Can anyone catch the runaway Richmond?

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    The short answer is no. The longer answer is maybe, it’s still early, but you’d be brave to bet against them.

    Why are we leading off this week’s Monday column with a 77-point drubbing? Because it says everything that needs to be said about this year’s clear premiership favourite.

    Fremantle, one of the many plucky non-finalists from 2017, hung with Richmond for three quarters yesterday (helped by some poor kicking for goal from the Tigers). Through 90-odd minutes of match time, the Dockers managed the margin to 26 points. In the final 30 minutes, it went to 77.

    Richmond kicked 52 points to Fremantle’s one in the final quarter. As it was, Richmond held the Dockers to their lowest score under Ross Lyon. Everything the away team did counted for naught, because as they’ve done for the best part of six months Richmond ripped their opponent apart with a burst of furious play.

    The Tigers make you play the full length and breadth of the ground, and make you play the full four quarters. This is now abundantly clear. The question for the rest of the competition is can anyone resist this force?

    Adelaide did in Round 2, ambushing Richmond with a kamikaze attack on the ball. It gave them the foundation to dominate the wings as they are known to do, and even then the Crows only got over the line by six goals.

    Richmond’s next two opponents may shed some light on the question. North Melbourne is playing about as well as even its most ardent fans could have expected, with a back six that – Richmond aside – is working the best of any in the league. North completely shut the Sydney Swans down on Saturday night.

    The Tigers had a patchy record at Docklands last season (2-2 with a close loss and a blowout loss, and two five-goal wins) to boot. They’ve opened a sizeable 27-point favourite, suggesting a comfortable Richmond win. We’ll see.

    Then comes a trip out west to play the second-on-the-ladder West Coast Eagles in what already looms as the game of the season to date. The Eagles journey to Western Sydney this round, and even if they lose, will likely find themselves in the two seed at the end of Round 8. They play a little like the Crows, and have quickly built Perth Stadium into a formidable home ground.

    West Coast Eagles

    (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    West Coast were as close to untroubled as an aspiring finalist could hope to be against someone from their peer group, although it looks increasingly likely the Eagles sit a tier above the seven or so teams battling it out for spots in the bottom half of the eight.

    I was fortunate enough to be at the game, and bar the brief period in the third quarter when Port Adelaide won a clutch of centre clearances, the home crowd was carefree.

    Despite losing Luke Shuey to a hamstring injury in the opening minutes, West Coast controlled the middle of the ground for most of the afternoon. Port Adelaide tried in vain to switch the play and reduce the influence of West Coast’s intercepting defenders, but the Eagles’ pressure forced mistakes and as we talked about last week the home team had the pace to make them pay.

    From here, West Coast away from home looks as stern a test as Richmond will face until maybe Round 12 away against Port Adelaide. And after that folks, you don’t want to know what Richmond’s fixture looks like.

    The Tigers can drop both of their non-Melbourne games between now and Round 16 against the Adelaide Crows (at the MCG), and still be sitting on 12 wins. They have four of their last five at the MCG, broken down the middle with a trip up to the Gold Coast. By then, Richmond will be surely locked in the top eight, likely locked inside the top four given how competitive the competition is below them, and in a position to manage their team for another September campaign.

    So, the short answer is no, no one can catch Richmond. We’re done here.

    The long answer is maybe, because it’s still early. However, the Tigers are in the box seat with a 6-1 record and gargantuan percentage, impervious home ground advantage and a list so healthy and primed that premiership players are being dropped because their form fell away just a smidge.

    ‘The field’ is still a better bet than ‘Richmond’ for this year’s premiership. For now. Indeed, you may argue the only reason this remains the case is because Adelaide was able to so comprehensively beat the Tigers. It can be done. But who can do it?

    Dustin Martin

    (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    Each of the current top four has the tools. We know Adelaide can, because they are the team to do it most recently, albeit on their narrower home deck. Hawthorn almost did it, getting closer to the Tigers than anyone else in 2018 to date. West Coast has the next shot.

    Through seven games it is clear these are the four best teams in the competition. If Richmond is the standout then West Coast, Adelaide and Hawthorn are the contenders for that title. By the way, these four teams are also the four highest scoring sides per minute of possession in the competition. Kicking efficiency is a wildly overrated statistic; scoring efficiency, it seems, is not.

    A little gulf exists between there and fifth place, with everyone down to Port Adelaide in 11th (I know, right) not much more than a great fortnight of football away from heading the peloton.

    Melbourne looks the most likely candidate, given its marshmallow fixture over the next few rounds (including yesterday’s comfortable victory over St Kilda). The Cats could also make a leap, particularly if they can handle Collingwood this Sunday, given they face the Bombers, Blues and Suns thereafter.

    It puts Essendon, improbably 15th through seven games, in a really difficult position being two wins and 20 points of percentage outside of finals. The bun fight for finals spots is just beginning, and that’s an almighty handicap to overcome. And unfortunately for the Dons, they face Greater Western Sydney, Geelong and Richmond in consecutive weeks after their Round 8 match against Carlton. Ouch.

    And for the teams below the Dons, football’s Death is looming over them with his scythe. Brisbane, with its third close loss and razor sharp if inconsistent attacking flair, has a chance to escape his grasp but honestly, it doesn’t matter if they do as far as 2018 is concerned.

    Not because they’re so far back from a finals spot. Nah. The gap that matters is the chasm Richmond has opened between it and everyone else.

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.

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    The Crowd Says (135)

    • May 7th 2018 @ 7:12am
      Kurt said | May 7th 2018 @ 7:12am | ! Report

      I’ve just been checking the AFL website and it turns out they don’t award a premiership for the best team after round 7. Not even a shield or a small decorative cup. Just thought I’d mention this as Richmond fans along with some bandwagoning journalists don’t seem to be aware.

      • May 7th 2018 @ 7:59am
        Trevor said | May 7th 2018 @ 7:59am | ! Report

        Ever heard of the kiss of death – call the comp now and the Tigers might just get the jitters

        • May 8th 2018 @ 2:49pm
          Stuart said | May 8th 2018 @ 2:49pm | ! Report

          Superstitious garbage. Kiss of death? Some sort of voodoo phenomenon?

      • Columnist

        May 7th 2018 @ 8:04am
        Ryan Buckland said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        Thanks Kurt, I wasn’t aware. I’ll be sure to remember that next time.

        • May 7th 2018 @ 8:37pm
          Kurt said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:37pm | ! Report

          Happy to help.

      • May 7th 2018 @ 10:05am
        Beau said | May 7th 2018 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        Just hoping and wishing Kurt
        I love the tigers being hated again! Carn the TIGES!!!

      • May 7th 2018 @ 2:31pm
        Eddy Jay said | May 7th 2018 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

        Actually, there is award for leading the competition after Round 7.

        It’s called the May Premiers Cup, but it’s virtually worthless, and less revered than the almighty Wooden Spoon.

        Richmond are certainly playing very well, but because of the way the fixture is set up, we won’t be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff until the season progresses much further.

      • Roar Guru

        May 8th 2018 @ 2:07pm
        Peppsy said | May 8th 2018 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

        They did nearly in 2015 when sportsbet paid out for Hawthorn like halfway through the season

    • May 7th 2018 @ 7:59am
      Adam Simmonds said | May 7th 2018 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      The crows “only got over the line by 6 goals”??? Sorry but that’s a solid win. Richmond have beaten Carlton, Brisbane and Dockers, let’s wait until they have played the good teams.

    • May 7th 2018 @ 8:15am
      Roger of Sydney said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      This is a joke right, Richmond is a good team along with about 6 other good teams, not even close to great team, not even close to unbeatable and not even close to a great team.

      Just a good team that is currently doing well before they play the other other good teams, let see how that goes

      • Roar Rookie

        May 7th 2018 @ 8:29am
        Seano said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:29am | ! Report

        Ryan is an economist, he doesn’t do jokes.

    • May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am
      The Runt said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      For a premier the tigers seem to have been kissed on the bum by the draw fairy, pretty easy draw compared to the draws the last couple premiers were given. Just a thought.

      • May 7th 2018 @ 9:01am
        Neil from Warrandyte said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Before the start of the season, Champion Data rated Richmond’s draw the 2nd hardest. Can’t blame the tigers if they don’t get to play the premiership team this year

    • Roar Guru

      May 7th 2018 @ 8:30am
      Peter the Scribe said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      You don’t want to peak so early and the Tigers deserve favouritism for May but have had the easiest draw in the comp. They’ll get a reality check before too long.

      • May 8th 2018 @ 7:51am
        truetigerfan said | May 8th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        Peaked? Tell all our young fellas that. You wish, dude.

    • May 7th 2018 @ 8:47am
      Birdman said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      Certainly looking the goods and will probably top the ladder come the end of the H&A but only a third of minor premiers in the AFL era have gone on to win the flag.

      • May 7th 2018 @ 9:09am
        truetigerfan said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        Can only beat the opposition who turn up to play, yeah? Still a long way to go and still plenty of improvement to be made. Catch us if you can and in the meantime beat each other up trying. Carna Tigers! Eat ’em Alive!

        • May 7th 2018 @ 2:25pm
          BigAl said | May 7th 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

          did Fremantle turn up to play ?

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