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Can anyone catch the runaway Richmond?

Richmond host Hawthorn in an MCG blockbuster that is hard to tip (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Expert
6th May, 2018
135
3032 Reads

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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.