The Tackle Counts

Football pundits nationwide are still trying to reconcile that the unthinkable happened last September. Richmond finally won the big one again. It wasn’t even close – they blew the highly fancied Crows off the park, as they did the Giants and the Cats before them.

Much has been said about the ferocious tackling pressure applied by the new mosquito fleet of Richmond that gave them an unassailable edge in that finals series. Opposition defences were constantly under siege and incapable of applying their traditional defensive structures for fear of matching up too tall on Richmond’s shorter and quicker forward line.

A third of the way into this season, and Richmond remain the team the beat. Let’s have a look at some areas that they set new standards across the competition in, and continue to be the bar that teams are failing to match, despite an entire pre-season of line coaches nationwide trying to apply these tactics to their respective lists.

Cast your mind back to Round 9 last year. Richmond had just lost their second game in a row in the last few seconds of the game, their third in a row under a goal. A 5-0 start, now clawed back to 5-4, and the usual schadenfreude was beginning to come to the fore of footy fans taking great delight in the usual Richmond capitulation on the cards.

Instead, Richmond lost just three more games for the rest of the year en-route to the infamous flag. It was around this time that the fierce tackling pressure began to come to the fore.

Across the competition, the average tackle count by an AFL player is 2.4 tackles. For argument’s sake, lets round that up to an even 3.

Only once after the round 9 loss to the Dockers did half of Richmond’s 22 record less than 3 tackles a game. That game was against the eventual wooden-spooners, the Brisbane Lions.  Given the Tigers’ run home, you could easily excuse them for considering this game as their one to take the foot off the pedal slightly.

In 11 out of their remaining 16 games, they also had more players putting up 3+ tackles a game than their opposition. Limiting this figure to the finals, their record becomes even more extraordinary. 15 players recorded 3 tackles or more in the Grand Final (the Crows had 12). 11 in the preliminary final win over the Giants (11 also for the Giants), and the qualifying final demolishing of Geelong? 18 players recorded more than 3 tackles. This was a team effort previously unheard of in the modern game. Every player playing that night registered at least one tackle also.

This was an effort that was replicated four times throughout the season. On 18 occasions at least 20 players got on the tackle sheet (by comparison, Carlton were only able to achieve this feat on 12 occasions), leading the competition on both counts. When Richmond had less than 20 players adding a tackle to the statistician’s page, their record for the year was a middling 4-3. When teams had more players willing to lay a tackle, it dropped to 2-5.

What this tells us is that teams are less able to carry players who won’t tackle, or don’t have it as part of their job description. The more that are able to apply defensive pressure, even perhaps ahead of a more skilled offensive-minded player, the better the team will be. Toby Nankervis is a fantastic example of this. Only Shane Mumford and Matthew Kreuzer recorded more tackles in 2017 for a ruckman than Nankervis’ 96 at an average of just under 4 a game. By contrast, Shaun Hampson recorded just 36 in 20 games throughout 2016, down on Ivan Maric’s 61 in 22 games throughout 2015.

A cursory look at Richmond’s list shows that only Alex Rance, Brandon Ellis and David Astbury played above 15 games in 2017 and ended up with less than the AFL average tackles per game. Carlton had eleven such players.

As such, it’s clear that there are lessons for 17 other clubs to take into season 2018. No-one should be above tackling. Consistency of effort is non-negotiable. When half the side put the effort into tackling, the results speak for themselves.

Fast forward to the present day, and Richmond are still far and away the leaders in these trends.

Richmond’s head to head record against their opponent for more players to record a tackle on game day? 5 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss (coming against Collingwood). The competition leader in this respect. By contrast, Essendon have 1 win, 2 draws and 4 losses.

Games where at least 20 players have laid a tackle? Richmond again lead the way with six out of seven games. Surprisingly, the Eagles have only recorded this stat once in their opening seven games, followed by Brisbane, and the Dockers with only two apiece.

More players to record 3+ tackles in a game than their opposition? Richmond 4 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss trail only Collingwood in this respect (5-2).

Looking over the stats for the worst offenders when it comes to tackles per game, some interesting arguments present themselves:


Players averaging less than 2 tackles a game per club:

Brisbane: Charlie Cameron (13 tackles from 7 games), Lewis Taylor (13 tackles from 7 games), Alex Witherden (10 tackles from 7 games), Luke Hodge (9 tackles in 6 games), Eric Hipwood (8 tackles from 7 games), Harris Andrews (8 tackles from 7 games), Daniel McStay (7 tackles from 5 games), Sam Mayes (7 tackles from 4 games), Josh Walker (6 tackles from 4 games), Daniel Rich (5 tackles from 3 games)

West Coast: Josh Kenendy (WCE) 3 tackles in 4 games, Jeremy McGovern 4 tackles in 7 games, Tom Barrass 4 tackles in 7 games, Jackson Nelson 6 tackles in 6 games, Jake Waterman 13 tackles in 7 games, Willie Rioli 11 tackles in 6 games, Lewis Jetta 6 tackles in 5 games, Liam Duggan 8 tackles in 6 games, Dom Sheed 10 tackles in 7 games, Shannon Hurn 11 tackles in 7 games

Western Bulldogs: Bailey Dale 6 tackles in 7 games, Matt Suckling 6 tackles in 7 games, Easton Wood 6 tackles in 6 games, Billy Gowers 12 tackles in 7 games, Jason Johannisen 12 tackles in 7 games, Tim English 11 tackles in 7 games, Zaine Cordy 10 tackles in 6 games, Bailey Williams 9 tackles in 6 games, Tom Boyd 5 tackles in 3 games, Patrick Lipinski 5 tackles in 3 games, Jordan Roughead 3 tackles in 2 games

Fremantle: Michael Johnson 2 tackles in 5 games, Matt Taberner 6 tackles in 5 games, Aaron Sandilands 7 tackles in 7 games, Brandon Matera 13 tackles in 7 games, Connor Blakely 13 tackles in 7 games, Nathan Wilson 8 tackles in 7 games, Joel Hamling 9 tackles in 6 games. Luke Ryan 10 tackles in 7 games, Cam McCarthy 10 tackles in 7 games
 

Geelong: Jed Bews 12 tackles in 7 games, Daniel Menzel 3 tackles in 5 games, Tom Hawkins 11 tackles in 6 games, Tom Stewart 11 tackles in 7 games, Jake Kolodjashnij 10 tackles in 7 games, Zach Tuohy 8 tackles in 7 games, Zach Guthrie 7 tackles in 6 games, James Parsons 6 tackles in 5 games, Jackson Thurlow 4 tackles in 3 games, Cameron Guthrie 1 tackle in 3 games.

Carlton: Dale Thomas 12 tackles in 7 games, Aaron Mullet 12 tackles in 7 games, Charlie Curnow 11 tackles in 6 games, Levi Casboult 10 tackles in 7, Lachie Plowman 10 tackles in 7, Liam Jones 10 tackles in 7 games, Lachie O’Brien 6 tackles in 4 games, Jed Lamb 6 tackles in 4 games, Sam Rowe 5 tackles in 3 games

St Kilda: Jack Newnes 4 tackles in 7 games, Paddy McCartin 7 tackles in 7 games, David Armitage 7 tackles in 4 games, Tim Membrey 5 tackles in 5 games, Dylan Roberton 6 tackles in 4 games, Nick Coffield 8 tackles in 5 games, Jake Carlisle 8 tackles in 7 games

Melbourne: Jake Melksham 12 tackles in 7 games, Jesse Hogan 12 tackles in 7 games, Jake Lever 12 tackles in 7 games, Jordan Lewis 9 tackles in 6 games, Oscar McDonald 4 tackles in 7 games, Mitch Hannan 5 tackles in 3 games, Tom McDonald 2 tackles in 2 games, Sam Frost 2 tackles in 2 games

Essendon: Tom Bellchambers 5 tackles in 6 games, Michael Hurley 5 tackles in 7 games, Michael Hartley 6 tackles in 4 games, Joe Daniher 9 tackles in 7 games, Cale Hooker 9 tackles in 7 games, James Stewart 8 tackles in 7 games, Mitch Brown 3 tackles in 3 games,

Sydney: Jake Lloyd 9 tackles in 7 games, Heath Grundy 8 tackles in 7 games, Lance Franklin 7 tackles in 5 games, Robbie Fox 6 tackles in 4 games, Lewis Melican 5 tackles in3 games, Harrison Marsh 4 tackles in 3 games, Nic Newman 3 tackles in 2 games

Port Adelaide: Riley Bonner 9 tackles in 7 games, Tom Clurey 7 tackles in 6 games, Chad Wingard 6 tackles in 6 games, Todd Marshall 6 tackles in 4 games, Karl Amon 5 tackles in 4 games, Jack Hombsch 3 tackles in 3 games, Paddy Ryder 3 tackles in 2 games

Hawthorn: Tim O’Brien 12 tackles in 7 games, Taylor Duryea 11 tackles in 7 games, James Frawley 9 tackles in 6 games, Ryan Burton 9 tackles in 6 games, James Sicily 8 tackles in 5 games, Shaun Burgoyne 6 tackles in 4 games, David Mirra 2 tackles in 3 games, Ryan Schoenmakers 2 tackles in 2 games

Adelaide: Tom Doedee 13 tackles in 7 games, Rory Laird 12 tackles in 7 games, Mitch McGovern 12 tackles in 7 games, Jake Kelly 9 tackles in 6 games, Tom Lynch 8 tackles in 5 games, Matt Crouch 7 tackles in 4 games, Kyle Hartigan 5 tackles in 5 games, Andy Otten 3 tackles in 3 games

GWS: Nick Haynes 10 tackles in 7 games, Phil Davis 10 tackles in 7 games, Jeremy Finlayson 9 tackles in 7 games, Harry Himmelberg 9 tackles in 7  games, Jeremy Cameron 6 tackles in 6 games, Ryan Griffen 4 tackles in 4 games, Toby Greene 4 tackles in 4 games,

Collingwood: Will Hoskin-Elliiott 10 tackles in 7 games, Mason Cox 10 tackles in 6 games, Ben Reid 7 tackles in 5 games, Matt Scharenberg 7 tackles in 6 games, Darcy Moore 5 tackles in 3 games,

North Melbourne: Marley Williams 11 tackles in 7 games, Luke Davies-Uniacke 9 tackles in 5 games, Ben Brown 8 tackles in 7 games, Nathan Hrovat 3 tackles in 3 games

Richmond: David Astbury 5 tackles in 7 games, Alex Rance 10 tackles in 7 games, Jayden Short 12 tackles in 7 games

Gold Coast: Lachie Weller 13 tackles in 7 games, Rory Thompson 10 tackles in 7 games

What do we take out of these numbers?

It’s not hard to see why Brisbane are sitting 0-7 when half their best side don’t tackle enough.

How much stock do we take in West Coast’s 6-1 start to the year? Have they had to break a sweat so far against fairly easy opposition? Given that both Perth sides feature very prominently is that a reflection of the new Optus Stadium turf and perhaps an unwillingness to go as hard as one normally would?

Geelong’s backline have barely registered a tackle between them all year – something for opposition clubs to exploit later in the year, or an area for improvement that will almost certainly eventually arrive, given the quality of their list?

Is this the source of where North Melbourne’s rise up the ladder is coming from? If this falls away, so does the ladder position?

Who would have predicted Gold Coast to be up the top of this table, given their reputation for disinterested millionaire football?

Not surprising to see so many knee reconstruction victims making up the chunk of this list either.

For mine, the evolution of the game is heading in a direction where you may be able to sacrifice one or two key position players to not be hell-bent on harassing the ball carrier as much as possible for the benefit of his side. The debate as to whether that is as Richmond have done with their key defenders in Astbury and Rance, or do you gamble on a match-winning forward like Franklin or Kennedy to kick a winning score in lieu of the forward pressure they’re not currently providing, is one for another article.

Richmond have set the standard, and for mine, have only improved on it this season to date. It remains to be seen if teams can get more out of their underperforming stars in this area, or evolve without them.

 

You can get Cam Read on Twitter or give us a like on the Mongrel Punt Facebook page. We do appreciate your support. We’re not just saying that, I swear.