The Roar
The Roar


Footy Fix: Tigers try to drag Dees down to their level and beat them with experience - and it nearly works

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24th April, 2024

There’s an old saying that you should never argue with an idiot, because they’ll drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

Up until half time on Anzac Day Eve, Melbourne were doing a pretty fine job of being the arguers in this analogy, with Richmond sticking pridefully to their role as resident idiots.

And it worked – to an extent. No side without a key forward to speak of was going to kick a winning score against a backline featuring Jake Lever and Steven May; indeed, five goals and 17 scoring shots are about as much as you could have reasonably expected from the Tigers.

But that it took until the game was more than halfway over for the dam wall to burst, and for the Dees to finally wake up to themselves and realise they couldn’t continue playing as terribly as they were and not pay a heavy (and hilarious) price, is both damning on Melbourne and an encouraging sign for Adem Yze’s Tigers, no matter what the final scores might read.

No doubt the Demons will take little out of Wednesday night’s match aside from a banked four points and a much-needed shedding of some serious bye rust – and another commanding performance from Max Gawn, who proved more than a match for Richmond’s Toby Nankervis-Sam Naismith combo – while the Tigers also come out of the night heavy losers not just on the scoreboard, but with an already overflowing casualty ward reaching critical mass with another suspected hamstring injury for Jacob Hopper.

But there will be many teams vying alongside the Dees for top-four honours, among them their next two opponents in Carlton and Geelong, who would have been watching on very interestedly; because there was plenty the Tigers did that made the Dees look truly vulnerable up to half time, elements that can be replicated even if it would be hard for Melbourne to play that badly again.

The first key was silencing Christian Petracca; for the second match in a row, the Dees’ superstar was notably below his best, a major concern considering Clayton Oliver is still some way below his best.


Just as Brisbane did in their win over the Dees, the Tigers found a way to clamp Petracca without sacrificing the stoppage structure they wanted; Marlion Pickett would regularly start centre bounces on the wing, then move up to follow Petracca wherever he went, limiting his influence away from the contest and denying the Dees his explosive transition running.

By the main break, Petracca had just three kicks and two score involvements – that’s a victory in anyone’s books. Coming off the back of a similarly successful job undertaken by a series of Lions including Jarrod Berry and Jaspa Fletcher, the Blues and Cats will surely be eyeing off jobs for Blake Acres and Mark Blicavs over the next fortnight.

The next part of the plan the Tigers took into battle was a desire to run, carry and spread from stoppages with a series of handballs – a notable departure from their usual plan of attack under Yze, where they’ve ranked 18th for handballs per game across their first six matches this season.

Up to quarter time, the Tigers had a whopping 56 handballs to just 50 kicks, and it took them until halfway through the second term, as the game began to slow down, for the latter to pass the former.

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It made the Dees look properly slow whenever the Tigers counterattacked, with the pacy Maurice Rioli and Shai Bolton given licence to take their opponents up the field before racing them back towards goal and Dustin Martin consistently staying deep as an option should an open 50 present itself.


Rioli in particular was involved in plenty in the first half, with nine disposals and five marks as he provided a consistent option down the lines for attacking half-backs, with Nathan Broad in particular racking them up.

It was a plan tailor made for the speed of Hugo Ralphsmith; having struggled to establish himself in the Tigers’ best 23 in recent years, he played opposite Ed Langdon on a wing and looked hugely impressive before fading late.

Without the ball, the Tigers were their usual ferocious selves, scrapping for every loose ball and denying the Dees the clean breakaways they feast on. Defensively, a structure that West Coast tore to pieces in their last game held up admirably well, with a Jacob van Rooyen mark inside the first minute the only one inside 50 the Demons took in the first quarter.

Jake Lever is taken high by Shai Bolton.

Jake Lever is taken high by Shai Bolton. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Tylar Young, taken to the cleaners by Jake Waterman, had a far more even battle as a result against Jacob van Rooyen, while Ben Miller completely shaded Harrison Petty. Nick Vlastuin had plenty of opportunities to intercept mark, while Dylan Grimes, barring two poor defensive errors, by and large blanketed Bayley Fritsch.

Of course, it was all a moot point – the Tigers frittered the ball away disastrously when going inside 50, allowing the Dees to rack up three intercept marks inside defensive 50 within the first 10 minutes and barely relenting from there. Just one tackle inside 50 for the first term tells the story; it would go in, and come out almost instantly.


By the time the Tigers went in for their 11th inside 50, yet remained with just a solitary behind to their name, it was already clear that no matter how long they stuck with the Demons, they simply weren’t going to win the game. In fact, a half time lead thanks to a behind after the siren from Grimes was about the best they could have hoped for.

So yes, the Dees took control after half time, as they were always going to; Kysaiah Pickett began to impose himself around the ball, Melbourne opened up their attacking 50 by isolating the unlikely hero, Daniel Turner, deep and guiding passes accurately to just inside the arc rather than blazing long, and the Tigers’ pressure wilted due to fatigue.

Their efficiency in attack skyrocketed, booting five goals in each of the final two quarters while still finishing exactly level with the Tigers on 50 inside 50s apiece.

Jake Lever and Steven May continued to dominate behind the ball, finishing with 22 marks between them – it’s not often they rack up those kind of numbers in a losing side.

The worm had turned before Hopper’s hamstring was pinged again, but that essentially proved the death knell: so competitive for clearances early, tied at 8-8 at quarter time, the Dees finished with a 32-25 differential, while Richmond did not manage a single goal from a stoppage situation all night.

Sometimes footy is simple: a rebuilding team whose two best key forwards are both injured are simply not going to beat a team with two of the best intercepting backmen in the game, especially when that team is also missing stars in midfield and defence.


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The Tigers did as well as they could, and for an hour, they dragged the Dees back to their level; the comfort might be that while it proved fruitless for them, there are a couple of premiership contenders facing Melbourne in the next fortnight who might actually be looking to do what everyone tried to do from 2017-2020, and copy the Richmond playbook once more.