After a storming finish to the season regular, Richmond were bundled straight out of the finals. Can they finally start to make good on two seasons of unfulfilled promise?
1. Stopping the opposition run
After two straight finals appearances, the next step for Richmond is focusing on a finals win.
What has hurt Richmond in their elimination finals is an inability to stop opposition runs. In 2013 a second-half surge by Carlton and in 2014 a fast start by Port Adelaide has meant Richmond’s season ended in disappointing fashion.
Defensively Richmond have a strong team defence ethos led by leaders Alex Rance and Troy Chaplin. Still the team defence has struggled under severe pressure. Whether this team defence can hold up to intense finals pressure or whether the improvement needs to come from improved workrate from the midfield in that finals pressure environment, either way, Richmond need to halt those runs against the best teams in crunch times.
2. Forward potency
The other area of the field that Richmond appears to be a step below other wannabe premiership contenders is in their ability to hit the scoreboard. Jack Riewoldt continues to be one of the best key forwards in the game, but for all their searching and attempts to develop, Richmond have been unable to develop the necessary complimentary pieces alongside him.
Ty Vickery took steps forward last year but still lacks the consistency needed and Shane Edwards has taken moved towards being a consistent small forward but overall the team needs structure up forward to really contend at the end of the year.
Keep an eye on the Richmond forward line early this year to see if one or two of the Richmond additions and improved players of the past couple of years can finally give them the forward potency they need.
3. Run lost, run gained
Matt White was one of the recruits of the season, and in a game where speed kills, Port Adelaide were able to harness White’s running power to great effect. Almost by recognition after the loss, Richmond made Taylor Hunt a priority in their recruiting period and were able to land the former Geelong running machine.
While Hunt struggled for consistency at times in a strong Geelong side, a year after the fact, Richmond may have found a replacement for what ended up being a crucial loss in White. Hunt helps add some needed run to the Richmond midfield.
4. 600 Club
Trent Cotchin and Brett Deledio have only done it once, Dustin Martin has never done it, and Brandon Ellis did it in 2014: 600 possessions in a season.
In a team where Martin, Cotchin and Deledio are the first named midfielders, Ellis has quickly established himself as the equal of this key Tiger trio. Ellis saw a huge jump in production in year three as an AFL footballer, improving his output in disposals, tackles, rebounds, clearances and running bounces. These areas are all key for Ellis as an inside-out midfielder who has so far been able to perform with opposition attention on his midfield mates.
After a breakout 2014 season, other clubs recognising Ellis’ input to Richmond success means he could face stiffer opposition attention in 2015. Either way, Ellis now belongs in the Cotchin, Martin, Deledio discussion.
5. Unlikely MVP, random number
Richmond’s late surge to finals was highlighted by the return from injury and to form of key trio Brett Deledio, Alex Rance and Ivan Maric. Statistically though, the most notable change over the final part of the season was Maric’s numbers.
After playing in four losses and failing to get to 25 hit outs between Round 11 and 14, Maric’s match fitness and importance was highlighted as he had 25 hit outs in eight of the next nine matches, with Richmond winning all of those games.
Maric’s importance was again highlighted in the elimination final loss, where Port Adelaide held the Tiger number one ruck to just 20 hit outs.
Going into 2015, opposition clubs should be targeting Maric and his ruck work as the key if you want to stop Richmond.
6. Premiership season historical chase
Despite last season’s elimination final loss ending Richmond’s fifth equal largest winning run of nine games, they still have the ability to create a sense of history by beating the club’s greatest ever winning-run in premiership-season matches.
Currently the Richmond home-and-away win streak stands at 12, split over 1972-73. Like 2014 Richmond rattled off nine wins to end the 1972 season, though that year those nine wins took them to a top-two finish and ultimately a grand final berth. That year they lost in both the second semi-final and grand final to Carlton, but rebounded early in 1973 with another three wins before the streak was snuffed in Round 4.
For Richmond to create history they will need one better than 1973 and register four wins to start 2015. These four are winnable games against Carlton, Western Bulldogs, Brisbane and Melbourne.
It would make for a great start to a blockbuster Anzac weekend if the record was on the line for Richmond come April 24 on a Friday night at the G.
7. Hardwick’s historical chase
Remarkably if Damien Hardwick makes it through to Round 17 of the 2015 season he will rise to third place in games coached history for Richmond. From there Hardwick will trail only the legendary Tiger duo of Tom Hafey and Jack Dyer.
Despite the general consensus, Richmond have been incredibly patient with their senior coaches since the turn of the millennium, with Danny Frawley getting five years yet winning only 40 per cent of games, Terry Wallace getting five years yet winning only 38 per cent of games and now Hardwick getting five years for a 46 per cent winning record.
Hardwick is going into unchartered territory as a Richmond coach, but he seems to have made some rope with consecutive finals berths.