An interesting email leapt into my inbox this week.
It was from a corporate bookmaker who, like all of us, had been stunned by the domination of Hawthorn over recent weeks.
It said in part that despite the competition actually being “as evenly poised as it has been in years, and Hawthorn still sitting in third position on the ladder”, the bookie believed that having belted the other two serious premiership contenders – Fremantle and Sydney – in recent weeks, the Hawks were flag certainties.
As such, the email continued, they decided to award them the premiership – well not exactly – but they decided to payout as if they had won already, and everyone who backed Hawthorn to win the competition with them, would be instantly paid, regardless of what happened in the next two months.
Forget what happened in the next two months, look at what happened the next weekend.
I know only too well it was all about marketing and PR, and making the announcement that they had paid out over $1 million to happy Hawks punters was a perfect way of getting their brand out into the public eye with media reporting on it, and people talking about it.
But it also showed that nothing is sport is ever as predictable as we expect.
I, like so many others, was ready to hand the Cup to the Hawks after watching them systematically dismantle teams over the past two months. Particularly after their back-to-back beltings of the Dockers and Swans, I accepted this could very likely be a three-peat, as the Hawks slid into odds on in some sectors to win the premiership.
But last Friday the Tigers not only stood up as a genuine, serious contender, but breathed some life back into the contest. If they can do it, if they can beat the seemingly unbeatable, then why with a bit of work can’t others such as the Swans and the Dockers and the Eagles?
The Tigers were outstanding. They took the run away from a number of Hawthorn’s stars, their defence on the likes of Jarryd Roughhead, Jack Gunston and Luke Breust was exceptional. Their pressure was what really won it for them, enabling them to win so many of the one-on-one battles.
In all honesty, Hawthorn ran into a team who actually looked more desperate and keener than they were, and that hasn’t happened for some time.
It was a win built on patience too. In the first quarter they just dictated things, with 38 uncontested marks to the Hawthorn’s 12, and 72 kicks to 36. They were challenged, but showed character and maturity to see off the threat and win a match by a margin which really flattered the defending premiers.
So, not that I would suggest bookmakers start paying out on Richmond right now, but the win – coupled with their successes against Sydney at the SCG and Fremantle in Perth – has legitimised the Tigers as contenders.
As for the Hawks, well I still have no doubt they are the team the others will have to beat to win the flag, but Richmond has shown that beating them is not impossible.
It will be incredibly interesting to see what lessons have been learned and what strategy the West Coast Eagles – themselves having taken a bit of a reality check with a draw against the Gold Coast – take into their clash with the Hawks next Saturday.
You can bet one thing, there were a lot of relieved sighs from opposition fans all over the country on Friday night when the unbeatable were shown to be human again.