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Why the premiership quarter could be Richmond's Achilles heel

Dustin Martin celebrates the Tigers' premiership. (Photo by Scott Barbour/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
1st August, 2018
44

We’ve all heard the third quarter in a grand final defined as the ‘premiership quarter’, and we don’t need to go back far to find a significant one.

The Tigers led the Crows by just nine points at half-time in the 2017 grand final before blasting the Crows with a five-goals-to-one third-quarter burst to all but seal their first flag in 37 years.

Any hopes of an unlikely West Coast Eagles comeback were quickly extinguished in the 2015 grand final by a Hawks five-goal-to-two third quarter, and the Hawks produced a similar third quarter to end Sydney’s chances in 2014.

The Saints three goals and three behinds to the Pies’ five behinds in the first 2010 grand final set up the epic draw, but perhaps the most famous of recent premiership quarters was in the 2008 grand final, when most say the game was decided in the last five minutes of the third quarter.

Hawthorn were just five points ahead of the Cats with five minutes to go in the third, but enter Stuart Dew, who scored two goals and was instrumental in setting up another two.

The game broke open as the Hawks scored four and the Cats just two in a barrage of six goals in the final five minutes of the quarter. It set up a massive upset, with the Hawks defeating the short-priced Cats.

The Crows came from behind in their 1997 and 1998 grand final wins with a six-goal-to-two third quarter in 1997 and a five-goal-to-two third quarter in 1998.

Port Adelaide’s six-goal-to-three third quarter in 2004 set up their flag, and who can forget the Brisbane Lions’ third quarter in the 2001 grand final? Trailing by 14 points at half-time and with most pundits expecting the Bombers to surge away, the Lions broke the grand final open with a six-goal-to-one third quarter before marching to the flag.

Jack Riewoldt

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

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Having mounted a case for the merits of the premiership quarter, let’s take a look at the Tigers’ strange anomaly with their third quarters in 2018 and contrast it with their blistering final quarters.

Firstly, some numbers to illustrate the anomaly.

Points for Points against Percentage Differential
Q1 450 301 149.50 149
Q2 425 315 134.92 110
Q3 362 380 95.26 -18
Q4 517 277 186.64 240
Total 1754 1273 137.78 481

The Tigers have won 13 out of 18 first quarters to be equal top for first quarters, 13 out of 18 second quarters to outright lead second quarters, six out of 18 third quarters to sit 15th in third quarters and 14 out of 18 final quarters to outright lead final quarters. They are down with the Saints and Suns for third-quarter performances, below Carlton and Fremantle.

Of course winning or losing a quarter can be the difference of a couple of points, but what is going on with Richmond in the third, particularly when you look at points for and against this year?

Why has Richmond been outscored in third quarters with a percentage of 95.2 and yet dominate last quarters with a ridiculous percentage of 186.64?

Percentage is a fair indicator after 18 rounds and the Tigers third-quarter performances are the equivalent of, say, the Adelaide Crows, who sit 12th on the AFL ladder with a percentage of 98.3. How can this be?

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Why is it the Tigers are superhuman in final quarters and pedestrian in third quarters? What is the correlation? Does one feed the other? Do the Tigers tread water in third quarters, chip the ball around more, keep possession and make the opposition chase and wear themselves out? Do they extend interchange rest periods for key players? Does Dusty take himself forward more?

They are certainly heavily reliant on Toby Nankervis, and Brodie Grundy ragdolled Shaun Grigg while Nankervis took spells against the Pies. Nathan Buckley and Damien Hardwick eventually called Grundy the best player on the ground.

Do they give extra break times for Nankervis in the third and try to break even knowing they will have the legs to run over anyone on the last? If so, can their reliance on rest breaks for Nankervis be further exploited?

Since the Tigers first played the Pies in Round 6 they have won two of their next 12 third quarters. That is worth repeating: the side most believe already have one hand on the cup have won two of their last 12 third quarters this season. It seems the Tigers are either going to sleep at half-time or are using third quarters as a feeding strategy to fuel their blistering final quarters.

Richmond didn’t show this anomaly in 2017, so the question becomes: will the Tigers’ sleepy third quarter lulls or resting strategies be exploited by a side when it matters most in the premiership quarter of a grand final?

Is this Richmond’s premiership Achilles heel?