We have previewed how we expect half the teams in the AFL to fare in 2016 and now move onto the Richmond Tigers.
The Tigers have featured in three consecutive finals campaigns but failed to perform on the big stage.
The jury is out on the quality of the coach and the playing group, and it is difficult to see where the improvement will come from.
Richmond – ninth
Most players in the best 22 pick themselves as Richmond look destined to fall into the mid-table battle for spots in the lower half of the top eight.
B: Dylan Grimes, David Astbury, Nick Vlastuin
HB: Bachar Houli, Alex Rance, Reece Conca
C: Shaun Grigg, Trent Cotchin, Brandon Ellis
HF: Brett Deledio, Jack Riewoldt, Kane Lambert
F: Shane Edwards, Tyrone Vickery, Ben Griffiths
R: Ivan Maric, Dustin Martin, Anthony Miles
I/C: Kamdyn McIntosh, Chris Yarran, Taylor Hunt, Jacob Townsend
Jack Riewoldt has evolved from one of the league’s most selfish spearheads to one who ranked in the top ten for goal assists and has become unequivocally team oriented.
Whether or not this ultimately helps the Tigers is debatable; Richmond may well prosper from having ‘Jumping Jack’ return to being the focal point he was from 2010-2012.
Ben Griffiths has taken time to develop but looks set to play a major role in the forward line in 2016 along with Tyrone Vickery. Both can pinch hit as ruckman and may fight for one spot should Riewoldt move closer to goal, but the Tigers will be content that they provide a decent one-two punch deep in attack.
Shane Edwards had a stellar 2015 and will push for more time in the midfield. The small forward spot looms as a concern for a side that ranked last among finalists in points scored and tenth overall in this category.
Forward line – 6/10
Alex Rance is regarded as an elite back and rightly so, as in terms of pure defensive skills he ranked among the league’s best in one percenters and rebound 50s.
The 2015 best and fairest winner will look to improve on his disposal efficiency and ensure that he uses the ball as well as possible, which would add so much to his ability to beat his man and rebound.
Richmond’s defence ranked third in points conceded in 2015 and ranked in the top five in least inside 50s, rebounds 50s conceded and marks conceded inside 50.
While much of this is attributed to Rance, the likes of Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin add toughness and tight-checking and will be heavily relied upon to back up again this season. David Astbury seems likely to fill the second key defensive role and plenty will be expected of him with options aplenty in reserve.
The attacking flair of Bachar Houli and Reece Conca offers plenty of promise off half-back, while Richmond will be hoping their roll of the dice on Chris Yarran comes to fruition. One of the era’s great disappointments, the inconsistency and lack of big-game performances have littered a mediocre career and the Tigers will be hoping that a change of scenery rejuvenates the highly skilled former Blue.
In a team with many question marks, their defence is undoubtedly their strength with the likes of Jake Batchelor, Troy Chaplin and Nathan Broad queueing up for a spot in the side.
Backline rating – 7/10
There are big names everywhere but this is a group that has never delivered on potential and talent when the heat is on. Year after year the likes of Brett Deledio, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin play fantastic attacking football to help the Tigers secure a finals spot but go missing come September when the games are played at a higher tempo.
It may be a harsh judgement, as these three will go down as above-average AFL footballers, but the fact remains they have underachieved as a group.
All three are likely to rotate through the forward line as the season progresses, with Martin the most likely to improve. After an off-season where he appeared in the news for all the wrong reasons, Martin would be best served to turn talent into performance and prove to the competition that he should be discussed as an elite player, not an unusual character.
Anthony Miles is among the most underrated players in the league, Brandon Ellis finds the ball in an uncanny manner while Kane Lambert will look to build on an outstanding end to 2015.
This group is mediocre at best in terms of its rankings for uncontested possessions, contested possessions and disposal efficiency; this is an indictment on their perceived depth and the highly rated players moving through the middle.
Any move into the upper echelon and success in September is directly dependent on this midfield becoming both more prolific and effective.
Midfield rating – 6/10
Being one of the league’s biggest drawcards is reflected in the draw, as Richmond play 13 times at night including six games in the prime Friday night football timeslot.
While leading the league with eight six-day breaks, the Tigers double up against just two 2015 finalists in Sydney and Hawthorn while having a very winnable first three games against Carlton, Collingwood and Adelaide.
Four of their last five games are against bottom eight teams from 2015 and they only travel outside Victoria on five occasions. Many questions will be posed of this group in 2016, but they will be able to lean on a very favourable draw.
Fixture rating – 7/10
Damien Hardwick is the epitome of a mediocre AFL coach. Every year, he gets his squad in a position to make the finals and every year they fail both tactically and mentally when confronted with the cut-throat nature of September action.
Hardwick’s inability to adapt in-game and his continued insistence on providing hollow, clichéd answers would be problematic enough. Add the fact that he is continually outcoached in big games, but seems a protected species, and one can see why Richmond fans would be demanding more. It is staggering that the out-of-contract Hardwick may be offered an extension.
Anything less than a finals berth in 2016 would mean Hardwick will be looking elsewhere for employment. Exposed form and past history would not fill Richmond fans with confidence.
Coaching rating – 5/10
Richmond have enough talent to compete with most teams and a strong defensive focus that will keep them in most games, attacking weaknesses notwithstanding. But during Hardwick’s tenure the exposed form does not stand up.
Whether Cotchin, Deledio, Martin, Riewoldt and Rance have another gear remains a huge question. Ellis, Griffiths, Edwards, Astbury and Lambert will be expected to take a leap and contribute even more to give the Tigers the impetus to appease their faithful and not waste an era where they have had a list littered with high draft choices.
It might seem humorous or antagonistic to pick the Tigers to come ninth, but so be it.
Predicted finish – ninth