Richmond fans have revelled in the success of the last three years, a time that has delivered two premierships and brought joy to a great many thousands of people.
Richmond put a much-publicised effort into recruiting lots of big-name players.
Unfortunately three of the four big names are forwards, and there have been many cases of prestigious AFLW teams – Collingwood and Carlton, fore example – in previous seasons stacking their line-up with big-name forwards only to discover that without a midfield or a backline they can’t get those forwards the ball.
The big-name forwards in this case are Sabrina Frederick, Katie Brennan and Christina Bernardi. The only big name the Tigers recruited who isn’t a forward was star Bulldogs midfielder Monique Conti. No-one’s a bigger fan of Conti than me, but the biggest problem with her in this Richmond team is that there’s only one of her.
The Tigers also took Sophie Molan and Ella Wood from Greater Western Victoria in the draft, and Molan in particular will be a star – but that’s only two starring midfielders, both of them kids and neither big-bodied, in an AFLW competition where three is now the minimum to be successful, and preferably four or more.
And so comes the big move that Richmond’s AFLW coach Tom Hunter seems to be hanging his entire season upon – Katie Brennan to play in the midfield. I’ll admit to being sceptical when I first heard it, but Brennan averaged 22 possessions a game in the middle for the Tigers’ recent VFLW season, and while the VFLW and AFLW are very different things, those numbers are still hard to argue with.
Assuming it works, Brennan, Conti and Molan should be a strong combination and draw enough defensive attention away from the lesser midfielders to let them gain space and confidence.
The Tigers backline looks talented but inexperienced, with quality youngsters like Ilish Ross from Collingwood and Laura McClelland and Sara Sansonetti from the draft. There are also some experienced players, like Phoebe Monahan from GWS, but the rest of them – as is the story through most of the Tigers line-up – are VFLW players elevated to AFLW status. In a year or two some of these players will be very good, but right now there’s not a lot there that will make opposition forwards fret.
Still, this is what expansion clubs do – they fill in their spots on the team as best they can using whatever players they can get their hands on, and then some of those players will either perform or not. Next season the players who didn’t perform will be edged out by new players from the draft or elsewhere, and so the team will improve.
I can’t see much chance that a team with a solid midfield – depending entirely on the Brennan experiment – an inexperienced backline and a two-star forward line could win many games in their very first season, but this team looks as though it could make a solid start for the yellow and black in the AFLW.
The real test, as always with expansion teams, will be next year.