The Richmond Tigers are a great team that has been made to look unstoppable by the glaring lack of greatness among their challengers.
Go down the list. Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney have been decimated by injury. West Coast have too, after Andrew Brayshaw’s broken jaw.
Brayshaw’s injury presents the most serious repercussions for them.
The Swans were walking dead, now are walking a little less dead and were flattered by the profligacy of Collingwood and Melbourne the past fortnight.
Those Demons, thanks to the partial stress fracture in Jesse Hogan’s right foot, and the complete fracture that the team’s collective psyche suffers from in meaningful moments, are surely finished now.
Port Adelaide likely would have exited the finals race through self-inflicted wounds anyway, but now they can blame Charlie Dixon’s broken leg and Paddy Ryder’s broken body.
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There might be no team in the league – including Richmond – that you’d rather have in a close fourth quarter than Geelong.
When games descend (or really – ascend) into adrenalin and mayhem, the Cats’ talent around the ball becomes the most irrepressible force in football.
However, their ability to get to a close fourth quarter – or, at this stage, to even get to a final – is questionable. They were weirdly subdued by a lack of energy and urgency, needing to feel the blade against their skin before finally getting themselves out of football bed.
The Hawks, after an unexpected display of dominance against the Cats – their second term was one of the most impressive quarters a team has played this season, a sumptuous blend of stifling pressure and devastating foot skills – have become the challenger du jour.
But as admirable as they are – with a tackling intensity that hasn’t been seen at Hawthorn since 2015 – one senses that they don’t have the ultimate extra gear, nor the foot speed, to ever overcome Richmond in a final.
Which leads us back to the Giants. The depth of their injury list is farcical, but given the absurd depth of their talent they might have enough anyway.
Jonathon Patton, Heath Shaw, Dawson Simpson and Tom Scully are done for the year, Brett Deledio probably is too, and whatever the Giants can get from Zac Williams can only be considered a bonus. But Toby Greene should be back, and what remains of the list would still likely be the highest collection of video game player ratings in the competition, whatever that counts for.
GWS’s form right now is second only to Richmond’s, having re-discovered their pressure game, adding some intensity and grime to their Hollywood styling.
Richmond’s A-Game is the most dominant in football, but the Giants’ is the most powerful to the naked eye, and when they’re on – controlling the clearances, spreading from stoppages at pace – they look untouchable.
The Tigers got a small dose of that when they last met. The first half of the third quarter that night, where GWS kept winning the ball in the middle of the ground over and over and over again, kicking 3.4 to open the quarter to Richmond’s 0.0, is the Giants’ blueprint for ultimate success.
They should hold onto that stretch like Collingwood will their third quarter against the Tigers three weeks ago.
Like when Geelong made their final push a fortnight ago and when West Coast made their emphatic Round 9 triumphs in Perth.
But that Eagles team doesn’t exist anymore, and the stretches that Collingwood, Geelong and GWS have to hold onto are just that – stretches.
The Tigers outplayed those three teams for the rest of those games that were much more meaningful to their opponents – and you figure that in finals, Richmond will be in foot-on-the-throat mode from the opening bounce.
The Giants, though, are the team most capable of turning a magnificent stretch into a magnificent game.
When in doubt, defer to the talent. The reality is that Richmond are looking a long way down at the rest of the competition, but the Giants are our best hope to at least give us something to look forward to in September.