It is still 50 or so days to the opening of the 2021 AFL men’s season, although we have the AFLW to enjoy in the meantime.
The first stirring of the sleeping Tiger happened in 2007 when two 18-year-olds arrived at Punt Road: Shane Edwards and Jack Riewoldt.
Both players debuted that year, but it was not an auspicious start to their careers with Edwards playing 12 games before his first win and Riewoldt starting with six losses.
For Richmond the year was a disaster with only three wins and a draw and the ignominy of a wooden spoon. Things improved markedly in 2008 with 11 wins and a draw and the arrival of Trent Cotchin, but Richmond still missed the finals as they had every year since 2001.
Four more years in the wilderness followed with the team never finishing higher than 12th and the 1980 premiership under Tony Jewell becoming a distant memory.
But things were building. Damien Hardwick took over as coach in 2010, Jack Riewoldt won the best and fairest and started his run of being leading goal kicker at the club for the next nine years and three new talents arrived: Dustin Martin, Dylan Grimes and David Astbury.
The following year, Bachar Houli was enticed across after 26 games and nine goals at Essendon, and two years later (in 2013) David Astbury arrived.
These eight players made up the backbone of a club that would win the 2017 premiership after 37 years of trying, and then go on to win two more in the next three years. All eight players – with the exception of Houli – started their careers with the Tigers.
However, they have been rewarded. All now hold three premiership medals and all eight feature in the list of the top 100 game players at Richmond. Riewoldt, Edwards, Cotchin and Martin have all played more that 200 games for the Tigers and are all members of the elite group of the top 20 game players of all time at the club.
Riewoldt sits in sixth place on the top 100 game players list, wedged between the two greatest full forwards the club has ever had, Jack Titus (1926-1943) and Matthew Richardson (1993-2009).
Riewoldt passed Richardson’s total of games in the 2020 grand final and now sits on 283 games – the most of any player currently at the club.
Given a fair year (he played all 21 games last year), he should play the 17 games required to become the fourth Tiger to achieve the 300-game milestone, passing along the way Jack Titus and Wayne Campbell and drawing level with number three on the list, Francis Bourke.
Positions one and two are beyond his reach in 2021, as is any movement up the goal-kicking list where he currently sits in fourth position behind Titus, Richardson and 1960s rover and goal sneak extraordinaire Kevin Bartlett. But – if 2021 is his last year – he has carved out a spot for himself among the greats at Tigerland.
Shane Edwards, Riewoldt’s teammate since both made their debut in 2007, missed 11 of the Tigers’ games in 2020 due to his commitment to his partner and their new offspring.
But he was back in time for the pointy end of the season and finished the year on 265 games in equal 11th place with Joel Bowden, the ex-union leader and now ALP politician in the legislative assembly of the Northern Territory.
His shortened season reduced his average games per season down to 18.93, but if like Riewoldt he can have a 20-plus-game season he will not only climb inside the club’s top ten game players of all time, but could climb as high as seventh.
Trent Cotchin will have his own place in Tigerland history as captain of the club to at least three premierships and leading the club for more games than any other captain.
He has played the same number of games for Richmond as AFL legend Kevin Sheedy (251) and shares 15th position on the top 100 list with him.
Dustin Martin, the player who single-handedly can change a very good team into a premiership team, currently sits on 244 games, level with the Tigers CEO Brendan Gale in 18th position on the all-time list.
He should play his 250th game in 2021. Three times he has been adjudged the best player in a grand final by rising to the occasion twice when his club needed him, and once when it didn’t.