Gold Coast youngster Harley Bennell starred as the Indigenous All Stars crushed Richmond by 50 points in Friday night’s AFL exhibition match at Alice Springs.
The Gold Coast 20-year-old was awarded the Polly Farmer Medal for his best-afield performance in the 14.6 (90) to 6.4 (40) win.
Richmond were missing many of their top players, including captain Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Brett Deledio, and were no match for the composite indigenous team.
The All Stars were also without original captain Lance Franklin, who pulled out earlier this week with a leg injury, but they never looked in trouble.
Essendon pair Paddy Ryder and Alwyn Davey gave their troubled club some cheer with strong games and Davey’s brother Aaron also was also among the All Stars’ best.
Adelaide’s Graham Johncock kicked three goals for the indigenous team, with Eddie Betts (Carlton) and Liam Jones (Western Bulldogs) pitching in with two apiece.
On an ugly night for the undermanned Tigers, their star onballer Dustin Martin stood out and was one of the best afield in front of more than 8000 fans.
Former Geelong ruckman Orren Stephenson, in his first game for Richmond, and Luke McGuane kicked two apiece for the Tigers.
Richmond trailed by nearly 10 goals, but the last term was the only quarter where they outscored the All Stars.
Riewoldt was already sitting out the match and, according to the AFL website, flew back to Melbourne on Friday after he became ill.
Jones was impressive early with some big marks and two of the All Stars’ first three goals.
The undermanned Tigers were in trouble from the start and their workrate also lacked in comparison to the All Stars’ hard running.
The All Stars made good use of a strong breeze and kicked five goals to one in the first term to take control.
Richmond were only down by a manageable four goals late in the second term, but Johncock kicked his two goals to give the All Stars a 36-point lead at the main break.
Tigers defender Steven Morris was set upon by several All Stars in a second-term scuffle.
Of the younger players, Hawthorn recruit Jed Anderson impressed for the All Stars and Richmond’s Nick Vlastuin saw plenty of the ball in the second half.
All Stars coach Michael O’Loughlin said while it was only an exhibition, the game would benefit several members of the composite team heading into the AFL season.
“They’ll start the year with a lot of confidence. A lot of them were injured last year, so it’s going to be great,” he said.
O’Loughlin also heaped praise on Bennell, who is going into his third season.
“I’ve known Harley since he was in the AIS Academy – I was his mentor there and to see him come on, he could be one of the really good players in the AFL, a real top liner,” O’Loughlin said.
“He’s starting to realise the work rate and professionalism and dedication you need to succeed at this level and he’s building a career not for one, two or three years, but to get a 10-plus year career out of it.”
Tigers coach Damien Hardwick said Vlastuin and key position player Kamdyn McIntosh were two youngsters who had impressed and he was also much happier with their second half.
“We always knew it was an exhibition type game, we were always going to try things, at various stages we put a few blokes behind the ball and then we tried it the other way,” Hardwick said.
“It was always a game we were going to try certain situations, we had relatively young squad out there just to get them in tune with what we’re trying to do going forward.
“We would have liked it to be closer on the scoreboard, there’s no doubt about that, we came to win like we would always but there were some good signs in the second half when we got our game up and going a bit more.”