Is anyone else having deja vu?
The second-placed Brisbane are hosting the third-placed Richmond in the qualifying final at the Gabba. I’ve seen this one before. Thirteen months ago to be exact.
Last season, the Lions bolted into second spot on the ladder and played in their first final series in a decade. The rise was exciting and the hype around Chris Fagan’s men was infectious.
But they just couldn’t match it with an experienced Richmond outfit or a fearless GWS side. The Lions lost both matches and were out of the finals in straight sets.
If 2019 was a practice run, will they be able to take the leap this season? Will they be able to back up their brilliant 2019 and 2020 home-and-away seasons with a win on the big stage?
The answer is that they should be able to, but there is one thing standing in their way.
Let’s address the elephant in the room.
Brisbane have lost their previous 15 games to Richmond, their opponents this evening, including last year’s qualifying final. The Tigers won that game by 47 points.
Brisbane are a good side. They’ve proven that by finishing in the top two for a couple of seasons in a row. But it’s so hard to tip them when they are on the wrong end of the competition’s longest losing streak.
It’s equally hard to tip against Richmond, who are proving to be a real premiership threat once again.
The Tigers finished third at the end of both the 2017 and 2019 home-and-away seasons, and we know how both of those stories ended.
I covered Richmond a few weeks ago ahead of their game with fellow top-four finisher Geelong.
I questioned whether or not I over-hyped the Tigers because of how well they have performed over the previous three seasons and clearly I got that one wrong.
They are obviously a very strong side and I am not prepared to argue that again.
But I’ve done a little digging and a little thinking as to what made me jump to that conclusion and it wasn’t until the All Australian team was announced last week that I realised where I had allowed my judgment to lead me down the wrong path.
All the top-four sides have a pretty good chance at winning the flag. Port Adelaide, Brisbane, Richmond and Geelong have all had outstanding seasons and each have their own strengths that make them genuine premiership contenders.
When the All Australian squad was announced last Tuesday, Geelong and Port Adelaide each boasted five nominees, making up one quarter of the squad between them. Brisbane and Richmond weren’t far behind them with three apiece.
As for the final 22, Port Adelaide and Geelong made up over a quarter of the team with three representatives each. The Tigers had one: Dustin Martin.
Despite Richmond being one of the most threatening sides in the competition, there’s no one player that is responsible for that. It’s truly a team effort.
Yes, Martin is brilliant and one of the best players I’ve seen for a really long time. But he’s not always the difference.
All sides have brilliant individuals, but not all sides have depth like the Tigers. Not all sides have talent that runs beyond their best five or eight players.
I can’t quite pinpoint the brilliance of this team and that’s what makes them stand out above the rest. It’s what has allowed them to achieve a top-four finish for the fourth season running.
Here I am thinking that I’ve overhyped Richmond because I just talk about how good they are as a collective without mentioning too many players individually aside from Martin.
But that right there is what makes them brilliant. Their depth and ability to seamlessly slot players into the line-up when required is truly remarkable.
Each week, they are bringing new talent to the table from nowhere. You’ve got to be pretty confident in your own team and their ability if you are happy to bring in a debutant for a grand final last season.
It’s a rare thing to have so many men constantly step up and play for their spot week in, week out. These are the players making the difference.
And they could be the ones making the difference tonight. That battle for selection is really heating up. Just ask Josh Caddy.
The cult hero has been dropped ahead of tonight’s match, as he makes way for 2019 best and fairest winner Dion Prestia and young gun Shai Bolton.
The Tigers will be without star forward Tom Lynch, however, who is still sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Brisbane will also be boosted by the return of two of their stars. All Australian full back Harris Andrews and gun midfielder Jarrod Berry are both ready and raring to go.
As for the result? Will it also be a case of deja vu? I think so.
Richmond look good and seriously mean business come September. Given their current form, combined with their winning streak against Brisbane, it’s hard to tip against them.
That’s my qualifying final forecast. What’s yours?