It was supposed to be a season-defining game for the Melbourne Demons. It was supposed to be all about them coming out and showing what they were made of, and initially, they did.
For one quarter the Dees were hard at it, taking the game on and wanting to take the risks, run the lines and create havoc.
And then they were stopped, dead in their tracks as the pressure from the Richmond Footy Club, unlike that from the Dees, didn’t stop as the first quarter ended. From then on, when the Demons took a short cut, the Tigers did the hard stuff, and what resulted was almost a complete shutdown of Melbourne’s ball movement from half back through the centre, the elimination of easy disposals, and the punishment of loose delivery.
Here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
SYDNEY STACK… BANG!
In one fell swoop, at the beginning of the third quarter, Sydney Stack made his biggest impact of the season. As the Dees cleared the ball from the centre square, and into the path of their captain, Jack Viney, Stack burst off the half back line with Viney in his sights.
To his credit, the Melbourne captain never took his eyes off the ball – you would’ve heard the commentators talk about how hard a player he is, and how he would never shirk an issue. But maybe he should’ve looked up? Just a little? Just a glance?
If he had, he would’ve seen a locomotive rumbling down the tracks, and realised he was standing right in the way.
Sydney Stack crashed into the Melbourne captain with the force of a thousand suns… okay, okay, it was probably a bit more forceful than that, and it sent Viney crashing to the turf as the Tigers took control of the ball. It was the hardest hit of the young AFL season, and it was something that is largely missing from the modern game.
But it was so damn good!
It took an 18 year old with baaaaaaad intentions to execute a perfect hip and shoulder, and send a message to the league – these Richmond kids aren’t screwing around.
Viney went straight down the race for assessment on his shoulder, and though he returned later, at that moment, you knew the Tigers had the Dees’ number. A kid - a young fella in just his fourth game fixed up the Demons’ leader with a spectacular bump that shook him to his core. I loved it – absolutely loved it!
And you know what? His big mark earlier in the game wasn’t bad either. Congrats Richmond… you’ve found another one.
In a game where the Tigers had many winners, the game of this young bloke stoof out to me. He also stood out to me but I really hate going back and correcting my spelling errors.
His stats won’t blow anyone away, but I loved his repeated efforts, and the way he busted a gut to get from contest to contest. Whilst others jogged or ran three quarter pace from the a contest in the centre to the next one inside 50, he was on the sprint, and after it happened a couple of times it looked as though there were two of him out there.
When you consider that the first two players I’m mentioning are him and Stack, the future looks incredibly bright for the Tigers.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
That phrase was popularised by NBA star, Kevin Durant, but can be attributed to high school coach Tim Notke. It applied to this Richmond team, and to guys like Liam Baker. The talent is there, but so is the work ethic, and when you come up against a team with huge talent but whose work ethic is being questioned… well, those who possess it AND work hard are quickly identified.
And that’s why I am identifying Liam Baker today. Congrats Richmond… you’ve found another one.
I want to run down a few stats for you here, and then compare it to what was happening at the other end. Maths was never my strong suit, so bear with me.
Kane Lambert had four tackles inside 50. Brandon Ellis had two, as did Liam Baker, Noah Balta, Jason Castagna and Daniel Rioli. Then you had Dusty, Jack Higgins and Josh Caddy with one each. Now… carry the one… that’s 17 tackles inside forward 50. This is why the Tigers get so many stoppages in there, get so many second and third opportunities, and so many re-entries when panicked opponents hack the ball out, terrified that another tackle could soon be upon them.
And at the other end… well, Jeff Garlett got two, and Alex Neal-Bullen had one, and… yeah, that’s it. So the entire Melbourne team was out-tackled in their forward 50 by Kane Lambert – a midfielder.
Tackling is an effort stat. If you’re having an ordinary day, you can always work defensively, and that’s what the Tigers do. Castagna and Rioli weren’t having the best of days, but they were still doing the team things. Balta had a shocker of a first half, but he was still competing when the ball hit the deck.
The Melbourne forwards… I don’t know what to say, but when it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and can’t chase, chances are it is a lame duck, and that’s exactly what the Melbourne forward line is right now.
The tape review of this game will be interesting. At Punt Road, my guess is the Richmond forwards (and the midfielder who led everyone) will be patted on the back. Meanwhile, at… wherever it is that Melbourne hangs around these days, a kick in the pants is probably more likely. Both actions are completely deserved.
THE RUNNING DEFENDERS
Two blokes had the ball on a string tonight. One was named Bachar, and the other named Nick, and between them, they completely obliterated the Melbourne forward “pressure”.
Yeah… as I pointed out above - “pressure”.
Houli and Vlastuin had a party across half back. Backed ably by the supreme defensive prowess of Dylan Grimes, they raffled the incoming ball to both end up with double figures in intercept possessions.
Now, let’s put that in context.
Here’s some of the numbers for Melbourne forwards. Six for Weideman (oh yes, your time is coming in this column), seven for Hunt, eight for Lockhart, nine for Smith, 10 for Neal-Bullen and 11 for Garlett.
So in intercepts alone, both Houli and Vlastuin had as many or more touches than six of the Melbourne forwards. Were the midfielders actually looking for the Richmond defenders or something? That is pathetic delivery from Melbourne.
Overall, Houli had 32 for the day at 81% efficiency, whilst not to be outdone, Vlastuin had 28 at 82% efficiency. People they are both absolutely elite numbers, and both will feature heavily in our Power Rankings come the end of this round, hitting several triggers each on tonight’s performances.
“NEON” DION PRESTIA
Last week I wrote about how Prestia flies under the radar due to the presence of Cotchin and Martin in this Richmond midfield, but with Cotch out, and Dusty doing…well, he’s doing something but I’m not really sure what it is… back to back 30+ disposal games have elevated Prestia into the lofty position of the number one midfielder at Richmond.
Some might argue he’s been that for a little while already. He had a game high ten clearances for the Tigers (power rankings trigger for midfielders) and laid six tackles as well, indicating he’s not just doing the fancy stuff. He worked all over the ground, sending the Tigers inside 50 six times, and rebounding from defence three times as well.
He is unsung outside of Punt Road, but that may be coming to an abrupt halt. This kind of form simply cannot be ignored for long
Check out this fella – three games into his AFL career, and here he is, averaging 23.3 disposals per game, and four tackles inside 50. Not bad numbers for a seasoned veteran, let alone an 18 year old.
Amazingly, he is the third teenager to be highlighted in this review thus far, which bodes unbelievably well for the Tigers. Their kids are buying into the team ethos, and find themselves caught up in the manic, pressure-driven web of Tiger chaos.
Ross looks like he was born to play in the Richmond midfield, and though he will likely make room for Trent Cotchin when the skipper returns, he is now battle-tested in a big game, and he responded to the pressure with an impressive 28-disposal outing. When called upon in the future, Ross will be ready. Hell, he’s ready now.
Rising star nomination incoming? Congrats Richmond… you’ve found another one. Hmmm… I’m sensing a pattern here.
I’m sick of waiting for this bloke to do something… anything! I am sick of the threats, the potential, the look of him, and the promise. I am sick of seeing him roaming around centre half forward looking like the Hulk, and playing like Bruce Banner.
Christian Petracca is the 2019 Demons in a nutshell. He is great in theory, and abysmal in practice. In a forward line screaming out for someone to stand up, he double-grabbed (again), kicked without actually looking (again) and failed to hit the scoreboard (again).
Why is he playing up forward? The Dees need help in the middle, but it is an indictment that with so many mids under the pump, that Petracca can’t even get a run in there. You have blokes like Harmes (oh, we’ll get to him – fear not) who are not even a pimple on Petracca’s ass, talent wise getting ample midfield time, while this bloke wastes away in a role he’s clearly not cut out for. What the hell do you do with him?
At this point, the Dees might be well served in testing the trade waters with Petracca. The dream for him was to be a big-bodied mid that can punish teams up forward. We continue to see glimpses of that player, but that’s all we ever see.
Bruce Springsteen once sang “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”
For Melbourne, Petracca is currently a lie, and if he doesn’t pull his finger out soon, he becomes something worse.
And we get to Harmes. Good. I’ve been looking forward to this.
There was a point late last season when the football world was toasting James Harmes. In his run-with roles, he was working his ass off and reaping the rewards. He was hunting, and he was doing big jobs. When the chips were down, you could count on him to do his role and halve a contest.
Well, you can’t count on that anymore.
Every player hears footsteps at one point or another. Hell, I have, and I’m betting you have too. James Harmes heard them tonight, but his efforts, in throwing one hand up at a contest early in the evening spoke volumes, and make no mistake, Richmond heard them loud and clear.
The first quarter was not even half way over when Harmes had the chance to take a mark with the flight of the ball. In his defence, he didn’t know what was coming the other way, and It would've taken enormous courage to take the grab. However, when he finally went for the ball, it was with one hand – an ineffective swipe at a footy he should’ve made his own, and the Tigers took control of the ball as a result. It didn’t hurt the Dees on the scoreboard, and seemingly didn’t have an impact on their collective psyche.
At least not right away.
Harmes is one of their tough men, right? One of the guys who is hard at the footy, and hard at the player? Yet when it was his turn to go, early in the game when the adrenaline should’ve been surging through his veins, he tentatively went back and threw a hand up at a contest no Tigers players got to.
Do you think for a moment that Damien Hardwick or one of the assistant coaches didn’t point that out to the Tigers? Do you think they were unaware of his decision not to put himself completely in harm's way? And do you think, if he had his time over again, that Harmes would do things differently?
You can hang out by the pool on a floating, blow up animal all you like, take pics in your budgie smugglers, showing off your rig, but when that rig is just for show, what good is it? He should’ve made that ball his. He didn’t.
He finished with 15 touches, with just eight of them hitting the mark. Defensively, he had one tackle, and of his touches, just four were contested.
I don’t think he’ll be enjoying the review of this one.
Apologies for the terrible video quality – I’m pretty high-tec and rcorded this on my phone whilst it played on my TV… nothing but the best at the Mongrel offices (my lounge room).
A win can, at times, wallpaper over some cracks, and I want to share this, because from the outside looking in, it’s of a bit of concern.
Check out the non-chase of Dustin Martin here. He is running around at three quarter pace, people. I reckon that he is looking more like a Melbourne mid than a Richmond one at the moment. You cannot be happy with this footage.
THE $650K QUESTION
So, Sam Weideman wants $650,000 per season, huh? Is this in Zimbabwean dollars, because based on his output tonight, that’s about all he’s worth.
I don’t want to rehash the Jesse Hogan stuff, but it was Weideman’s development and the emergence of tonight’s Melbourne full back, Tom McDonald, that made Hogan expendable, and here’s Weed, notching a deplorable stat-line of six touches and three marks for zero goals.
With McDonald down the other end, the heat was on him (and Petracca) to stand up and do something. He didn’t fire a shot.
When you command the big dollars, you back it up and justify it. He wants $650K? Tonight’s performance was worth $6.50.
If the Dees are wanting to throw big money around for a bloke that can hang out inside forward 50 and not touch the ball… I’m available.
So yes, the kicking… before the game we were having a bit of a discussion about how no Melbourne mids were rated as “elite” for kicking. Nathan Jones was the only one rated as “above average” which was a huge concern for me, particularly as Richmond’s pressure was bound to impact their percentages negatively in this game.
So, how’d they go?
Petracca went at 100% by foot, but that is mitigated by the fact he kicked it just five times. Next best was Jones again, with 81% on his 11 kicks. Jake Melksham went at 61.1% from his 18 kicks, but was quite wayward early, and I think a few junk time kicks bumped him up a little.
Then we move into some ugly territory. Christian Salem went at just 58.8% off half back - down on his 71% season average. Angus Brayshaw hacked it again, going 57.9% on 19 kicks. Clayton Oliver and James Harmes each went at 50% efficiency on 10 kicks each, and then there’s Jack Viney, who managed to have a third of his kicks register as effective, with 33.3% of his nine kicks doing… something.
Now, when you consider that “effective” can mean anything from hitting a target to gaining ground, the numbers for these guys are probably way lower in terms of actual accuracy, you can see why the Demon forwards struggled. It’s not an excuse for Weideman, Petracca and company, but it sure as hell doesn’t help when there is no genuine class by foot delivering inside 50.
So I’ve been really negative on the Dees in this article. Can I find a positive? Jake Melksham, maybe? Playing between forward and in the guts he had nine clearances and sent the ball inside 50 ten times. Ahhhh, nup… can’t do it. He had 10 turnovers. Nine, I could deal with, but ten?
See what the pressure does to delivery from half back? The usually unflappable Christian Salem was placed under pressure today, and ran at 66% as a result.
Of course, that’s nowhere near the 50% efficiency for Jack Viney, or the 51% for Clayton Oliver, who despite laying eight tackles, felt as though he didn’t work hard back into defence often enough to help out.
Kane Lambert had a nice return to form, notching 15 contested touches amongst his 29 disposals. For the record, I still don’t see him as elite, but damn he makes a great little third mid – kind of like how I see Liam Shiels at Hawthorn.
TMac at full back? Well, he did have 19 spoils/1%ers, so that’s a decent night out for a full back, but when you’re also your team’s number one forward, this presents a bit of a problem. Hurry back, Steven May… and you too, Jake Lever.
Actually, I have something to say that’s positive about the Dees - Max Gawn. Some beautiful ruck work from him tonight, and the way he took it upon himself to drift deep and cut off three long balls inside defensive 50 late in the first half really saved the Dees. He finished with 48 hit outs. And though Nank is a mongrel favourite (and let’s face it, you have to be good value to earn that status), Gawn really battled on against him, and was better tonight, particularly after quarter time.
And of course both Sam Frost and Marty Hore did what they could to hold back the wave of yellow and black crashing down all around them. Both were good, given the circumstances.
Could Dylan Grimes emerge from the shadow of Alex Rance to become and All-Australian defender finally? He didn’t do any harm to his chances with his performance in this one.
Angus Brayshaw – I reckon there has to come a point where he decides what he is going to be. Some weeks he looks like a ferocious lion attacking the ball, and then there’s times he looks like a timid mouse. In the first quarter today… that was mouse-like. His defensive work on the switch just outside 50 opposed to Jack Riewoldt was horrible. It looked lazy.
Hibberd on Dusty – you’d call that move a success, with Dusty having four touches in the first quarter and running at 0%. Given that Martin drifted forward to hurt Sydney last week, making the most of the confusion in the switches, it was actually a really intelligent move by Simon Goodwin to keep one bloke on him who’s capable of defending one-on-one as well.
The “chicken-wing” tackle? Nothing in it. It seemed to me as though Jack Riewoldt just held Bayley Fritsch’s arm to prevent him from disposing of the ball. It was actually really intelligent by Jack, and he should not face any disciplinary action for this. He could’ve wrenched back and made that really ugly, but he just held the arm there, and you could see by the non-reaction from both the Melbourne player and his teammates that there was no excessive force used. The fact Ch7 replayed it so many times smelt of people chasing a story that simply wasn’t there.
Gotta love the microphones on the umps, huh? Did you know that Jordan Lewis is so fucking old that he can’t run? If you didn’t, Jack Riewoldt let us all know as he explained that to the umpire. Enlightening stuff.
Speaking of Riewoldt, in the presser, Hardwick said the full forward would miss some time after hurting his knee in the last quarter. The Tigers are just having the worst luck with injury this season, yet here they are, at 4-2… damn it!
And that’ll about do me. Hope you enjoyed the ranting, raving and perhaps you found just a skerrick of usefulness from this review.
The Tigers get the Dogs next week and would be liking their chances, particularly with the Dogs’ inability to function inside 50. Grimes, Vlastuin and Houli could feast again.
The Dees have the Hawks, who depending on what occurs this week, might be fighting for their season as well.
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