When the siren sounded on the 30 September 2017 the colosseum that is the MCG, packed to the brim with 100,021 football fans who were mainly yellow-and-black supporters, erupted in ecstasy.
Richmond, a team that has been the laughing stock of the competition for what seemed like an eternity to their fans, were now on top.
In the space of 12 months they had gone from being finals contenders to premiership contenders to premiers. Nobody could have predicted such a turnaround – not even the Tiger faithful. Their club had risen from the ashes.
In spite of the Tigers domination of the Crows on that September day, many were still doubtful of their credentials of premiers. Some say it was lucky that the game was played at the MCG, others said it was just that Richmond were lucky to string together three good games when it mattered most. Some even said that it was mainly due to their opposition imploding on the day.
Maybe they were right and maybe they weren’t, but that is the beauty of this game – a club has to be perfect only on that one day in September or early October. Just ask Geelong in 2008, St Kilda in 2009 or Hawthorn in 2012 – all had strong seasons but lost the one game that mattered most. It’s the way our game works, and Richmond were the best at it in 2017.
To say Richmond did not deserve their premiership or were lucky would not be fair – they still had to win a handful of games during the course of the season in order to put themselves in the position to challenge for the premiership. If any supporters needed further evidence that last year’s flag was no fluke, the Tigers are easily demonstrating why they’re currently the kings of the jungle in 2018 with their impressive form.
The Tigers currently sit atop the AFL ladder with scalps from Hawthorn, Collingwood, Geelong, Sydney and Adelaide, all comfortable Richmond wins. Dustin Martin is carrying on from his form last season, Trent Cotchin is leading the midfield, Jack Riewoldt is as consistently performing up front and Alex Rance is commanding the backline.
Doubt is slowly being torn down and people are starting to look at the Tigers with – yes, that’s right – fear.
So what could stop this juggernaut from claiming the cup for the second time in as many years?
1. Having to travel for a final
Even the most faithful Richmond supporter would acknowledge that their club’s form when they travel ,makes for poor reading. They have lost games in Adelaide to the Crows and Power, gone down to the Eagles and been narrowly edged out by an in-form Giants.
It’is true that grand finals are played at the MCG, but the danger for the Tigers lies in the possibility that if they don’t finish top come season’s end, they could face trips across the borders of Melbourne before they even get to the big dance on 29 September.
Richmond also have no remaining trips interstate for the rest of the season, which may seem like a positive sign but it also means that the club won’t have any chances left to rectify their play away from home unless it comes in a final.
If the Tigers can finish top and guarantee a home finals series, provided they win all their games, Damien Hardwick would surely sleep a little easier at night.
Looking at the rest of their campaign, though, the club will first face two potential banana skin fixtures against the resurgent Pies and then the unpredictable Cats.
With absolute certainty Hardwick knows the next few games will have a big impact on Richmond’s quest for back-to-back glory.
Richmond’s losses this season have been few and far with just the four, all coming away from home. But despite the good form, the Tigers know that they cannot afford to become complacent, an area of their game that they had been notoriously prone to in seasons past.
This came as recently as last year when they imploded in games against Fremantle and St Kilda; Collingwood in Round 2, 2016; Carlton in an elimination final in 2013; and North Melbourne in the semi-final fixture in 2015.
Richmond have proven themselves to have a history of losing the odd game out of absolutely nowhere, and all of these unpredictable losses came when they were favourites, or rather when they were on top.
The good news for Tigers fans is that all the losses so far in 2018 have not felt out of place – they have been either to strong oppositions or when the Tigers have travelled away from home. It remains to be seen if the Tigers have cleared this barrier to their game, because they now approach the sticky end of their season when the punches from these losses could possibly result in a knockout, especially if it comes in a final.
Whether you like it or hate it, Richmond have a game style that has brought them glory in 2017 and looks like doing so again in 2018. The strategy built on manic pressure and disruption of their opposition’s game plan and then getting the footy into the hands of their elite ball-users, like Dusty, Dion Prestia, Cotchin and Bachar Houli, has been hard to stop thus far.
Recently a similar blueprint was deployed to great success on the international stage at the 2018 FIFA World Cup by champions France. Their game plan was built on discipline in defence, frustrating their opponents until the ball was eventually turned over after which they immediately sought to feed their more technically gifted players in Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba to produce a moment of magic.
It is a tactic that utilises everybody’s strengths and relies heavily on a high tempo of defensive pressure from the entire team, and although it has worked thus far, there does lie possible leaks in the system. It relies on scoring effectively and clinically when the ball is in the hands of their better users, not wasting chances.
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The forwards would need to be clinical, and Richmond has that in players like Riewoldt, Daniel Rioli and Josh Caddy. Their avenue to goal is not solely through Riewoldt, but he is a big component of their attack, even when he is not kicking goals. Riewoldt also possesses strong marking power and has elite passing skills for a forward, something he demonstrated against the Swans in Round 15.
If Riweoldt was to go down, the impact on Richmond could be more than the goals that he provides – it could be their structure as well.
With such a game plan where the attacking ball movement is so heavily reliant on the skill of Cotchin, Houli and Prestia or the speed and power of Martin through the midfield, Richmond would not want any of these players to suffer any injuries or dip in form, nor would they want to imagine their back line without Alex Rance.
Destiny is now in their hands, but make no mistake, the Tigers still need a few things to go right for them to repeat their heroics of 2017.