Remember the days when Alastair Clarkson loaded up his team with players possessing sublime foot skills? When power forwards and rucks mattered? When experience mattered? Well, those days are gone.
The 2017 grand final showcased not only the rise of Richmond, but also the rise of four new football strategies.
1. Foot skills are no longer key
The Tigers broke through opposition defences this year not with pinpoint passes but elite running and smothering.
Up forward, Richmond relied on quantity of delivery inside 50, not quality. They had the third-highest number of inside 50s and were the third-best in minimising opponent kicks per game, however they ranked 16th in marks per game and recorded the worst number of clangers in the whole competition.
2. Power forwards don’t matter that much
Richmond won without having a power forward who could be depended on for several contested marks and several goals per game.
In fact, the absence of a power forward was a key advantage because it allowed them to stack their forward line with six tackling machines.
This approach proved particularly suitable for finals. As pressure around midfield contests intensified and delivery into all forward lines became scrappier, the Tigers’ forwards were better adapted to lock the ball in.
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3. Who cares about winning hit outs?
Winning hit outs can be a disadvantage because having a ruck reduces the number of shorter, nippier players a team can have in the centre square and around the contests.
In fairness, the Crows’ ruck had some damaging hit-outs in the first quarter of the grand final, however Richmond’s response was both creative and unpanicked (unlike in previous seasons).
Toby Nankervis was replaced in the ruck by smaller players like Shaun Grigg for much of the middle part of the game and the Tigers’ midfield simply focused more of their pressure on wherever the Crows’ ruck was hitting the ball.
This was clearly a pre-set plan because Richmond went into the grand final with no back-up ruckman.
4. Experience means jack
Nearly half Richmond’s grand final players had fewer than 60 games’ experience, none of their players had played in a grand final previously, and only two had played 200 games.
The above four patterns were already beginning to emerge last season, if not earlier.
In 2016, the Bulldogs won a premiership despite their best field kick, Bob Murphy, sitting on the sidelines. They relied instead on being contested ball beasts and using strings of lightning-fast handballs to put their less skilled kicks out in the open when they kicked (and relying primarily on Jason Johanissen for elite running).
The Bulldogs played their best football when Tom Boyd was in the ruck and Jake Stringer was their tallest forward, allowing their small forward line to lock the ball in with ferocious tackling.
While the Bulldogs went into the 2016 grand final with two ruckmen, earlier in the 2016 season they had pioneered the use of mid-sized runners as rucks. For large chunks in many games, the Dogs played without seeing a need for a traditional tall ruck in the ruck contests.
And Luke Beveridge’s boys won despite having numerous inexperienced ‘role players’, such as Clay Smith, Joel Hamling, Shane Biggs, Zaine Cordy, Toby Maclean, Tory Dickson, Caleb Daniel, Fletcher Roberts, Josh Dunkley and Tom Boyd.
In 2018, expect to see kicking efficiency reduced in big games and many teams replacing their slower players – like veterans, rucks and lumbering forwards – with nippy, young tacklers.