While many Melbournians flock to the glorious Queensland weather in Winter, Richmond were delivered a dreary day with a sodden pitch and howling winds amongstthe regular showers that interrupted their match with Gold Cast at Metricon. Ironically, Victoria was bathed in sunshine and a balmy 18 degrees.
Before the season this game would have been pencilled in as a potential percentage booster, particularly on the back of last year’s Jack Riewoldt show where the Tiger superstar slotted ten goals. However long-term injuries to Riewoldt, Alex Rance and skipper Trent Cotchin amongst others had the faithful dreading a repeat of the Karmichael Hunt heroics from years ago, especially as the Stewis Dew led Suns have proved more than competitive throughout the year despite only three victories.
Any anxious feelings were well and truly expunged within the first five minutes as a rampant Tiger outfit rejuvenated by a flotilla of hungry small forwards brushed aside the home team with impunity as they totalled five goals before the Suns had registered a forward 50 entry. A healthy crowd of over 16,000 were left stunned as the carnage did not stop there as they raced to a nine goal first quarter, their best since the 1981 season.
An incredible 73% disposal efficiency supported the general view the Tigers were playing dry weather football in the challenging conditions, and the incredible 12 first term smothers (against a match average of nine) further emphasised the Richmond desire. To the Suns credit they were able to even up several statistical categories over the course of the next three quarters, ending up losing tackles by three, 55-52, the Inside 50 count by 18, 57-39 and improving their own disposal efficiency from a dismal 45% in the first term to a respectable 68% by the end of the match.
Despite a lull at the beginning of the third term, the Tigers were able to re-exert their dominance to record a thumping 92-point win and importantly improving their feeble percentage by almost eight points to 103%.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PLAYERS – TOP FIVE
Having shown glimpses of his considerable talent over the past two years, Shai is starting to influence games for longer this season and returned his best ever four quarter performance to be a standout as best afield in the Tigers big win today.
Starting the game in exquisite touch he goaled early from a perfectly weighted pass from Shane Edwards, bravely running with the flight and then accelerating into an open goal. He turned provider shortly afterwards with an audacious clearance and handball to Ivan Soldo who centred the ball to Lynch who monstered Hombsch for his second. He added a second early in the next quarter as Lambert gave up the chance to score his fourth in five minutes in favour of the team-oriented option, a trademark of Richmond’s great run through 2017/18.
Throughout the game Bolton had an incredible telepathy with Sydney Stack, best illustrated by their one-two punch that cut a gaping hole through the flailing Suns defence and setting up Castagna for his fifth.
Richmond fans, and indeed the coaching structure must be salivating at the thought of Bolton delivering the types of numbers he recorded today, 26 disposals, his career-best by nine, 419 metres gained with his explosive pace and accurate delivery, six times he launched the ball inside 50, adding five clearances to his two goals and nine score involvements in what was a complete game.
The enigmatic Castagna who with his unique skills should be able to contribute offensively more consistently than he does finally put it all together against the Suns embattled backline at Metricon today. Possessing incredible speed which often allows him to find time and space to create, he was enormous in the first quarter, effectively putting the result out of reach with six disposals, four marks inside 50 and three goals one behind, including a flawless execution of a banana kick from deep in the right forward pocket under the scoreboard.
He was relatively unobtrusive throughout the middle part of the match before coming to life again in the last, reigniting the Tiger charge towards a three-figure result with a scything run through forward 50 that just faded right, before capping off an outstanding individual game with two last quarter goals to finish with a career best five for the afternoon.
Despite the abundance of ball into the Richmond forward line throughout the day it is often a challenge for predominantly stay-at-home small forwards to compile big possession numbers, which makes Caatagna’s final line of 18 disposals, at a stunning 88% efficiency, and 12 score involvements to go with his 5.2 all the more meritorious.
One of the unsung hero’s in recent years as Richmond have surged back to regular contention Lambert was a powerhouse all day, in particular during the early stages of the second quarter as he collected three goals in a matter of minutes, two courtesy of direct goal assists from Dusty Martin, and gave off another certain goals to Bolton.
He continued to be a solid contributor as the Tigers careered away, finishing with 24 disposals at 83% efficiency, four tackles, 11 score involvements and three goals assists. A heavy collision and fall after a hospital pass from Rioli late in the game left him dazed and sore, but he was able to continue and hopefully will recover in time to continue his great form next week.
The combative Sun was one of the few Gold Coast players willing to physically stand up to the overwhelming scoreboard thrashing meted out to them in the dreary conditions. Regularly initiating contact in stoppages, and importantly backing it up, firstly with a clever and deserved goal after a scramble in the second quarter, and then with a bruising tackle on the larger Astbury in the third to win a free kick and set up a goal. He finished with a second goal in the last to go along with 24 disposals and five strong tackles. His recent form, only dipping below 20 possessions once since round 8 would have him highly regarded to place in the Suns B&F come the end of the season. If his fearless attitude was replicated by some of his more experienced teammates there is no doubt the result would have been closer.
The Gold Coast co-captain has proved a revelation this season in a more senior role, the Suns behemoth often rucking single-handedly against two opposition players and leading the league in hit outs per game at an average of 45.2.
While he didn’t quite achieve that mark today, he finished with 36, he also collected 19 disposals, kicked a goal and an outstanding ten clearances more than 17 of his teammates combined.
His opponents on the day, Ivan Soldo, and Mabior Chol, both performed well, recording a combined 2.1, 18 disposals and 34 hit outs, but only half the number of clearances and it was clear that as the game progressed, Witts took control.
FROM THE COACHES BOX:
Damian Hardwick was a clear winner off the field today as he set up with Rioli, Castagna, Stack and Bolton inside forward fifty feeding off Tom Lynch playing against his former club for the first time. The leading patterns of each of the smalls expertly complemented the delivery from a dominant midfield and eight marks inside 50 was a testament to the unselfish nature of their rapport. The zone defence employed by Gold Coast was unable to deal with the disruption caused by the swarm of well-drilled players in yellow and black creating space through movement and their positioning when the ball was launched to tall targets in Lynch or the resting ruckman.
Stewie Dew endured a tough day at the office, even for someone that hasn’t tasted victory in over two months. His use of the classy Lukosius rotating on the Richmond smalls nullified one of his great weapons from last week and seemed to deflate the entire back six grouping. After quarter time however his players started to employ the familiar game plan of maintaining possession around the boundary line and creating scoring opportunities through front half stoppages. The superb Richmond efficiency with the ball unfortunately drowned out the positives for the home side in a crushing blow.
While Witts and co-Captain David Swallow (11 last term disposals among 30 for the match to go with a match leading 516 metres gained) showed strong leadership throughout the game, the same could not be said for other experienced Suns, Hanley, Harbrow, Miles and Hombsch. While Harbrow and Miles fought hard after half-time the damage had already been done, and despite each recording 20+ disposals and a brave late mark and goal to Miles each of these players would be disappointed in their efforts. It would make an interesting exercise to swap the ‘experienced’ players at the two expansion clubs and understand the impact that has had on the development and retention of the highly talented youth brought into the club and the overarching culture that has formed as a result.
Meanwhile Josh Corbett continues to show promise notwithstanding his low possession count, a credible six marks and a game-high 16.5km covered indicate a tall forward that will develop alongside Ben King. Lachie Weller was a good performer and has shown throughout the year why the Gold Coast hierarchy rated him so highly, and Jesse Joyce and Will Brodie were far from disgraced.
The Tigers had winners all over the field, and former Sun Dion Prestia put his old team to the sword, contributing 28 quality touches, seven tackles and a goal, leaders Trent Cotchin and Shane Edwards both returned to the form expected of them throughout their illustrious careers. The 2012 Brownlow winner kicking two excellent goals amongst his 27 disposals, and Edwards gaining 477 valuable metres with his 25 possessions. Sydney Stack continued to stake a legitimate claim for the Rising Star award with another exciting outing, claiming 19 action-packed disposals, four inside 50s and a whopping ten score involvements. Dustin Martin was well down on his career average of 29 possessions against the Suns, only disposing of the ball nineteen times, but recorded a superb four direct goals assists and was influential when required, fellow midfielder Jack Graham played his best game of the season in racking up 23 touches alongside seven crunching tackles.
Aand we can’t conclude this section without acknowledging Derek Eggmolesse-Smith. What do we call him?the Eggman? The Walrus? He took a little while to work into the game and get the pace of it but was classy in collecting 19 touches at 78% efficiency. Showed plenty of poise and good vision, the young man. A nice first-up outing.
The Tigers move back into the top six and should they take down the Giants next week at the MCG on Sunday are definitely back in premiership calculations, especially with the likely return of Riewoldt and Nankervis in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately nothing is easy when you are anchored to the bottom of the ladder and the Suns will have to dust themselves off and prepare for a fired up Adelaide side coming off a smashing in the showdown next Saturday night.
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