There was no repeat of the nightmare from 2017, as the Tigers punished the Saints in the first half to run out 54 point winners.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
The Dusty power returns
A Richmond win was expected, but one thing that people have been a little critical of this season is the overall performance of Dustin Martin.
To be fair, replicating his 2017 season was a monumental task, and a drop off was expected. When Leigh Matthews calls it one of the greatest seasons he’s ever seen, it’d be difficult to top it. Even with Dusty a little down on last year, Richmond has been very good. He's been building for a couple of weeks now, sometimes more in flashes, but tonight would send a shudder through those looking to challenge the Tigers in 2018, because Dustin Martin started showing signs that he is ramping it up.
The numbers were good – 30 touches, 13 contested disposals, five clearances and seven inside 50s, but it was two things that stood out. Martin’s power, whilst never really gone, had not really been the same this season. He hadn’t really had the drive to this point in the season. People speculated he was injured, or just not as fit as he was last year. He laid those thoughts to rest tonight. He burst through tackles, fended off and crashed into opponents all game, particularly in the first half. He was the powerhouse, the raging bull we've come to know. He was Dusty.
The other aspect was the quality of the disposals. Martin has supreme confidence in his skills, and whilst the Saints went backwards, and handballed to someone else to take responsibility for the kick, Martin took it upon himself to hit the difficult kick. He looked inboard multiple times, and really allowed Richmond to launch into attack from his disposals.
If you’re John Longmire, Adam Simpson, or whomever else thinks their team will give the Tigers a run for their money, something you thought may be swinging your way swung wildly back to the favour of Richmond. Dusty is up and about – AFL beware.
Toby Nankervis’ work rate
I’ve really rated this bloke all year long, and though he occasionally lowers his colours, it is never for lack of effort.
Nankervis works his backside off for this team. His second efforts, his willingness to run, chase, contest and tackle are an example all young bigs should watch. Many will look at his match up against Hickey tonight and call it a draw. They’ll look at stats, they’ll see the number of hit outs, and they’ll think it was an even contest.
Whilst Hickey was no slouch on the night, Nankervis continually does the hard stuff. He laid three tackles, had a goal assist and attacked the contest with the ferocity you want from your big man. He laid a terrific tackle early in the second quarter that was called high, and you could see by his reaction how much he cares. He takes pride in his defensive work, he takes pride in his attack on the ball and body, and he takes pride in being the number one ruckman at Richmond.
And they should take pride in the way he conducts himself, too. With blokes like Grundy and Gawn dominating talk as to who is the best ruck in the league, spare a thought for Toby Nankervis. No one works harder than him, week in and week out. He has a huge heart, and might be my favourite player in this Richmond team.
He showed a lot of poise tonight, and just looked steady for the entire contest.
Twice I saw him get the ball in traffic at half forward, dodge his way out of trouble and square the ball up to a waiting teammate 25 metres in the clear. He travelled at 85% efficiency over his 26 disposals and was able to stand up in tackles when they latched onto him.
That is such a strength of the Tigers – standing in tackles. Prestia, Martin, Cotchin, Caddy, Lambert – all so strong through the hips and can shrug tackles, or at least draw two players to them to try to bring them down. When they do that to Prestia, he is classy enough, and has enough poise to hit a teammate and hurt the opponent’s over-committing.
Prestia’s ball-winning ability will be vital to the Richmond title defence, and if he is able to find space like he did tonight, it’ll spell trouble.
No repeat of last year
We all heard the stuff about last year. The saints gave the Tigers a beat down and had 14 goals to two at one stage.
Not tonight. Nowhere near it. The Tigers meant business right from the outset and put paid to any St Kilda challenge by quarter time. We already spoke about Dusty, but Kane Lambert was tremendous in the first as well. He had 11 touches and finished with 23. He had the ball when the game was hot.
The use of Short
It was nice to see St Kilda wake up to the way Richmond was using Jayden Short.
What would’ve been nicer is if they woke up to it a little earlier. The Tigers are so good at having their half backs sneak forward to become an option for inboard kicks at half forward. Vlastuin does it, McIntosh does it, and when he’s on the park, Houli does it. But when Short gets the ball in that position, you are in huge trouble.
His ability to penetrate not only the 50 metre arc, but get the ball deep into the Richmond attacking zone creates plenty of that chaos that the Tiger forwards thrive in. Some of the Richmond mids are very difficult to tag, and it’s so hard to cover their even spread through the middle, but if I were coaching an AFL team instead of being a bum writing ill-informed match reports, I reckon I might send someone to Short.
His ball use really hurts, and stopping it is a key to stopping those deep kicks.
The Jack Steven goal
I don’t know if he knew what he was doing, or whether he just threw a boot at it in hope, but irrespective of what he was doing, it was a ripping goal.
Seriously, I get out to the local park now and again, and even at my advanced age, I still commentate to myself as I snap goals from those angles. It’s nice when they sail through, but to do it out of mind air… that’s a special effort.
At that stage of the game, St Kilda supporters had very little to get excited about, but that goal – wow… just wow.
I have to add this as I have made mention of how good Richmond are at it in reviews without ever singling it out.
No one guards the goal face better than Richmond. They are disciplined, they are cohesive and they are vigilant. Whether it is Rance dropping back, Grimes, or Astbury, you just don’t get a goal over the back against Richmond. One of them always takes on the role of patrolling that square.
It completely nullifies that kick in hope from a stoppage, and renders the dribble kick in traffic completely ineffective. I’m sure Hardwick is the instigator for this (and I won’t call it great coaching – we had the same tactic in our Under 13 team in the old Western District Footy League and believe me – it worked back then too!) but credit goes to the Tiger defence for knowing when to drop back and making the necessary adjustments when they do.
It is great collective defence.
Too many passengers
For mine, there seem to be too many St Kilda players that, when the heat is on, just look happy to be there.
They’re like the actors who are nominated for an award but everyone knows they’re not going to win. They’re just happy to be nominated! In the first half, we had several actors in red, white and black. They were waving at the camera, but they didn’t want a starring role on the story of Richmond v St Kilda.
I’ve been so disappointed in Jack Billings this season – two touches in the first quarter. Mav Weller is a nothing-player - ok at many things and great at nothing, and Jack Newnes does nowhere near enough for someone with his ability. Harsh? Maybe, but for the life of me, of the three named there, only Newnes has done anything of note this season. I reckon we may see Billings in a different jumper next season – he looks miserable at St Kilda, and I feel miserable watching someone I thought would push for All Australian selection this season produce so little.
Jack Steven’s disposal
I know he kicked an amazing goal tonight, but I cannot stand watching him hack the ball all over the field.
Only half of his 12 kicks managed to find a target, and he was responsible for eight turnovers for the game. I compared him to Dane Swan last week, but seriously, he is not Dane Swan’s backside.
He rounded out his night with eight clangers and just one tackle. On face value, you look at his night – 23 touches and a goal. Don’t be fooled – it was a poor performance.
The St Kilda first half
You know what – I’ve heard a few things that have indicated that the young St Kilda crew and the recently retired Nick Riewoldt didn’t really see eye to eye. Riewoldt criticised the young Saints this season for being unable to handle a spray, and if you’ve listened certain people on Twitter in the know (no names Rick Nixon) they’ll tell you that Riewoldt isn’t the most popular figure with those who remained at the club after he departed.
Well, in the first half the Saints played like a team who didn’t give a rat’s backside that it was a big night for Nick and co. They were abysmal.
Their refusal to surge forward with any sort of meaningful disposal was horrible to watch. It was like they were all waiting for someone else to take the responsibility of kicking inside 50, and they were happy to handball backwards, sell a teammate into trouble, or just flat out turn it over rather than actually give their forwards a chance.
Yes, yes, yes… Richmond get numbers back, and they do it quite well. Yes, yes, yes… Richmond have three elite tall defenders in Grimes, Astbury and Rance, and they zone off beautifully with guys like Broad when the others have a direct opponent, but at some point you’ve got to back your forwards in to win a damn contest! The more you chip it round, and the more you take your time, the better Richmond set up their defence. You’re not going to beat them by NOT going inside 50.
Yet that seemed to be St Kilda’s game plan in the first half. They deserved to be down by 58 points at half time.
Not that he needed a leg-up at all tonight, but Dusty was incredibly lucky to get the free kick that led to the first goal of the game against Armitage. Very soft free.
Didn’t throw Jack Riewoldt in the ‘good’ category tonight, but he is having a ripping year. He was easily the best forward on the ground again tonight. Not dominant, but always provided an option, and he leads at the right time to the right spot.
I reckon there was one player for St Kilda who looked confident when the ball was in his hands. While everyone else ummed and ahhhhed about what to do with the ball, Jade Gresham looked as though he may be able to make something happen.
Rowan Marshall – it really is feast or famine with this bloke. He looks like he has all the tools, but some of his kicking tonight… it really let the Tigers into contests they had no right to be part of. His turnover in defensive 50 in the first quarter allowed Kane Lambert to goal from the ensuing stoppage. Gotta hit your targets, big fella.
I thought Dusty’s first quarter was the best footy he’s played this season. He did get caught holding the ball once by Jack Steele, but his run and carry, his sizzling left foot pass to Riewoldt, and his mark against Carlisle inside 50 were vintage Martin.
Saw Cotchin attack the contest against Steele in the first quarter and couldn’t help but think it was eerily similar to the clash with Dylan Shiel that caused so much uproar last year. Just like last year, it was a great attack on the ball and the man - low and hard, and was called play on!
Where were the St Kilda defenders to make Kane Lambert pay as he sprinted back to mark with the flight in the first quarter? Please see the section above entitled ‘Too many passengers’. Only Bailey Rice arrived on the scene and he was the one bloke who got hurt! If Lambert is going to get that kind of space in the forward 50 to run and jump at the ball with the flight, there HAS to be a St Kilda defender coming the other way. There just has to be!
Also in the same passage of play, Jack Sinclair’s efforts to subdue Short were anaemic at best. Short should not have been able to get the kick away for Lambert to run onto, but Sinclair’s tackle was just a little too tame for my liking.
Nankervis’ pass to Riewoldt to set up his second quarter goal was a thing of beauty for the big man. Ruckmen trusted with those sort of kicks isn’t a common occurrence, but Nank isn’t your regular ruckman. As you read above, I’m a bit of a fan.
Only two intercept marks on the night for Jake Carlisle, and after his first, he immediately turned it over. 19 touches and eight marks looks okay on paper though, right?
I caught one moment during the second quarter where I was able to watch Richmond players run to make space for the disposal. They sprinted. Their St Kilda counterparts did a lot of jogging and a fair amount of pointing. Again, waiting for someone else to do things.
How good was Dusty not even acknowledging there’s been a head clash when he contested the ball in the middle? Some players go down like they’ve been shot in those circumstances. Respect, Dusty.
Worst example of a defensive 50 exit tonight goes to Shane Savage and Bailey Rice, who completely botched a simple run and carry with Savage ending up handballing it into Rice’s back. Ugh…
Ed Phillips received a free kick for too high against Dylan Grimes in the second – it looked to me like Phillips fell into Grimes’ legs and he just stood there. Not sure what else he was supposed to do in that situation.
Jack Riewoldt’s third goal came from a ruck infringement against Tom Hickey. Hang your head in shame, Tom! This is your role in the team and you were beaten hands down by a guy who wouldn’t even practice ruck contests.
It took until the third quarter for a St Kilda player to hit a risky inboard kick. Jarryn Geary managed to swing the ball to centre half forward where Membrey was able to mark and goal. Amazing what happens when you back yourself, huh?
Caddy marking the Riewoldt miss on the goal line was unforgivable. Both Hickey and Carlisle were right there and neither contested the mark.
Great defence by Vlastuin getting back to spoil Josh Battle with the flight, but what was battle doing? All he had to do was draw contact and he’d get the free kick. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen some highly capable players make this mistake and not initiate contact with the player running back with the flight. From on contact will win you a free kick if you are trying to get a run at the ball and are barrelled into. Players need to be smarter if they can’t be better.
I noticed Alex Rance hurt Jade Gresham in a tackle to open the last quarter. Completely fair, which makes it an excellent tackle in my book.
It was really a tale of two teams in terms of handball tonight. Richmond was accurate and adventurous. St Kilda were timid and skewed. The Richmond handballs seemed to create opportunity whilst the St Kilda handballs only served to increase pressure on themselves. The Tigers’ work in the last quarter that saw a tap on from Higgins lead to 3-4 handballs, culminating with a goal to Shane Edwards was possibly the play of the night.
And that’s about it for the Mongrel tonight. Easy win by Richmond, and really, had they really gone hard we could’ve been looking at a 100-point margin here. The saints have a lot of work to do. They don’t seem to be playing as a team. There’s too much stop-starting and way too many players unwilling to take the game on. If this is a coaching directive, it needs to change for next year. Conservative footy from a team that doesn’t have the skills by foot or hand to retain the ball is a disaster waiting to happen.
For the Tigers, they’re simply waiting for September now. The big guns are firing, and barring injury, they’ll be there for at least the prelim final weekend – let’s face it; from then on, it only takes one bad game for all the good work to come undone. If Dusty is on the upswing… I’m excited to see what they can produce.
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