Planning to copy Richmond? Good luck

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor


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    Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and my early gift to the world (particularly the Richmond-supporting part of the world) is the final chapter in my list management series. Let’s get started.

    2017 in short

    If you were to ask me at what point during the length and breadth of the 2017 AFL season I started to believe that the Richmond Tigers might actually be a chance to win the premiership, I’d say it was about halfway through the third quarter of the grand final.

    It’s a story that deserves going into detail, but in an uphill attempt at brevity I’ll try to avoid doing that here. If you’re keen on some of that, I cannot recommend Jay Croucher’s longread on it highly enough.

    What stood out to me – if I was to pick just one thing – is that Richmond managed to pull a premiership out of a situation and with a strategy that, having seen it fail so often, I had begun to believe was not capable of delivering the ultimate prize.

    There’s a number of parallels that could be drawn for example between the Tigers of 2017 and Ross Lyon’s St Kilda sides of ’09 and ’10, and his Fremantle side of ’13. All of them were built around unrelenting physical defensive pressure, but while Lyon’s teams came achingly close, only Hardwick’s Richmond successfully delivered.

    This was the reason for my scepticism – it seemed like a tactic we have all seen before, and one that seems almost invariably to peter out. You can only compensate for a lack of depth in the squad by playing hard defense so much. My suspicion leading into the grand final was that at some point the Tigers would run out of steam and the match might even get ugly. It did get ugly, but in the opposite direction.

    Richmond’s dramatic turnaround in 2018 is going to inspire every coach and list manager and player in the country, and in the pre-season this year I suspect you will hear countless club figures mention that Richmond have proven such rapid changes of fortune are possible and that they’re looking to do the very same. Every premiership team leads to copycats and the Tigers will do so more than most.

    It’s a nice idea, but it’s not going to be so easy. I’ll leave aside the question of just how many senior coaches have the ability to reinvent themselves to the degree that Damien Hardwick did, or what the odds are of any club getting the kind of miracle run with injuries that Richmond did in 2017. Instead, in the vein of this series, I’ll say this: the vast majority of AFL clubs just don’t have the list to play the way Richmond do.

    Radical defensive pressure is what Richmond’s 2017 gameplan will be remembered for but what won them the flag is the fact that, while the grunters and grinders of the team were able to create a stranglehold on the opposition through their relentless application of this, the Tigers also had the absolute top-tier talent of Dustin Martin and Alex Rance available to strike a killing blow.

    Did Ross Lyon’s St Kilda and Fremantle sides ever have a midfielder who could dominate like Martin, or a backline bombardier like Alex Rance? They may have had elite players who defined the side, but I believe it’s fair to say neither had a pair so talented and at the peak of their powers as Richmond 2017 did.

    It might be a bit of a cliched statement but sometimes you need to risk losing in order to win, and the slow steady patient tactics of the tortoise do not always triumph over the hare. The Saints and Dockers never solved this conundrum, but Richmond did. The stratospheric talents of Martin and Rance gave them license to play suffocating defense without shooting themselves in the foot offensively.

    Is there any other club in the league that has the right combination of genuinely elite top-tier talent alongside dedicated role-player types who are committed enough to choke opposition teams, Tiger-style? Maybe one or two, but maybe not. I suspect the vast majority of AFL clubs, if they try to pull a Richmond, will find they just don’t have the cattle to do it.

    Richmond Tigers Grand Final AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)


    If you had made a list of coaches who were at the most risk of getting the sack at the start of 2017 then Damien Hardwick probably would’ve been No.1 on the list, and at the very least certainly in the top four alongside Ken Hinkley, Nathan Buckley and Rodney Eade.

    However by the end of the season he is a premiership coach, and would now have to be the senior coach most secure in his job in the AFL. He hasn’t been given an extension beyond his current contract – which comes to an end after the 2018 season – just yet, but I would expect a lengthy deal securing his position into the next decade early next year.

    Even The Roar’s resident Richmondite Cam Rose was calling for Hardwick’s head in August 2016. Just how did he turn it around?

    The short version would be that Hardwick realised he needed to evolve as a coach and did so in the right direction. Not everybody out there in a position of power akin to that of a senior coach is capable of realising the need for change in themselves, fewer still can actually do it.

    It’s an adaptability and willingness to evolve that would make Charles Darwin proud, and if Hardwick remains committed to always being so open-minded, it’s not entirely off the cards that he could enjoy a long and glorious Kevin Sheedy-esque tenure at the Tigers.


    Much like his coach, Trent Cotchin is someone whose public image was revolutionised by 2017 and always will be. So often criticised for his perceived failings as a leader and a player, you will never again hear the question asked as to whether he really is the best man to captain Richmond.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if in five years time, or perhaps even sooner, people will quickly have forgotten the almost weekly bashings Cotchin enjoyed in the media in 2016 as pundits questioned where his elite 2012 form had gone and whether or not he was genuine leadership material – and I’m as guilty here as anyone. We all have a way of quickly burying opinions that were so emphatically proven wrong.

    Looking at the mature portion of Richmond’s playing list, Cotchin is the obvious choice to lead the club for the next few years at least. When the time eventually comes to pass the mantle on, I’d wager Nick Vlastuin looks the most likely to skipper the side.

    Damien Hardwick Trent Cotchin Richmond Tigers AFL Grand Final 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    List management

    After Brett Deledio moved to the GWS Giants at the end of 2016, Richmond’s team became primarily based around what was once a big five shrunk down now to a big four of Dustin Martin, Alex Rance, Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt.

    These players are all at the higher end of the scale for age in Richmond’s list. Riewoldt (29) and Rance (28) are on the verge of being considered veterans, while Cotchin (27) and Martin (26) will still be in the prime age bracket for a few years.

    The other key players in the near-30 area for the Tigers – remarkably, they don’t have a single player who is 30 or over – would be Shaun Grigg, Bachar Houli and Shane Edwards (all 29).

    In their middle class, alongside Cotchin and Martin, you’ll find David Astbury, Dlyan Grimes, Kane Lambert (all 26), Anthony Miles, Reece Conca, Josh Caddy, Dion Prestia (all 25), Nathan Broad, Jacob Townsend, Brandon Ellis (all 24), Kamdyn McIntosh, Nick Vlastuin and Toby Nankervis (all 23).

    In terms of the youth who are on the list, Daniel Butler, Jason Castagna (both 21), Daniel Rioli (20) and Jack Graham (19) were part of the premiership side, but the future of the side lies in the hands of those who haven’t yet cemented themselves.

    The good news for the Tigers is that with a relatively young list in hand they’ll have the same level of talent they had in 2017 for probably the next three or four years at least, and can hope to strike at a flag again in that time.

    It’s questionable however whether the Tigers really have the specific type of player needed to replace those key pillars like Riewoldt and Rance when they eventually finish up. They drafted two talls this year in Callum Coleman-Jones and Noah Balta, and so will be betting heavily on them becoming elite players.

    Corey Ellis (21), Shai Bolton (19), and new draftees Jack Higgins and Patrick Naish (both 18) are the others that Richmond will need to come good in order to stay relevant into the 2020s.

    Richmond players by age
    Shaun Hampson – 29yr 8mth
    Shaun Grigg – 29yr 7mth
    Bachar Houli – 29yr 6mth
    Shane Edwards – 29yr 1mth
    Jack Riewoldt – 29yr 1mth
    Alex Rance – 28yr 2mth
    Sam Lloyd – 27yr 9mth
    Trent Cotchin – 27yr 8mth
    David Astbury – 26yr 9mth
    Dustin Martin – 26yr 5mth
    Dylan Grimes – 26yr 4mth
    Ben Griffiths – 26yr 2mth
    Kane Lambert – 26yr
    Anthony Miles – 25yr 9mth
    Reece Conca – 25yr 3mth
    Josh Caddy – 25yr 2mth
    Dion Prestia – 25yr 1mth
    Nathan Broad – 24yr 7mth
    Jacob Townsend – 24yr 5mth
    Brandon Ellis – 24yr 4mth
    Kamdyn McIntosh – 23yr 8mth
    Nick Vlastuin – 23yr 7mth
    Toby Nankervis – 23yr 3mth
    Nathan Drummond – 22yr 10mth
    Jayden Short – 21yr 10mth
    Ivan Soldo – 21yr 7mth
    Oleg Markov – 21yr 7mth
    Daniel Butler – 21yr 6mth
    Jason Castagna – 21yr 4mth
    Callum Moore (R) – 21yr 3mth
    Connor Menadue – 21yr 2mth
    Corey Ellis – 21yr 2mth
    Mabior Chol (R) – 20yr 10mth
    Daniel Rioli – 20yr 7mth
    Jack Graham – 19yr 9mth
    Ryan Garthwaite – 19yr 5mth
    Tyson Stengle (R) – 19yr 1mth
    Shai Bolton – 19yr
    Patrick Naish – 18yr, 11mth
    Jack Higgins – 18yr, 8mth
    Callum Coleman-Jones – 18yr, 5mth
    Noah Balta – 18yr, 1mth
    Ben Miller – 18yr, 3mth
    Liam Baker (R) – 19yr, 10mth

    AFL Grand Final Richmond Tigers 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Richmond’s successful re-signing of Dustin Martin through until the end of the 2024 season stands out pretty noticeably in their contract list, but it would be fair to say they’ve got the vast majority of key players on their list locked away for the longterm.

    There’s a few premiership players out of contract at the end of 2018 but it’s hard to see any of them deciding to switch clubs. Shaun Grigg and Bachar Houli are both getting to the point where retirement is on the horizon but will probably play on, Dylan Grimes should be no trouble to retain, and the same goes for youngster Jack Graham.

    Shai Bolton and Corey Ellis will be the two to watch out for as relatively early draft picks taken in recent years – if they feel they aren’t getting opportunity at Richmond other clubs may be able to tempt them. That seems fairly unlikely though. The Tigers don’t look to have any genuine flight risks.

    Richmond players by contract status
    Dustin Martin



    Dion Prestia

    Josh Caddy
    Trent Cotchin

    David Astbury
    Jason Castagna
    Daniel Butler
    Shane Edwards
    Brandon Ellis
    Kane Lambert
    Kamdyn McIntosh
    Alex Rance
    Jack Riewoldt
    Daniel Rioli
    Nick Vlastuin

    Liam Baker (R)
    Shai Bolton
    Nathan Broad
    Mabior Chol (R)
    Reece Conca
    Nathan Drummond
    Derek Eggmolesse-Smith (R)
    Corey Ellis
    Ryan Garthwaite
    Jack Graham
    Shaun Grigg
    Dylan Grimes
    Shaun Hampson
    Bachar Houli
    Sam Lloyd
    Oleg Markov
    Connor Menadue
    Anthony Miles
    Callum Moore (R)
    Jayden Short
    Ivan Soldo
    Tyson Stengle (R)
    Jacob Townsend

    AFL Grand Final Dustin Martin Richmond Tigers 2017

    (Photo by Scott Barbour/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Delistings and retirements

    Chris Yarran retired from the game effective immediately in November 2016, and Ivan Maric announced his retirement in 2017. Steve Morris, Todd Elton, Taylor Hunt, Jake Batchelor and Ben Lennon were all delisted at the end of the year – Lennon will pursue a career as an NFL punter.

    Free agency

    Richmond neither signed or lost any free agents in 2017 – the majority of their list strategy instead during the year focused on retaining free agent Dustin Martin, which they did.

    Reece Conca, Ben Griffiths, Shaun Grigg, Dylan Grimes and Bachar Houli are all expected to become free agents in 2018.

    Conca and Griffiths may move to new clubs if there are any willing to give them a chance, though that doesn’t seem especially likely unless their fortunes changes significantly in 2018.

    Grigg, Grimes and Houli would all seem most likely to re-sign with the Tigers sooner rather than later.

    Trade period

    The Tigers’ only real move of the trade period was to do a pick swap with Brisbane which netted them picks 20 and 25 in exchange for pick 15 and a later pick, allowing them to get in three shots inside the top 30 rather than just two.


    The Tigers took the best player available with their first pick, drafting small forward/midfielder Jack Higgins to the club, even though it’s an area where they already have plenty of depth. Higgins by all reports is a pro and will be ready to work hard to earn a spot in the best 22.

    After that they drafted for needs somewhat by taking two tall players in Callum Coleman-Jones and Noah Balta with their other top-30 picks. Both will need some time to develop in order to become AFL players, but Richmond can provide them with that.

    They also picked up undersized winger Patrick Naish as a father-son selection.


    So long as that big four of Alex Rance, Jack Reiwoldt, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin continues to perform like they did in 2017 – or close enough – Richmond will be a threat in any match they enter, boasting all the superstar talent a team could need to take the game away from an opponent.

    What makes them potentially scary over the next few years is the fact that there are a few players on the list who are capable of improving and lifting the team to yet greater heights of talent – Dion Prestia in particular could grow that big four back into a big five.

    Dion Prestia Richmond Tigers 2017 AFL

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    However, in the space of a single offseason Richmond will go from being the hunters to being the hunted, and you can expect that 17 other football departments will be putting hours this offseason into finding a way to stop Richmond’s suffocating defense. Whether or not any will be successful is a whole other matter, but the Tigers will need to conintue to innovate.

    And of course, the odds of them getting a run with injury in 2018 and beyond like they did in 2017 are doubtful.

    What does it all add up to? I suspect Richmond will be a good, sometimes very good team for the next three years at least. Whether or not it leads to a second premiership may depend on the roll of the dice, but they’re certainly in with a chance.

    As for beyond that, it will largely depend on the Tigers’ ability to find ready replacements for the likes of Jack Riewoldt and Alex Rance. There aren’t many obvious developing options ready for those roles on the list yet and if they leave it to the draft and develop strategy then they may be set for an awkward period in the early 2020s between one generation of key position players and the next.

    Of course it’s always possible that they can look to proactively recruit from other clubs to fill these positions. Could Tom J Lynch from Gold Coast be a target in 2018? It’s certainly possible, although a lot of their future salary cap has been tied up in Dustin Martin (and not unreasonably so), so perhaps not.

    Navigating those tricky waters is still a few years away regardless. For now, Richmond are the reigning premiers, and have the talent to stay in the top half of the ladder for at least a few years to come.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • December 24th 2017 @ 12:27pm
      Tony Tea said | December 24th 2017 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

      It’s incredibly difficult to build a premiership tilt on ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING going right.

      • December 24th 2017 @ 3:09pm
        Philby said | December 24th 2017 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

        I get a growing feeling we may be underestimated all the way to back-to-back premierships.

        • Roar Guru

          December 24th 2017 @ 7:17pm
          Cat said | December 24th 2017 @ 7:17pm | ! Report

          Sound exactly like what Western Bulldogs fans said a year ago.

    • December 24th 2017 @ 12:44pm
      Crowbot said | December 24th 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

      Fremantle had Fyfe in 2013, granted a young version, but they blew it, more than Hawthorn won it.

      • December 24th 2017 @ 4:20pm
        dave said | December 24th 2017 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

        Richmond had Dusty and Rance,Freo Fyfe and Mcpharlin.Mcpharlin was a vital factor in Freos flag attempts but unfortunately his old body kept getting injured when we needed him most.

    • December 24th 2017 @ 1:36pm
      PeteB said | December 24th 2017 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

      Lyon’s St Kilda and Fremantle sides faced elite sides in Geelong, Collingwood and Hawthorn, which is why they failed. The competitions been wide open the last couple of seasons and the Bulldogs and Tigers have made the most of this opportunity.

    • December 24th 2017 @ 1:56pm
      Doug Doodah said | December 24th 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

      And the wheels could just as easily fall off next season, given the complex variables of the footy gods and lady luck!? anything can happen and probably will. Remember the bulldogs? The stars and coach of richmond were being criticised prior to winning cup, if they hadn’t won the cup, and just fell short, I wonder what we’d be saying about them now?
      My point being they are the same players with same skills before and after. But with cup success they are now glowing with that fleeting demi-god stature.
      There are a good several other teams capable of beating Tigers next year, with equal if not better talent than Rance, Reiwoldt and Cotchin, maybe not Martin. Like Richmond, the other teams just need everything to go right.
      At the end of the cliched footy day wasn’t it just a very even team effort, and those mercurial factors of determination, desire and self belief, a page out of the Doggies book ‘How To Win The Tin Mug As An Underdog!”
      A tough gig to follow up on. Martin will be given extra attention.
      But another wonderful story like the doggies, and great for football!!
      Well done Tigers!

      • December 25th 2017 @ 11:22pm
        Tricky said | December 25th 2017 @ 11:22pm | ! Report

        “the stars and coach of richmond were being criticised prior to winning cup, if they hadn’t won the cup, and just fell short, I wonder what we’d be saying about them now?
        My point being they are the same players with same skills before and after.”

        The same skills before and after you say, allow me to retort. You’re forgetting one important criteria and it seems you’re not alone.


        To suggest the playing group and individually did not improve through development is folly, in fact we would not be talking about them as premiers right now.

        Even more so there are many with a view (or it seems) that any given player has a certain amount of talent and that’s the end of the road?! Like it can’t be improved on?! I find this mind set utterly perplexing, apologies this isn’t directed at you and you only it’s the accepted view that I’m at odds with.

        My answer to that is why then don’t clubs just have a single coach to give em a rev up pre game , train twice a week and that should be enough – if you’ve got the talent- to win.

        • December 30th 2017 @ 3:08pm
          Doug Doodah said | December 30th 2017 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

          Yes, of course there is development and progress. you missed my point. Of course players develop their skills – just as much as some players plateau and don’t develop further. If all players continued developing throughout their career, we’d have super teams. why are many players delisted or moved on before they’ve hit their peak? Just saying there are so many variables in footy, especially in the Finals pressure cooker. if you could magically play the same sets of finals matches (or any match) over again, rerun them, what chance there would be a different outcome in at least one game if not more due to variables and chance, zigs instead of zags. eg- Crotchin was lucky not to be reported and miss the game, the Crows lost 2 good players, GWS down to 21 fit players before qtr time etc. People who come on here and profess to be ancient scribes or fortune tellers of footy amuse me, kind of ‘I told you so’ brownie points, when no-one really knows the outcome, it’s a Lottery most of the time. Tigers may have a great season and win the flag again, they also might not, anything’s possible. This a good article by the btw, not dishing it or the author. Its the variables that interest me..and the AFL tweaking the game differently most seasons of late, and the team+coaching always adapting and evolving on the hoof! The biggest and exciting contributing factor to variable outcomes is the prime culprit, the oval ball!

    • December 24th 2017 @ 3:08pm
      Philby said | December 24th 2017 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

      Massive kudos to you, Josh, for being so open about not seeing Richmond’s success coming.

      So many others have developed selective amnesia where that one is concerned – with a special mention to Matthew Lloyd (whose opinion I generally respect). At the end of 2016, he scoffed at Hardwick’s claim that we had a great list, and said the only real option was to offload all our best players and start all over again at the draft.

      No mention from him about that little miscalculation, that is, to throw away a premiership.

      Anyway, all’s good.

      While on the draft, you didn’t mention that, due to Patrick Naish being bid for so late, we did manage to pick up an extra selection at pick 63, which we used to draft Ben Miller from Kalgoorlie. A real Dustin Fletcher type, I predict really big things for this kid – great athleticism, great work ethic, and a really level-headed type.

      Look out!

    • December 24th 2017 @ 3:35pm
      truetigerfan said | December 24th 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

      Good article, Josh. The fact no-one saw this coming from the Tiges proves what short memories footy fans have. Their form during 2013-2015 had been building nicely, finishing just outside the top4 in 2015. 2016 was an aberration for various reasons . . . injuries e.g. Rance early, Houli throughout, etc. poor coaching as Dimma points out etc. A restructured coaching panel, great injury free run, improved depth, savvy recruiting all contributed to putting us back on track. I don’t see any lower placed teams in a similar position giving it a realistic crack next year. If you take 13th place as a guide, Collingwood have been on a downward curve for 4 years. Nothing like The Tiges’ previous 4 years. If lucky 13 gives them hope well great but it’s hardly being realistic given their recent form. Also think our depth is underestimated. Can think of half a dozen blokes who missed the flag who would walk into other clubs starting sides yet they want to stay! A great sign! Carna Tiges! Come back snarling in 2018!