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At least you weren’t ninth: Richmond's 2021 in review

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Roar Guru
13th September, 2021
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Welcome to part six of my season reviews.

Today I am focusing on the Richmond Tigers, who experienced a precipitous decline this year. The back half of the year was where it all went wrong, it was decidedly un-Richmond-like as their premiership defence fell to pieces in slow motion.

However, all hope is not lost as the Tigers take an exceptionally good hand into the draft this year as well as getting back some injured stars.

This year is something of a statistical anomaly for the Tigers, and they will infuriatingly be back up the ladder next year.

We will first go through what worked for the Tigers, what failed, remaining questions, and finally what the Tigers can do to improve their standing for next year.

What worked

Not much if I am being perfectly honest. The Tigers struggled for large parts of the season, which saw them drop from first to 12th. The big difference this year was that the players the Tigers brought in to compensate for their missing stars were unable to effectively make the jump.

Their key forwards
When Tom Lynch indicated that he would like to move to Richmond at the end of the 2018 AFL season, numerous questions arose. It was unclear how the enigmatic key forward would fit into the unique forward mix that Damien Hardwick had Richmond playing. In season 2021 Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch complemented one another nicely as they combined 86 goals in a dominant display for the season. It is made more resounding by the fact that Lynch only played 18 games.

Tom J. Lynch of the Tigers celebrates

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

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Finally there were the inclusions of Mabior Chol, who has dramatically increased his worth despite not making any strides expected of a player of his ilk, and Callum Coleman-Jones, who has the Gold Coast Suns sniffing around him as they’re desperate for ruck and key forward depth. The key forwards of the Tigers will continue to make strides and improve, however, is missing finals a precipitous sign of what is to come?

A temporary decline
This may seem somewhat counter intuitive but in by going down the ladder the Tigers have strengthened a draft hand for another charge at the ultimate glory of a premiership. Currently they hold two picks in each of the first three rounds of the 2021 national draft. They only need to use three, giving them a wide latitude to either move up the draft order or trade for a player like a Tom Mitchell.

Shai Bolton
Bolton added a new string to the Richmond bow. His stats may only be middling for a midfielder but such is the nature of Bolton’s position in the Richmond structure. He was mercurial, kicking 23 goals (third for Richmond), averaging 19.7 disposals, and 6.1 score involvements in a mercurial season. As well as taking a mark of the year contender, Bolton was able to show why he was so highly valued by the Tigers and is beginning to become the heir apparent to Dustin Martin’s midfielder striker position. He was a glimmering light for the Tigers in a year that was bereft of highlights for the spoiled fans.

What didn’t work

The replacements
The Tigers have always managed to find replacement players for the personnel they lost in the past. Noah Balta, Ivan Soldo, Marlion Pickett and Jayden Short are all examples of Richmond players that have come in and thrived in the absence of Richmond established stars. However, this season the Tigers were unable to bring players in who were able to handle the increased standard of AFL football. I am referring to players like Will Martyn, Rhys Mansell, Patrick Naish, and Riley Collier-Dawkins. These replacement players are all well below AFL standards. Now I’m not saying they can’t get there, I am saying that at the moment they are not ready whereas previously the ageing core of Richmond was not as apparent for the Tigers.

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Damien Hardwick

(Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Injuries
The Tigers have often been able to compensate for injuries to their established stars by throwing the magnets around. However the Tigers’ depth was challenged this year. In particular the Tigers’ ruck depth was smashed with long-term injuries to Ivan Soldo and Toby Nankervis forcing the Tigers to bring Mabior Chol or Callum Coleman-Jones as their primary ruck options. However, each of these players are not ruckmen, they’re key forwards. Making matters worse were injuries to Noah Balta and Dustin Martin, both of whom are easily best-22 players.

Cultural issues
The driving force of the malaise the Tigers are currently finding themselves in is the oppositional defiant disorder at the crux of their culture. The Tigers have a tendency to define themselves by what they’re in opposition to in order to exacerbate the ‘us against the world’ mentality. The episode surrounding ‘our people don’t come here’ is illustrative of a club that has been given a privileged run with it due to their rabid, innumerable supporter base. The Tigers have often shown that they don’t care what the wider world thinks of them, however this is a negative that was most apparent this year.

The Tigers look dejected after loss.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The second half of the year
Often the Tigers have had remarkable second halves of the year to get themselves into a commanding position for finals. The annual Dreamtime at the G game is the delineation of the intra-season form. That is to say that the annual clash against Essendon is frequently where they play back into form. Despite a commanding 39-point win they were unable to parlay this into form, losing horrendously to St Kilda, Gold Coast, and West Coast. The back halves of the last quarter was where it happened for the Tigers with sides frequently getting a run on and piling on the goals, such as the Collingwood game where they piled on seven goals in the last quarter and the West Coast game where they roared home to win by four points.

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Questions that remain

Can the Tigers rebound next year?
Short answer, yes. They have a magnificent haul of draft picks, giving them a chance to reinvigorate their side with some talented youth. However, given that all their stars are a year older there is a substantially smaller margin for error.

How long will Martin and Trent Cotchin go on?
Each of these players are vitally important for the Richmond structure. Dustin Martin for his offence, and Trent Cotchin with his gut running down the central axis of the field. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Cotchin had a noticeable decline combined with failing hamstrings. The end is sooner than you think, while Martin ended up with a bruised kidney in the second Brisbane game. The Tigers lack heirs for each of these positions, and will need to keep developing their talent.

(Photo by Russell Freeman/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Best win: Brisbane Lions, Round 18
It was a remarkable win to leave the finals hopes for the Tigers faintly glimmering. In Jack Riewoldt’s 300th game, Riewoldt was able to turn it on with six goals in a dominant performance. This was also the game in which Dustin Martin ended up on the wrong end of a Mitch Robinson tackle and copped a bruised kidney. It was an important win for the Tigers as they were able temporarily quieten the critics.

Best and fairest: Dylan Grimes
Grimes was magnificent for the Tigers this season as a defender. He was rated as elite for tackles and handballs as he brought the pressure at the ground level, which is a rare attribute for a key defender. He was also rated as above average for marks and intercept marks, indicating his vital importance for the Richmond structures in the back line.

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Letter grade: D-
Not a failing grade because how late the last season ended is at least part of an excuse for why they’re down this year. That being said, I can’t grade them any higher than this as the fundamental flaws in the Richmond game style were exposed.

Way too early prediction
Fifth to eighth. The Tigers will be thereabouts again. They’ll leave their run late as they always do, which is why they’re not top four, but they will surge up the ladder again.

There you have it, folks. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Tune in tomorrow for my review of Fremantle.

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