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.
Richmond went into the post-season with a fresh premiership, no retirements and an already slim list that the list managers did not need to cull drastically.
This was the fruit of Brendon Gale’s famous ten-year plan and it wasn’t one bit like Richmond, unlike the long and tormented history of the club’s past four decades during some of the very darkest of times in Tiger town.
Making the list management team’s job somewhat easier were the departures of fringe players Jack Higgins and Oleg Markov in search of better playing opportunities after being starved of senior games during Richmond’s four years at the top of the ladder.
Markov made a Day 1 trade exit, having experienced the Gold Coast lifestyle and facilities during the hub. He joined the Suns for a modest future third-round pick having broken into the Tigers’ team throughout the year before losing his spot as veterans returned for the finals campaign.
Higgins couldn’t get a trade until the final day, getting sent to St Kilda with pick 21 plus a future fourth-rounder in exchange for pick 17 and the Saints’ future second-rounder, with the Tigers reluctant to part with their cult small forward.
Richmond’s trades didn’t finish there though, with a surprise live trade out of what had slid out to pick 20 to Geelong, who swapped their future first-round selection so they could get back into this year’s first round.
This tactic saw the Tigers wait until pick 40 to take their first pick where they placed a bid on Essendon’s next generation academy prospect Josh Ayre, which was swiftly matched.
After their bid failed they chose former Brisbane Lions academy ruckman Samson Ryan, who had gone un-drafted in the past two years and slipped out of eligibility for bid matching, bringing the number of former Lions academy players on Richmond’s list to four.
The Bombers came back to the Tigers at pick 51 with a bid for their next generation academy program graduate Maurice Rioli Junior, who was priority nominated as a father-son for Richmond. Richmond naturally matched for the son of their late premiership hero.
The following day, Richmond passed in the rookie draft, although they officially added basketballer Mate Colina as a Category B rookie. However, the 21-year-old student from the University of Hawaii still has two years of study to complete and will be a long-term development project.
Ryan is a late blooming ruckman who made the decision to play footy over cricket when he graduated from his cricket scholarship after finishing school two years ago. At 206 centimetres, he made a massive impression in the QAFL for Sherwood and will relish the step up to AFL reserves standard.
Rioli is early in his development and will be carefully managed into his AFL career. Although his NTFL form showed his outstanding potential after he also played three NAB League games with NT Thunder as a bottom ager.
With a total of five players leaving and three players joining the club, the list of just 41 players is the equal smallest in the competition and gives the Tigers some options in the supplemental period starting in early January or the mid-season draft.
The Tigers are taking a punt with this draft strategy, with none of their new recruits likely to play in Round 1, especially not the experimental convert Colina (who at 213 centimetres would be the tallest AFL player ever) or the newest Rioli on an AFL list.
However, with Ivan Soldo potentially missing all of 2021 recovering from an ACL and Callum Coleman-Jones suspended for breaching COVID protocols in the hub, big Sam Ryan has a real chance of making his debut alongside Toby Nankervis or replacing him if the injury-prone number one ruck succumbs to the rigours of one-out ruck duties.
Richmond haven’t made much of a splash with this year’s recruitment period, yet they will go into the 2021 post-season with pairs of first-round, second-round and third-round selections to hold one of the deepest draft hands as they look to extend their premiership window.
I wonder if Alex Rance is pondering a comeback?