At last we have the teams, we have the date, and Round 2 is about to kick off with Richmond playing Collingwood at the G.
Season 2010 couldn’t have started any worse for new coach Damien Hardwick and his young Tiger cubs. The nine-goal loss to arch rivals Carlton in the Thursday night season-opener was the first of nine straight losses, as the club looked down and out.
Despite this, Tiger fans stuck to the cause and watched their young team improve week by week, finally securing their first win of the season in round 10 against Port Adelaide in torrential rain.
This kick-started the year for the club as they went on to win six games in the second half of year, including two impressive wins against finals teams Fremantle and Sydney. They had finally begun playing the exciting, attacking football that their fans had been waiting for.
Individually, it was a successful year for the club with full-forward Jack Riewoldt snaring the Coleman Medal as well as the Jack Dyer Medal, possibly shrugging off the tag of ‘Nick’s cousin’.
The year also saw certain players stand up and improve; Shane Edwards was able to take his game to a whole new level and Dustin Martin had a terrific debut season, whilst Kelvin Moore is slowly becoming one of the elite backmen of the competition.
Despite the poor start, the Tigers finished off the year strongly and almost stole a win after being 55 points down in Ben Cousins’ round 22 farewell game against Port Adelaide.
The enthusiasm and daring playing style shown by the team have Tiger fans wanting more this season.
Nathan Foley: Although many of you were expecting Jumping Jack to be listed here, 2011 see’s the return of tough nut midfielder Nathan Foley, who has been plagued with injuries ever since his breakout year in 2007 where he was runner-up in the Jack Dyer Medal and was also named in the 40 man All-Australian squad.
If he can keep himself fit and healthy, he can provide a dangerous asset to an already emerging midfield of Daniel Jackson, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin. Look out for Foley’s blistering speed and ability to kick long range goals.
THREE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES IN 2011:
Round 1 versus Carlton – March 24th, MCG.
The traditional season opener is always built up weeks in advance and this will be no exception. It has been used as the indicator for the rest of the season for the Tigers in previous years; especially in 2008, where they won the game by 30 points and went on to just miss the finals.
If the Tigers can stand up and steal a win in the opening stanza, it will hold them in good stead as their next three games are extremely tough with Collingwood, St Kilda and Hawthorn all ready to pounce.
Round 9 versus Essendon – May 21st, MCG.
The Dreamtime match at the ‘G has always been a highlight on the AFL’s calendar as two great rivals battle it out. Recent renditions of the match have been exciting and the Tigers will be looking to grab a win against the Bombers. These are the games the young Tigers will need to start winning in order to gain some respect around the competition.
Round 14 versus Melbourne – June 25th, MCG.
Many often compare the progress of Richmond and Melbourne. The Dees have had the wood over the Tigers in recent encounters, but this is a must-win if the Tigers are to continue to gain confidence and move forward.
Two young teams like this always provide an entertaining spectacle for the fans, and the Tiger fans want to go home without doubting whether or not the Tigers can match it with a side that is often mentioned in the same sentence as them.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011:
The Tigers enter the season with the Ben Cousins saga behind them and without Andy Collins, who was there second best goal kicker behind Riewoldt last year.
They also lost Richard Tambling to Adelaide. In turn, they received Shaun Grigg, Bachar Houli and also managed to snare ex-Demon Brad Miller who will be looking to add another dimension to the forward line.
Throw in draftee’s Reece Conca, Brad Helbig, Jake Bachelor (to name a few) and mature recruit Tom Derickx and take out Dean Polo, Jordan McMahon, Graham Polak (retired), Relton Roberts, Troy Simmonds (retired) and you have quite a different list.
All that aside, Richmond will simply be looking for continuous improvement this year. They should not promote the false hope of a finals birth that saw the club hit crisis mode during that horrific 2009 season.
Instead, they should ensure that they make small but steady progress in developing their list, stabilising the club financially and bulking up their football department’s resources.
They do not want a repeat of seasons under Terry Wallace where the club went back and forwards; the only way is up. To do this, Hardwick must continue to play the young cubs and not deter from the plan that he devised at the beginning of his three-year tenure.
Yes, there will be some short term pain and there will be much of last year repeated this season.
Players will still struggle with disposal, the pressures of a blockbuster game and fade outs late in the game will occur as is expected when it comes to a young team.
They will also struggle to compete with the bigger bodied sides such as Collingwood, Geelong and St Kilda. But for Tiger fans and the players, small baby steps are all that’s needed for the club to have a successful season.
Will they find other forward options to help Jack Riewoldt? Will Nathan Foley be able to stay fit and return to the form that saw him become an elite midfielder of the competition? And will Trent Cotchin take the competition by storm after completing his first full pre-season since entering the AFL system?
All of this takes time and patience. The club and its fans need to be realistic about their position on and off the field and not let enthusiastic performances provide false hope. Telling a Richmond fan to be patient can be very difficult as they have been waiting for 31 years to see a return of the glory days.
But if all goes according to plan and the club can stick together, success shouldn’t be too far off.
For Tiger fans and the football media, 7-10 wins and a consistent, competitive effort from the experienced and young players of the club is all that is needed to gain a pass mark.
FINAL LADDER POSITIONING:
12th – 15th.