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Richmond’s rise sounds the death knell for foot skills, slower players and old blokes

Terry Russell Roar Rookie

By Terry Russell, Terry Russell is a Roar Rookie


96 Have your say

    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.

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (96)

    • October 7th 2017 @ 7:48am
      I ate pies said | October 7th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      This article could have been written about the dogs of 2016. Let’s face it, Dimma borrowed the dogs game plan.

      • October 7th 2017 @ 9:33am
        Don Freo said | October 7th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        It’s Freo’s game plan long before it was Dimma’s or Bevo’s.

        Freo just didn’t have enough fit players…especially the little guys up forward (Ballas and Sunny).

        • October 7th 2017 @ 1:45pm
          me too said | October 7th 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

          it was Roos (possibly Lyon’s game plan) at Swans, near perfected at the Saints, whose goal kicking in finals cost them. Then tweaked by Collingwood to concentrate the pressure in the forward half.
          But the first of this style of game i remember was a one-off used by the Bulldogs in 2000 to beat the undefeated Essendon.
          But this game plan was superseded by the elite kicking skills of Hawthorn combined with pressure and less reliance on winning the contested ball and more with cutting teams open on the rebound.
          Every time we see a premier everyone talks about copying their gameplan, until the next one comes along.

        • October 7th 2017 @ 2:52pm
          Terry Russell said | October 7th 2017 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

          Yes, the Tigers’ game plan was a tweaked version of the Freo and Bulldogs’ game plans.

          But if you look not just at the grand finals that Freo and the Bulldogs played in but also their season leading up to the Grand Final, they were far less committed to a 6-man tackling machine forward line. They still rotated several talls through their forward line during the season and they didn’t have a policy of recruiting speed.

          In contrast, Richmond traded Vickery at the end of 2016 and had a clear policy of recruiting speedy little tacklers and promoting them even if they were inexperienced. In the grand final, the Tigers also had a key marking target (Riewoldt) who was far better at defensive pressure than Freo’s and the Bulldogs’ key marking targets (Pav and Stringer). In these ways, the Tigers up forward had a more extreme version of what Freo and the Bulldogs had.

          • October 7th 2017 @ 5:37pm
            Don Freo said | October 7th 2017 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

            Reiwoldt better at defensive pressure than Pav? That’s very humorous.

            • October 7th 2017 @ 8:54pm
              Terry Russell said | October 7th 2017 @ 8:54pm | ! Report

              Did you turn the TV off 5 years ago Don?

              • October 7th 2017 @ 11:50pm
                Don Freo said | October 7th 2017 @ 11:50pm | ! Report

                Why’s that?

        • October 7th 2017 @ 4:48pm
          Jon boy said | October 7th 2017 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

          DON- that is pure rubbish and more excuses if there not fit play some one that is every club has the same problems excuses is a cop out …

          • October 7th 2017 @ 5:39pm
            Don Freo said | October 7th 2017 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

            If Castagna and Rioli were unfit, they wouldn’t be able to apply pressure because they would not be there to do it.

            Even half a brain can work that out.

            • October 7th 2017 @ 9:11pm
              Terry Russell said | October 7th 2017 @ 9:11pm | ! Report

              And the other half a brain can work out that the Tigers had built up excellent depth to cover any injuries to small forwards. They played off in the 2017 VFL Grand Final. To see some of the names there, go to

              Depth is a consistent characteristic of premiership clubs. It has never been a characteristic of Freo.

              • October 8th 2017 @ 2:01am
                Don Freo said | October 8th 2017 @ 2:01am | ! Report

                Oh Freo’s small/medium pressure depth is there in Ballas, Sunny, Bennell, Langdon, Balic, Blakely, Grey…all in those kind of pressure roles. That is great depth.

                Guess who were missing large slabs with injury? All of them! Even young stars like Ryan were not available until the second half of the year. For 3 games before the end of the season, Peel had only 3 listed Freo players to call upon.

                You’d be better sticking with your article and avoiding the things you have little information about. When you go with the “Freo has never…” stuff, you are just triping out a prejudice. That’s the stuff that Anon and JonBoy do. Not a great choice to align yourself with them.

              • October 8th 2017 @ 8:14am
                Terry Russell said | October 8th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

                Don we’ve all seen plenty of supporters like you who quote their list of up-and-coming players endlessly as stars and implore other supporters to see the light. With depth like Blakely, Grey, Langdon and Balic (and Ballas clearly past his use-by-date), no wonder Freo struggled in 2017 (in fact most of those guys got a run in 2017 BECAUSE you lacked depth).

                I’m not a Tigers’ fan but I’ve seen enough of Bolton, Lennon, Menadue and Llloyd (and seen that the new look Tigers can seamlessly slot new role players into their team) to know they represent genuine depth, and the fact that the Tigers’ reserves team made the VFL GF is pretty objective evidence of their depth.

              • October 10th 2017 @ 10:23am
                Pumping Dougie said | October 10th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

                Another common characteristic of premiership teams is a fortunate run with minimal injuries. Richmond had a near perfect year on the injury front – from memory only Conca missed a lot of the year (and he wasn’t able to prove himself in their best 22) and Vlastuin missed some games. So although Richmond’s VFL side won the flag, I don’t think their depth was tested even slightly this year.

                The Bulldogs in 2016 and the Hawks in one of their flag years are the only two exceptions (i.e. had to confront many injuries) I can recall in the last 30 years, making their achievements even more remarkable.

      • October 7th 2017 @ 4:42pm
        Jon boy said | October 7th 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

        Absolutely brilliant Terry everything you said 99% correct except it was nothing to do with Freo’s game plan(they have not see finals for years) pure and simply Bulldogs Bevo. Tigers did not have one player over 29 inGF. Ruck knocks are absolutely meaningless the best players intercept the ball,that is why Shaun Grigg and Caleb Daniel have spent time there and as you say and tigers have proved old slow players over 29* will become a thing of the past.

        • October 8th 2017 @ 2:04am
          Don Freo said | October 8th 2017 @ 2:04am | ! Report

          Who has not seen finals for years?

    • October 7th 2017 @ 8:17am
      Liam said | October 7th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      This happens every year.

      A team, any team, wins the grand final, and out come a stream of things that team has proven, which change footy irrevocably; last year it’s that big key forwards mean jack, this year it’s that quality of disposal isn’t the gold standard any more.

      It’s just so very, very lazy. Sure, let’s throw out 100+ years of footballing history, of examples of sides finding a way in the exact way that Richmond and the Dogs did; let’s forget Tom Hawkins tearing sides up five years ago, in the season proper, after winning a grand final for his team, let’s forget Barry Hall and Michael O’Laughlan, Jack Gunston, Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead in 08.

      Before we call this a change in the landscape, let’s actually see if Richmond can sustain it past a single season, hmm?

      • October 7th 2017 @ 2:59pm
        Terry Russell said | October 7th 2017 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

        Yes Liam, it happens every year. And the reason it happens is because all teams next year will be looking to learn from the game plan of the 2017 premiers.

        Nobody has said changes are irrevocable but there have been changes. If you think Hawkins is still as valuable today as he was 5 years ago or that no-one will try to emulate some of the Tigers’ strategies in 2018, you may be in a minority.

        • October 8th 2017 @ 9:38am
          Liam said | October 8th 2017 @ 9:38am | ! Report

          I’m rather clearly not saying Hawkins is as valuable as he was 5 years ago, and you’re deliberately misunderstanding what I’m saying if you think that’s the case.

          What I’m saying is that every year someone examines a grand final win and comes up with something that has worked when it may not have in the past; small forwards and pressure this season, for example, making big key forwards redundant. Never mind that in 2011, Carlton had the same structure, what they lacked was two things; one, a key defender of the calibre of Rance, and two, a key forward with Riewoldt’s smarts. Rance, being Rance, allows lesser defenders in Asbury, Grimes, Vlaustin to take intercepts on lesser players where they would in most sides have to play more defensively, but that’s a tangent.

          People saying that sides don’t need a key forward are ignoring just how important Riewoldt was this year, in terms of his ability to bring the ball to ground and to knock it on to advantage, something that Jack Gunston was good at in Hawthorn’s premiership years.

          So, while the role of the big key forward has changed – to being a more mobile player, capable of performing a role whether in the air or off the ground – that change has been happening since Nick Riewoldt was recruited in 2001, and has seen players like Buddy, Michael O’Laughlin, Jack Gunston, Tom Lynch, Tex Walker, Jeremy Cameron (need I really go on?) become more valuable to their sides, and that’s still with other players (Hawkins, Jenkins, Kennedy, Patton, Cloke) playing more traditional power forward roles.

          Put very simply, prove that this grand final has changed anything significantly, that isn’t part of an overarching trend. If you can’t, you’re ignoring analysis in favor of hype.

        • Roar Guru

          October 8th 2017 @ 10:23am
          Cat said | October 8th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

          What you miss is no one has ever won a flag by trying to out do the previous Premiers with their own game plan. Almost every Premier has brought something new to the discussion. Hawks had Clarkos cluster and then foot skills. Geelong had handball and the corridor. Collingwood had frontal pressure. Now Tigers have smalls. The next Premier won’t be a side that tries to emulate Richmond, it will be a side that comes up with their own ideas. Premiers are sides who drive the game forward, not play follow the leader. Only a couple years ago Hardwick was trying to get the Tigers to out-Hawthorn, Hawthorn and they failed miserably, wasn’t until they did their own thing that they finally had success.

          • October 8th 2017 @ 1:39pm
            Terry Russell said | October 8th 2017 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

            Cat, Richmond just won a premiership with a more extreme version of the Bulldogs’ plan.

            But I think you’re mostly right. New ideas can give an enormous edge. Some new strategies in 2018 might be to more effectively use blocking to open up space, to load up the defence with speedsters, or to increase the speed of handballing in the backline to cope with the forward press. Just speculating.

          • October 10th 2017 @ 10:34am
            Pumping Dougie said | October 10th 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

            I disagree Cat. I think Richmond’s game plan mimicked the Bulldogs 2016 identically, except for the lack of speed-handball tactic.

            Richmond’s backline comprises a couple of ok players (Vlastuin & Houli) and three modest plodders (Grimes, Astbury, Broad), plus superstar Rance, yet they excelled because of the pressure applied by their mids and forwards further afield. The Bulldogs defense survived an injury-ravaged year for the same reason, i.e. whole-ground-manic-pressure. Hardwick copied Bevo very successfully. And the Tigers will fail next year for the same reason as the Doggies – partying off-field and unable to sustain manic pressure from all 22 players.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 7th 2017 @ 8:20am
      BillyW said | October 7th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      Old players retire every year, slow players (as always) will make it if they have good footy brains and foot skills will always be massively important when coming out of defense in particular………..

      Can’t wait to read next years article on the return of the tall forwards if someone else gets up!

      • October 8th 2017 @ 9:39am
        Liam said | October 8th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report


    • October 7th 2017 @ 9:04am
      Craig Delaney said | October 7th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Bring equal pressure and better skills and then expect to win almost every game. So, the trend towards speed and pressure will continue. And the need for skills will become more obvious the more teams accomplish those pressure acts. Evasive skills and footy smarts are also assets to counter a pressure game style.

      And when it comes to forward tackles, you can’t tackle someone tall who has marked the ball. The umpires seemed to stop seeing knocking the hands in marking contests, just like they missed a number of jumper pulls not only in marking, but also in chases for the ball. Jumper pulling should be penalised because, like hands in the back, it works against the more skilled player, and skill is what we want rewarded.

      • October 7th 2017 @ 10:14am
        Fairsuckofthesav said | October 7th 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        Too true. That inconsistency was notable in the GF. As it was in the previous GF.

      • October 7th 2017 @ 3:17pm
        Terry Russell said | October 7th 2017 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

        Craig your first paragraph makes perfect sense. The trend towards speed and pressure will continue, particularly in forward lines. And this will require new ways to counter a pressure game style.

        Maybe recruit rebounders who can shrug off tackles (a la Dusty), who can accelerate off half back (a la Johanissen), who can kick precisely and creatively with only a fraction of a second (a la Sam Mitchell). Or maybe defenders as a unit need to get even faster at flicking handballs around (to find someone in space) than the Crows’ defenders were.

        I think the only thing that will stop the decline in tall forwards in 2018 is not ‘fairer umpiring’ (the GF was well umpired) but perhaps a change in the rules!

        • October 7th 2017 @ 10:20pm
          Craig Delaney said | October 7th 2017 @ 10:20pm | ! Report

          I didn’t mean anything about the GF in particular. Rather, about the back half of the season. I’m very down on any rule or intepretation, or systematic omission, that works against the skills of the game. It also impacts the fairness.

    • October 7th 2017 @ 9:24am
      Don Freo said | October 7th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      Foot skills, old blokes, slow players…

      Sounds like a recipe for a recent threepeat.

      • October 7th 2017 @ 10:39pm
        Nev said | October 7th 2017 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

        The most balanced words about the brown and gold you’ve ever typed DF

        • October 7th 2017 @ 11:51pm
          Don Freo said | October 7th 2017 @ 11:51pm | ! Report

          Balance is my middle name.

          I could have been talking about Peel Thunder!

    • October 7th 2017 @ 9:32am
      Tony said | October 7th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

      Manic football is not sustainable, it is not going to happen there will always be room for different styles of players.