the last quarter when the game needed to be won or lost.

Some will complain that he got a lucky free kick with under a minute to go – not me. He played the ball all day long and as a general rule, ballplayers will be rewarded in the 50/50 decisions. Call it reward for effort if you like.

Kudos also to Adam Yze, who out-coached John Longmire today, and then some. Richmond took Sydney on at their own game and came up trumps. Not since the 2022 Grand Final have I seen the Swans be outplayed and so impotent in a quarter as they were in the third. The Tigers’ pressure was immense, and the Swans crumbled as Liam Baker, Kamdyn McIntosh, both Rioli’s, Shai Bolton, Nathan Broad, Marlion Pickett, Nick Vlastuin, a kid called Seth Campbell, and others ran amok and set the Tigers up for the win. The backs and mids were ably supported by Tom Lynch, Rhyan Mansell (he is a beauty) and another kid, former NRL prodigy, Mykelti Lefau, rewarding their hard work with goals.

If Richmond fans ever get disheartened this year about their future, I recommend them to watch a replay of their third quarter today, as the past, the present and future of the Tigers was on display.

From the opening bounce the Tigers were on as they jumped to a 13-point lead at quarter time, with goals to Mansell, Bolton, Lynch and Lefau. I noted the Richmond backs lead by Vlastuin, Broad, Short, Tylar Young, Ben Miller and others held their nerve and positioning to limit the Swans scoring opportunities and to rebound the ball to their players upfield.

When Sydney banged on five-straight goals in the second quarter it looked as though Richmond were going to capitulate as the Swans took over the game. The usual Swans suspects had come out to play in the second quarter as they put on a show, yet as good as they were, they were making silly mistakes, turning the ball over, and getting caught in tackles. Given the Tigers kicked one goal and six behinds for the quarter, the second quarter was not as bad as it may have read for the Tigers.

When Issac Heeney (clearly Sydney’s best player today), kicked the opener in the third, it seriously looked ‘how far the Swans’, as they danced out to a healthy lead.

Enter Tom Lynch who kicked two quick goals and brought Richmond right back into the game.

Suddenly it was game on.

Nick Blakey, who was already having a day he would rather forget, completely shanked a kick-in which resulted in a Liam Baker goal and suddenly the Tigers were in front with a sniff of victory flaring their nostrils. By the time LeFau and Mansell slotted truly, the Tigers had slammed six-straight goals to hold a 16-point lead going into the last quarter.

To lavish all praise on the goal kickers would be to the detriment of every Richmond player on the field who shut down the run and precision skills of the Swans. Marlion Pickett and Maurice Rioli both played the best games I have seen them play, and their tackling and run in the third quarter was sublime. It brought unknown players like Seth Campbell and Tyler Sonsie into the game to demonstrate their speed and precision by foot. It should be noted though it all started in backline with Vlastuin, Broad, Short, Young and co, standing their ground and intercepting Sydney’s forward thrusts at will.

As bad as Sydney played in the third quarter, it was a Monty they would mount a challenge in the last quarter and test the young Tigers to see if they could hold their nerve.

Quick goals to start the last from Logan McDonald and Tom Papley put the Swans right back into the game, and it did look like Richmond had run their race, however….

There was real lull in play after Sydney’s early onslaught as both teams batoned down the hatches, with some of the best tackling from both teams you will ever see. I watched Tom Libertore last week wrap players up in a vice-like grip as he demonstrated he is still one of the best tacklers in the game, but that was matched by Maurice Rioli in the last quarter today. He is a real brute, shaped like a barrel, and nigh-on impossible to bring down in a tackle, himself. He is brilliant at the in-and-under stuff and just as tough as when it comes to clinching a bone jarring tackle. Maurice was not the only one, but he led by example when the game was in the balance.

Class will rise to the top, and it was the class of an upcoming star at Richmond, Rhyan Mansell, and the pure class of Shai Bolton who broke the deadlock to put the Tigers nine points up with ten minutes left to play. Bolton kicked the goal, but the pass from Mansell was sublime, especially from such a young player at a clutch moment of the game.

The final ten-minutes of this game was Sydney versus Nick Vlastuin, who repeatedly found himself alone in the back half to take uncontested possession after uncontested possession. It was frustrating to watch as a Sydney fan, but boy, Vlastuin was good. One play with a few minutes left summed up Sydney’s day and Vlastuin’s dominance, when Tom Papley running forward had options on, but instead he gently caressed the ball straight to Vlastuin. Nick Vlastuin totally mesmerised the Swans. He willed them to kicked the ball in his vicinity, and they obliged.

A late goal to Errol Gulden was not enough to get Swans home and the Tigers held on for a tenacious and fierce, season-defining, five-point win.


The Fallout

Toby Nankervis v Brodie Grundy

The statistics read that Grundy beat Nankervis on the day, however the big Toby has a presence and leads by example. As intriguing as their battles was, I don’t think either player really dominated the game. I’ll call it a nil all draw and both were among their respective teams’ best players.


Sydney’s Stars?

Issac Heeney and James Rowbottom battled their hearts out today and along with Jake Lloyd, Grundy, and Tom McCartin (his battle with Lynch was good viewing) were probably the Swans best players.

Nick Blakey made some howling mistakes today which resulted in goals, and even though he played the game right out, it is probably a match he would prefer to forget.

The trio of Chad Warner, Justin McInerney and Errol Gulden looked caught in the headlights when the classy Tiger midfirlders turned it on. The biggest knock I have on Chad Warner is he often tries to overuse the ball and gets caught from behind – this happened a number of times today, while Gulden is yet to find his touch from last year, and McInerney really didn’t influence the game all day. Well done Bolton, McIntosh, Rioli x2, Baker and co.

As for the forwards, they battled hard, but not one of them marked up Vlastuin in the last ten minutes. It looked so obvious on the telly, yet they treated him as if he had leprosy. McDonald, Amartey and McLean is an ongoing experiment and it will take time for them to click as a unit. As for Will Hayward, he drifts in and out of games which has been his constant since his first game. Papley is Papley and he never gave up trying, but I reckon there are few scenarios in the last quarter he wished he could play over again.


Richmond Will Help Shape the Eight

One win does not make a season, but it can give hope to the players, the club, and their loyal supporters. Richmond’s win today will give them a belief they can make the finals, or at the very least shape the destiny of other teams in the hunt.

Richmond’s win today will hurt Sydney, as it should (more later), and it should provide a launchpad for the rest of their season. The Tigers players will now have a belief they can beat anybody if they bring their A game. The only concern for me is the injury to Tom Lynch late in the game – he is a MUST-PLAY component of the Richmond team as they work their way back into relevancy.


Where Does This Leave Sydney?

At times over the years, the Swans have lived on a false economy, and even allowing for today’s loss, it would expected they beat West Coast and Hawthorn (I am not writing the Hawks off) in the next couple of weeks, and thus have a 5/1 or at the very least 4/2 win record after Round 6, but is it a false economy?

I prophesised at the start of this article this is the kind of game the Swans drop unexpectedly, and my prophecy proved to be correct.

Sydney’s third quarter today was as bad as any club has performed this year, and they were lucky they weren’t further behind at three-quarter time. It is the slumps into temporary mediocrity that has haunted this team since the 2016 and 2022 Grand Final losses. If they are to be considered a great team this year, not just a good team, they need to win games like today and not expose their flaws to the rest of the competition. Further, John Longmire is great if Plan ‘A’ is working, but he is exposed as question arise as to where or what is his Plan ‘B’ or Plan ‘C’ are?

A loss is part of a normal season, but the teams that thrive after a loss learn from the experience and just get better. John Longmire and the Swans now need to prove they have the mantle to learn and learn quickly on the run, or else I can see another sixth or seventh position on the ladder coming.


And finally, where does this leave the Tigers?

It leaves them in an enticing position.

Some teams play their best when they have nothing to lose. You would have heard the experts in the pre-season, flagging this club as potential wooden spooners. I believe it was Josh Jenkins – yes, he of the ‘kick it out the back… I like it there’ fame.

Well, I reckon the Tigers have demonstrated they’re quite a way from being done. They are tenacious, committed, and look as though their best can unsettle at worst, and beat at best, any team in the caper. A horror start on the Gold Coast, then a heartbreaking loss to Carlton, then a game against Port where they played only three quarters – they needed a game where they put it together all together, and they got it today.

They will need to do it again against the Saints during Gather Round. Maybe they upset the St Kilda apple-cart and pick their own up off the deck to move to 2-3? Anything can happen from there.

it’s the beauty of footy.