The Roar
The Roar



Can Richmond thread the needle of not bottoming out?

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13th June, 2023
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Richmond are arguably the most fascinating case of any club in the league, as is often the way with a fallen champion.

We watched Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rage against the dying of the light, we hope Tiger Woods can win one more major and are still drawn to him when in contention, and we famously willed Steve Waugh to one last century.

We know that Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane are the true contenders this season. We know St Kilda, Essendon and Adelaide head the list of the “rising” teams, and will have their ups and down, as will Fremantle and Gold Coast trying to take the next step.

Sydney are a good team having a bad year, and Geelong started slowly but are working their way into it, even though it does look like it has all caught up to them. The Dogs have a snake-charmer as a coach, and continue to flatter to deceive.

GWS, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and West Coast are in full-blown rebuild mode, while Carlton are in absolute crisis.

Richmond, meanwhile, were so convinced about the quality of their 2020-21 draft crop, they traded picks 13, 22, 34 and this year’s first rounder for Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper, yet had triple premiership coach Damien Hardwick leave them 10 weeks into a 24 round season.

They could finish bottom four this season, or scrap their way into the eight and even win a final. Everything is still on the table as they approach their bye.


We can take Hardwick at face value that he was burnt out. The Tigers kept losing games in the same way, giving up big leads to go down in the final minutes. It wears a man down.

Under caretaker coach Andrew McQualter, Richmond has already found a way to win those games. A five goal lead was given up against GWS, but they fought back to win in the dying stages.

Perhaps the confidence from that allowed them to resist the Fremantle surge last weekend in Perth, a 36-point lead whittled down to seven points before running out 15-point winners. Any win on the road is a tough one, let alone back-to-back trips to Sydney and Perth on a six day turnaround.

As a side note, it’s clear that the Dockers four wins before the bye were fool’s gold only, preying on the weak, against lowly Hawthorn and injury-riddled Geelong and Sydney that are basically fielding VFL teams.

McQualter has already made some positional moves, with Jayden Short going back to where he has played his best footy, in the back half. In conjunction with Daniel Rioli, they are very difficult combination to stop the drive of.

Dustin Martin and Shai Bolton are still Richmond’s two most dynamic players, and are spending more time around the football accordingly, and Trent Cotchin has joined them. Bolton is having the best month of his career, Martin is providing calmness and composure, while Cotchin is playing with a point to prove to many who have written him off.

Trent Cotchin celebrates a goal.

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


These moves have meant Liam Baker is playing more as a roaming forward half terrier, albeit still pushing to fill a hole wherever there is one, where his scrapping, biting and kicking is having a tangible effect.

Taranto has been one of the marquee recruits of the year, regardless of what Kane Cornes has to say. He always shaped as the perfect player for Richmond, given he is a territory rather than precision player, and the Tigers are a territory rather than precision team. 31 disposals, seven tackles and clearances per outing, as well as near on a goal a game.

Jacob Hopper, on the other hand, looked a bit like a square peg in a round hole before he got injured, and the team has looked better without him, given those other moves. He is a one trick pony though, which does beg the question of how exactly he fits back in. They’ve got seven years to figure that one out.

Tom Lynch has been out and will be for some time, forcing Jack Riewoldt to battle bravely on. Samson Ryan has shown more than enough green shoots as a second tall in Lynch’s absence, as well as a back-up ruck, with some incredibly deft tapwork and the ability to take a contested mark and kick a goal.

Maurice Rioli Junior was in Ryan’s draft class, and has also shown he has what it takes to make it at AFL level.

From the 2021 Richmond draft class, all taken in the top 30, Josh Gibcus is a rare aerial defensive talent that hasn’t played this year due to a long-term hamstring injury, Tyler Sonsie has shown elite traits as a creative mid-forward, and Judson Clarke has looked comfortable at the level with pace and class but still has a long way to go.

Sam Banks and Tom Brown have battled injury for two years but have shown enough at VFL to suggest they might provide some depth.

Judson Clarke of the Tigers celebrates.

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

Gibcus, Sonsie, athletic defensive powerhouse Noah Balta, and the exciting but wayward Noah Cumberland are contracted through to 2025. Nick Vlastuin (contracted to 2026), Jayden Short (2027), Daniel Rioli (2027) and Shai Bolton (2028) will form the nucleus of the club over the next five years, as grand names like Riewoldt, Cotchin, Martin, Grimes and Prestia come to the end.

How the likes of Lynch, Nankervis, Broad and McIntosh can hold form and influence in their early 30’s will determine if Richmond can rise above the middle of the table or sink slowly into the mire.

As for this season, the Tigers form isn’t all bad. They’ve lost by between 10-18 points to all of Collingwood, Melbourne and Port Adelaide, showing they can be 2-3 goals off the best teams. Only Richmond and the Pies have beaten the Crows in Adelaide this year. They lost by under a goal to other current top eight teams Essendon and the Western Bulldogs, both times forsaking significant second half leads.

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What is does mean is that for the third straight year, the Tigers are likely to end up in no man’s land, and that is the major concern. The playing group has been crying out for a fresh voice and new ideas, and that may provide a spark. The new coach won’t be inheriting a rabble.


What is certain is that Richmond wants to follow the Geelong and Sydney model of always striving to be in contention. It failed, and badly, for Hawthorn under Alastair Clarkson. Can the Tigers thread the needle?