Is the grand final replay one of the most anticipated games of each AFL season?
Normally I would say yes, but given the way the 2019 grand final turned out, combined with the chaos that is 2020, I feel like there hasn’t been a whole lot of excitement in the lead up to tonight’s game.
For the few who might’ve forgotten, the last time these two sides met Richmond won its second flag in three seasons after belting the Giants by 89 points in the 2019 grand final. It was underwhelming and pretty forgettable by just about everyone except for Tigers supporters.
And good on them, I say, because you know what? Richmond is a really good team.
I’ll actually go further than that and say they’re a really good club that has created a strong, supportive culture in recent years. Here’s why.
I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching Richmond dismantle North Melbourne on the weekend – why do I keep having to write about sides who ripped my club apart in previous weeks! – and what made the Tiges so impressive is that it wasn’t their best players, like Dustin Martin, stepping up, but it was the rookies and fringe players who stole the show.
It was the likes of Shai Bolton, Derek Eggmolesse-Smith, Jake Aarts and Mabior Chol getting involved and leading the way for the Tigers. This depth is what separates the good sides and the not so good sides.
Because North too were missing a host of key players, but those who were selected in their place just didn’t do a good enough job. Whereas for Richmond the fringe players are taking this opportunity with both hands and thriving in their new environments. That’s why they’re so dangerous.
A number of senior players, including captain Trent Cotchin and veteran Bachar Houli, are out of the side for various reasons, but that hasn’t been a worry for Richmond. They aren’t lacking talent or leadership in this current line-up.
The reigning premiers are sitting pretty in fourth after seven rounds and have won three games in a row.
It’s not quite the same feeling over in Sydney, where the Giants have just come off their second straight loss, this time against Brisbane.
I know it’s been a strange year for us all, but it’s been particularly odd for GWS, who haven’t really rebounded from season 2019 in the way most of us expected.
Their core playing group hasn’t really changed much from then to now, and they’ve had a handful of injuries but nothing so drastic that they shouldn’t be able to cover.
So what’s going on with last year’s grand finalists? Well, last week’s loss to Brisbane showed a few cracks.
The key is the Giants’ disposal efficiency, which is definitely not where it was last season. GWS is currently ranked 12th in the competition for average disposal efficiency – not quite the squeaky clean disposal we are used to.
The other eyebrow-raising stat that came from last week’s game is for marks, an area the Lions dominated. They took 98 marks to the Giants’ 58 for the game, ultimately playing the match on their terms. They were in complete control.
So that has to be the key for the Giants tonight: taking control. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to, with key performers in Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield and Josh Kelly all playing good footy.
They’ll have an extra boost with Toby Greene returning from injury. Sam Jacobs is also back in the side to replace the injured Shane Mumford, as is Daniel Lloyd. Jackson Hately and Bobby Smith have been dropped.
As for Richmond, they’ve lost Josh Caddy to injury but should be able to cover their losses with that depth I spoke about earlier. Patrick Naish is the man taking Caddy’s place, with the Tigers making no voluntary changes.
Having said all of that, we know who won the grand final, but who takes the chocolates in the replay?
I feel like these sides are a lot closer than their ladder positions reflect, and despite all of the facts, stats and form guides, I feel as though a lot of that goes out the window when it comes to the Giants.
This is a must-win game for them if they want to stay in touch with the top eight. They are still a capable and talented side, that’s for sure. Two of the Giants’ three victories so far in 2020 have come against top-eight sides.
Richmond, on the other hand, have come up against only one current top-eight side (Collingwood) in a game that resulted in a draw.
The plot twist here is that at the moment the Giants aren’t in the top eight either, but you just feel like this could be Richmond’s biggest test yet.
I think the Giants will be able to rise to the challenge tonight and win in what will be their final game in Sydney for at least the next four rounds.
But let’s just hope, above all, the replay is far more entertaining than the grand final.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?