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JLT Review - Richmond v Hawthorn

So, what would you call that? Pulling a Tiger out of a hat? A game of two halves? Flipping the switch? Spraying the Rexona?

Okay, I just made that last one up.

Call it what you like, but there was quite a bit to take away from a game where Richmond were 40 points down, came back and pinched the win.

Hawthorn obviously had a plan in place to rest James Sicily in the second half, but I wonder how tempting it was to throw him back on there as the Tigers inched closer? Richmond were far from their manic best, but there were signs there that they can indeed turn it on when the need is pressing.

I reckon it’s a system that is fraught with danger. Teams that “flip the switch” can fall into a bit of a bad habit of falling behind. Yes, they have another gear, and when they start getting it together, they can run over teams, but what happens when that switch doesn’t flip? What then?

You need look no further than last year’s Preliminary Final for your answer, as painful as it may be. The greatest teams play good, four quarter football, and as much as I admire the way Richmond plays when they’re “on”, if they’re only going to be on for a half, or three quarters, 2018 might not be the only heartbreak they have in the next couple of years.

A bit dramatic? Maybe, but I think you know I’m right. Four quarter football is good football. Falling 40 points behind… that’s dangerous, and had the Hawks converted a couple of those point blank goals, Richmond fans may be asking what went wrong. Instead, you’re probably wanting to know what went right?

Okay, here goes.

Firstly, when the going gets tough, Trent Cotchin gets going. In consecutive plays the Richmond captain slotted two goals to give the Tigers a lead, and then won the next centre clearance. He didn’t have a huge game by any measure, but when the game was there to be won, his competitive instincts took over and he did what a great leader does.

Did you notice anything at half time they interviewed him? It must be humbling to stand there, look down the barrel of the camera and talk about how poorly you’ve been playing, but that’s what Cotchin did. I wonder whether that was the point he decided to do something about it? After seven touches in the first half, he had 17 in the second to power the Tigers, as the Hawthorn machine ground to a complete halt.

Even if he’s having a poor game, Cotchin has the ability, and more importantly, the will to impact the contest. If he’s not getting cleans hands to the ball, he throws himself into the contest to make damn sure his opponent isn’t going to get clean hands either. There was a definite sign right after the half time break. The Tigers got the clearance and kicked long to forward 50. A Hawk marked the ball, but of all players in the middle, Cotchin was first back there – by a long way. At that point, I started to watch him – he wanted it.

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At times in the third quarter it looked as though the sides had swapped jumpers at half time. Hawthorn’s run dried up, and though there were plenty of poor kicks and fumbles from both sides, Richmond started making Hawthorn pay.

Whilst Alastair Clarkson won’t lose much sleep about a JLT game, Hawks supporters might be in the mood for finger-pointing, and there were a few who would be front and centre. Isaac Smith playing on from 11 metres out and missing – that was a bone-headed move. Luke Breust dropping marks and missing goals he’d usually eat up, and Tim O’Brien… the less said, the better. Actually no… I’m going to say plenty later on. I am so disappointed that this bloke continually gets games that I just felt angry when I misspelled his name and had to press backspace to get it right. Next time, I’ll leave it as Tom O’Brien!

When the Tigers turned the pressure up, the younger Hawks wilted.

One player who looked polished the entire game was Jack Higgins. You can tell he lives and breathes footy because even though we are in pre-season, he looks clean, sharp, and “on”. It’s as though he hasn’t put a footy down since the end of last season, and even though some view him as a bit of a sideshow, he is fast becoming a very serious AFL player.

Whilst Richmond were struggling, Higgins snuck in with goals at crucial moments. When players reached for the ball and didn’t commit, Higgins put his body over it, took it cleanly and kicked goals. I had him as best on ground, and it has got me wondering just where his ceiling is? This year, and beyond.

So, while I am thinking about it, I may as well state it, and you can either mock me, or think that maybe I am onto something. I think Jack Higgins could be the All-Australian forward pocket this season. Yep, he’s that good. The AFL is full of athletes – Jack Higgins is a footballer, and here at The Mongrel, we love footballers.

Even when they wear yellow and black, damn it.

It was a great third quarter from Jack Riewoldt, who relished having Tim O’Brien thrown onto him. Riewoldt led him a dance, and got some silver service from his mids, in stark contrast to the first half. Even when Frawley was on him, Riewoldt managed to use O’Brien as a screen to get free. It was as though O’Brien was one of the best players on the park… FOR Richmond.

I thought the O’Brien trial was over last season but it seems the results weren’t quite conclusive enough for Clarkson. Maybe this game is proof enough? I know a few Hawthorn supporters who would like Dr Clarkenstein to pull the pin on this experiment.

Riewoldt’s three third quarter goals – one from a double-50 metre penalty, which really needs to be ironed out before Round One, were the catalyst for the Tiger comeback. As the gap narrowed, the searching leads from Hawthorn ceased, and the safe, chip-chip-chip style that never works started to bring them undone. Had the Tigers been cleaner, they would’ve overrun Hawthorn earlier.

Blokes like Dan Butler had an absolute shocker for the Tigers. He couldn’t hit the side of a barn with the side of another barn. That’s how bad he was. Connor Mendaue was wayward, Kane Lambert was messy, and Jayden Short… I didn’t think he could kick as poorly as he did tonight, but there you go – you’d much rather he hack it in the JLT series than against the Blues in two weeks.

Jarman Impey was fantastic for Hawthorn, and one of their only true four-quarter performers. He was fantastic in defence, and could be relied upon not only to win his own ball, but not completely hack it whenever he got it. It appeared as though Clarkson wanted him freed up to rebound, but I really wanted to see him match up on Higgins – that’d be worth the price of admission.

James Sicily was another who looked good, if a little rusty. If we’re looking at NBA-style +/- stats, Sicily would be +40 for his time on the ground. Tim O’Brien would be -48. That has to say something.

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Look! Mongrel Punt Stubby Holders. Buy one and be cooler than all your friends! It also helps the site out.

The battle between Dustin Martin and Jaeger O’Meara was quite interesting. Though they play wide of each other, I get the feeling that O’Meara thinks he is a match for Dusty – watch his body language when the teams play. Tonight, he probably was a match. Martin is a beast, but he made errors tonight that could’ve been costly.

O’Meara racked up 35 touches and four clearances, but whilst Martin “only” had 30 touches, ten of them were clearances. Great to see Dusty suffering no ill-effects from that jarred knee he suffered last week – looked nasty at the time.

The rumours of Jarryd Roughead’s death seem to have been greatly exaggerated. The big fella grabbed a bag of five, and should’ve had six if not for a costly miss as the Tigers were pressing. It’s at moments like that you start to sense the game is slipping. Still, Rough was good, and though Alex Rance had a significant impact in the last quarter, Rough’s presence and ability to take a grab meant that Rance didn’t have carte blanche to do as he pleased in the defensive 50.

I think Rough got a couple on Rance for the night, but one thing I did notice is that Grimes and Astbury didn’t seem to be within striking distance tonight when Rance was caught in one-on-ones. If this was a deliberate tactical move by Clarkson, it was a pretty good one. Divide and conquer… it almost worked. I can’t see Hardwick allowing that to be the case the next time the teams meet.

Nice little cameo by Mav Weller, who looks like he’ll be a handy depth player this season. I reckon he needs to shave off that beard, as poor old Mav has eyes that are really close together and it makes him look like Bigfoot from Harry and the Hendersons.

Mitch Lewis started really well, with four marks in the first quarter. He ended with five for the game. Amazing how opportunities become increasingly limited once the spotlight hits you.

Loved the game of James Worpel. Nine clearances amongst his 24 touches, and his mark and goal against Bachar Houli in the third was McAvaney-esque kind of special. He strikes me as the kind of bloke who could captain the team one day.

But in the end, it was the relentless Richmond pressure, combined with a deer-in-the-headlights response from Hawthorn that saw the Tigers roll over the top to win it. Even a bloke like Dan Butler, who was terrible whenever he got the ball, did what coaches ask of players when they’re having a poor game – he tackled. Butler finished with nine to lead all players, and that, my friends, is how Richmond won.

Some may think it was a change in game plan. Some may think it was a player or two standing up. Nup… for me, it was the little things that made Richmond the best in the game up until mid-September last season. It was the tackling, the harassing, the pressure and the ability to push the ball forward, ever forward even when they didn’t have possession, that made the difference.

They turned the tables. They flipped the script. They U-turned the mystery machine.

Yep, I made the last one up again, but you get the picture. The Tigers ran over the Hawks on will alone, but will that be enough against better teams this season?

In two weeks’ time, we’ll start to find our answer.

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