The Roar
The Roar


Footy Fix: Are Richmond back... or is the Tiger time machine good for one trip only?

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12th May, 2023
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If you’re a Richmond fan who headed along to the MCG on Friday night, or watched them play at home, you’d be forgiven for wondering if you and 80,000 other yellow and black brethren had stepped into a time machine.

There is simply no other way to describe the Tigers’ stirring, upset 24-point win over Geelong better than the words of their song: like the Tigers of old, they were strong, and they were bold.

This is the football that won Richmond three premierships in four years, turned the AFL’s resident laughing stock into Victoria’s biggest powerhouse, made greats of role players and legends of stars. It was ferocious pressure, speed on turnover, intercept after intercept in defensive 50 and brilliant ball use where it mattered most.

Even the icons turned back the clock: not since the 2020 grand final has Dustin Martin had a more significant turn than his three-goal, match-sealing final quarter, capping off a game on which he had already exerted significant influence and giving Cats supporters yet another nightmare to add to the collection.

Trent Cotchin, seemingly a spent force for much of the season, found a second wind – not in his usual role, but as a mid-sized forward with nous and smarts, kicking two first-quarter goals to get the Tigers believing and three for the match.

Jack Riewoldt is no longer the player he was, but as a focal point inside 50 without his main running mate in Tom Lynch he’s faring better than a 34-year old has any right to be. His ability to halve contests and, just as importantly, occupy the mind of Esava Ratugolea to reduce his threat as an interceptor after quarter time meant just as much as his two goals, and his clever finding of a mismatch against the smaller Tom Stewart is conclusive proof he still needs a quality, large opponent to keep him under wraps.

Shai Bolton, disappointing for much of this season, returned to his electric best around stoppages, content with occasional flashes of brilliance amid a sea of grit and using his speed and agility to dance through the Cats in midfield time and again.


His six clearances were an equal game high, his 13 contested possessions an equal team high, and gave the Tigers a point of difference in a midfield that has at times looked one-paced this year.

Jayden Short used the ball wonderfully, and with 714 metres gained, gave the Tigers a territory advantage that typified their run and gun approach all evening. Nick Vlastuin might have only had four marks, but his reading of the play was superb all night: the Cats would repeatedly set themselves up with looks at deep inside 50 entries, only to see Vlastuin standing in the hole in front of Tom Hawkins or Jeremy Cameron and lose their composure.

Just 11 goals from 57 inside 50s for a side with the best one-two forward punch in the game, with Nathan Broad playing makeshift key back on Cameron, speaks volumes – while the Cats’ inaccuracy can in large part be attributed to the low percentage shots given up by the Tigers, doing everything to prevent shots in the corridor and pushing Cameron in particular to the flanks.

Speaking of Hawkins – it took some going for Noah Balta to give up two goals and look totally outclassed to quarter time, and yet finish the match as a leading contender for best-afield honours. Strong enough to prevent being outbodied by Hawkins under the high ball, more than agile enough to stay with him on the lead, and an exceptional reader of the play, this was a performance for the ages from the oft-frustrating No.21.

With six intercept marks, two contested and five in the second half, plus six rebound 50s – all game-highs – Balta matched Hawkins in the contest, then ran him ragged without it. Alex Rance himself could scarcely have done it better. Ditto Broad, who backed his midfielders to cover Cameron when he roamed up the ground or into stoppages, parked himself behind the ball, and plucked five intercept marks of his own.

Trent Cotchin celebrates a goal.

Trent Cotchin celebrates a goal. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)


The new faces stepped up too. Minus Toby Nankervis, Samson Ryan stepped up with a titanic performance to hold his own against the bigger, stronger and more experienced Jonathon Ceglar, while also proving mobile enough to go with Mark Blicavs when it was his turn in the ruck. A shining light through the first third of the season, the imminent return of Nankervis shouldn’t deter Damien Hardwick from giving the young tall a decent share of ruck duties moving forward.

The Tigers, through Ryan especially, were able to cover for their two biggest absentees – Lynch and Nankervis – far better than the Cats were for theirs, captain Patrick Dangerfield. Shorn of the captain’s explosiveness from stoppages and almost psychic connection with Hawkins, the Cats’ midfielders, permanently under pressure from a ferocious Tiger outfit, seldom got a clean breakaway and had scant connection going forward.

Despite a staggering 25-9 clearance differential to half time, the scoreboard read a goal apiece from that source – another stat line that could have been lifted from the premiership era, where clearances were seldom the Tigers’ strength.

Rhyan Mansell didn’t quite shade Tom Stewart, but with two vital goals ensured his scoreboard impact was profound; Tim Taranto was the most complete midfielder on the ground, impressive for his tackling and follow-up work as much as for his still shaky at times ball-winning; Ben Miller had another moment or two where he looked like he could be anything in any position he wants.

In terms of style, this was a Richmond game that could almost have been copy-pasted from 2020, or 2019, or 2018, or 2017. In the second half alone, the Tigers’ pressure rating rose to 194, well above the AFL average of 80. In the third quarter especially, that meant turnovers galore: nine of Geelong’s 12 third-term defensive half disposal chains were intercepted by a black and white jumper, while a tackle count advantage of 42-27 spoke volumes.

As it turned out, too, that clearance differential was unsustainable for a young Geelong midfield: 25-9 down at half time, the figure in the second half was 23-22, while the Tigers won eight of 12 centre bounces.


In their forward half, Geelong went at just 46 per cent by foot, missing targets, spraying shots at goal and playing in a very un-Geelong-like manner. That pressure again.

So glorious was the victory, so comprehensive, and the quality of the opposition so substantial, injuries or no, it’s hard to avoid the temptation of declaring Richmond back in business. In the last few years, the Tigers have had other games where they’ve recaptured the glory days, but where this was once a week-to-week hazard against Richmond, the current Tigers aren’t capable of sustaining this level of pressure and performance for long.

The Fox Footy commentators made a big show of the fact the Tigers have won all three games this season in which they’ve outscored the opposition from turnovers, as if that’s not the number one way teams score in modern footy.

The biggest difference was how successful the Tigers’ transition was: in setting up their lead in the first quarter and early stages of the second, five of their first seven goals (straight, as well) came from defensive 50 possession chains. The Cats would win the clearance, bomb it in, the Tigers would defuse, then sprint it up the other end at lightning pace to find teammates everywhere in space, having beaten their blue and white opponents back.

When all is said and done, though, it’s important to remember that, as well as Richmond played, as off as Geelong clearly were, this was still a 23-scoring-shot-to-22 game. Up by 17 points at quarter time, a lead they’d basically hold for the rest of the night, the Tigers had six straight goals to 2.7.


Yes, the Tigers’ pressure made those Cats shots far tougher than their own, but that’s not a scoreline that you can expect to see again next week, or the week after. Especially if the manic pressure dissipates to normal levels.

No, this win shouldn’t be treated as a return to glory – it’s more a smash hit from a rock band long past its prime evoking waves of nostalgia among all who were their for the prime years.

And that’s fine. Richmond, and their supporters, have had enough riches for a generation. They have nothing to prove. But after a flat start to the year, it must be nice to, for a couple of hours, sit back and reminisce on those magical years the Tigers were the kings of the jungle.