In the fourth annual Maddie’s Match, St Kilda showed enough fight to keep the vultures from circling Alan Richardson. However, poor goal kicking in the second half inevitably crept in, as the Tigers muscled their way to an impressive win to keep their premiership hopes alive. Here are the big questions stemming from Richmond’s 33-point victory.
Are Richmond still a genuine contender?
At quarter time, you could be forgiven for thinking Richmond’s season was coming to an end. St Kilda’s ball movement was slick, and the Tigers’ turnovers were killing them. Kicking seven straight to half time, the Saints could feel that they were marching towards a season saving, and potentially job saving win under the roof. Pure talent finds its way the top however, and a much more poised Richmond outfit came out firing to secured a victory to get itself back in the hunt.
But are the Tigers a genuine contender, or will they just be making up the numbers? As the Western Bulldogs proved in 2016, it is possible for a team to win the flag from absolutely anywhere on the table, and Richmond are only a game outside the top four, albeit with a depleted percentage. Reinforcements are slowly making their way back, and if the Tigers can squeeze out the victories before all their stars realign, they clearly have the talent to rise once more.
This season has also showed however, that when Richmond lose, they lose badly. In their six losses, Richmond’s closest losing margin was in Round 13 against the Crows, and their average losing margin is 46 points. Because of their injuires, Richmond have used the most players thus far. If there is to be another Tiger Time in 2019, the Tigers will need to correct their bad losses and kick start their campaign towards September.
If Richardson goes, who do the Saints turn to?
Given that it is now almost certain that Alan Richardson won’t be having his contract renewed, the question now becomes which path will St Kilda’s board go down with their next coaching appointment? Do they go with 10-year veteran Brad Scott, or do they turn to two time SANFL premiership mentor, now Adelaide assistant Martin Mattner? It seems unlikely that the Saints will proceed with veteran assistant such as Peter Sumich, as this was the option they took with Richardson, and it has proven unsuccessful.
The most important aspect of St Kilda’s decision is their list assessment. If they overestimate where the Saints will track in the next few years, they may end up appointing a coach that is not suited for the job. Perennial underachievers, St Kilda’s last successful period seems too long ago for the board to make another poor decision, and whoever they choose will have to be able to sell hope to a fan base that has been deprived of success since the 1960’s.
Why are St Kilda chasing Sam Draper?
Reports emerged this week that St Kilda were chasing untried Essendon ruckman Sam Draper, with the Saints preparing to offer Draper a four-year deal worth $1.8 million. But watching the game, and seeing a young ruckman explode before our eyes, it does beg the question why exactly they feel the need to chase a young ruckman not yet seen at AFL level, let alone Todd Goldstein and Paddy Ryder, who are also on the Saints radar.
It is well known that ruckmen take the most time to fully develop, and offering Draper $1.8 million is almost asking for trouble when St Kilda has other holes on its list to fill. Still needing an A-grade midfielder, the Saints ruck stocks are well equipped, with Billy Longer and Lewis Pierce more than capable of providing back up when needed.
If St Kilda wants to splash the cash in the trade period, it would be much more beneficial for them chase a player like Stephen Coniglio, who could be the player that pushes the Saints up the ladder much quicker than Sam Draper would.
Who were the players of the match?
Bruce McAvaney, I present to you the new love of your life, Sydney Stack. Like his idol Eddie Betts, Stack was a commentator’s dream, with his aerial assaults equally matched by some freakish moments in front of goal. With Tom Lynch and Mabior Chol controlling the contested marks, Stack was the mosquito at their feet, his four goals, including three in the first half, kept the Tigers on pace with St Kilda. With Cyril Rioli retired, and Betts certainly in the last few years, a hero for the next generation has emerged.
Awarded the Ian Stewart Medal, Dusty played almost the perfect game. 36 disposals, seven marks, 10 score involvements, five inside 50’s and six clearances, the only knock on Martin’s efforts were his poor disposal efficiency, with only 50% of Martin’s possessions being effective. While his performances at the start of year had some in the media questioning Martin’s passion, his last month has showed that Dusty still loves the thrill of the game, and if he can continue his stellar mid-season form, if not for suspension, a second Brownlow Medal could have been within his grasp.
It’s now official. The Saints have found a star. Taken in the rookie draft of 2017, 23-year-old mature age Marshall has grown his craft rapidly to emerge as one the best big men in the AFL. Playing a Grundy-like role of almost a fourth midfielder, Marshall put Ivan Soldo to the sword, running all over the ground and pushing forward when needed to record 19 disposals and nine marks, along with his 33 hit outs. Marshall has rapidly become an equal to Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn, and could find himself in the All Australian team at the end of the year.
Another of Richmond’s lesser lights, much improved rookie Mabior Chol had his coming out moment under the Marvel Stadium roof. Sudanese born Chol’s leaping ability and elite hands were on full shows, plucking nine marks playing as the second ruck to Ivan Soldo. Given the freedom to roam by Damian Hardwick, Chol’s three majors were important in keeping Richmond in the contest before they burst clear. Forming an effective tandem with Soldo in Toby Nankervis’s absence, Chol, playing in just his third game, showed that he has the tools to excel at AFL level, perhaps a lot sooner than anyone at Tigerland expected.
Drafted as a key forward prospect, young tall Josh Battle has found himself a home in St Kilda’s defence. 20 disposals (17 kicks, 3 handballs) at 90% efficiency, Battle was an intercepting machine, taking 11 marks as St Kilda cut off Richmond forward entries. Now in his third AFL season, and still only 20 years old, Battle has formed an effective partnership with Jake Carlisle, and looms as the next leader of St Kilda’s defence for the next 10 years.
Who needs to improve?
Under normal circumstances, a player who gathers 22 disposals doesn’t find himself labelled his side’s worst. In this instance however, Jade Gresham proved detrimental to his team’s cause. Only going at 54%, Gresham’s 9 clangers were the most by any player this season. Usually one of the best small forwards in the competition, Gresham’s disappointing performance shouldn’t prove costly enough to omit him from the side, but he knows that improvements need to be made to his game.
With the arrival of Sydney Stack, Daniel Rioli’s role in the Richmond setup has been cast to another. 2019 has been a year of discovery, as his development has stagnated, and in some areas, declined since his career exploded in 2017. Dropped to the VFL after the Tigers disappointing loss to the Bulldogs, Rioli’s form has not shown enough improvement to stay in Richmond’s best 22. If Rioli is to find his best form, it may have to be back in the VFL once more, and with players to come back from injury, Rioli’s 2019 could end on the outside looking in.
When trying to find players to fill these spots, it is easy to single out McKenzie’s afternoon, as he simply did not get enough of the ball to impact the contest. Now in his fifth season, 23-year-old McKenzie’s season averages haven’t shown enough improvement for his time in the game. Still far too inconsistent, McKenzie’s best form is brilliant, but it only ever surfaces in small patches, and there are players on St Kilda’s list capable of filling McKenzie’s role should his development continue to stagnate.
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