The Tigers Are Still The AFL’s Most Dangerous Predator

The AFL world has been occupied by enough distractions in 2020 to be too concerned by the very real prospect of a Richmond dynasty.

Just resuming the fixture back in June and then having to quickly evacuate all ten Victorian teams was hard enough, to say nothing of compressed fixture, as well as keeping an eye on the behaviour of certain clubs within their apparent bubbles. 

On the actual field, the devastating form of Port Adelaide and Brisbane has grabbed most headlines, as too has the St Kilda resurrection, which understandably has their fans in an absolute spin

Amidst everything though, the Tigers, the very club which has torched the competition over the last few years, have been able to avoid the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for such greats, conducting their premiership defence (and assault) in relative anonymity so far.

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While Richmond’s form hasn’t yet warranted a standing ovation, there’s enough evidence to suggest they are beginning to get back on track, particularly as so many of their decorated stars re-join the team.

Last week’s comprehensive dissection of the in-form Bulldogs was one of the more devastating wins from a largely uneven Round Nine, with their 41-point triumph functioning as a stark reminder of how tactically advanced the Tigers remain.

In coach Damien Hardwick, and thanks to a resilient, mature and battled hardened core, they're still the competition benchmark where preparation and tactical know-how is concerned.

While Richmond’s revolutionary approach to clearances has been well documented, what’s too often overlooked is their capacity to alter their game-day strategy depending on their opponent.

Against the Dogs, Hardwick and his coaching team were fully cognisant of their opponent’s disinterest when not in possession, and proceeded to systematically rip them apart. 

Going into last Wednesday’s game, the Bulldogs were 16-5 over the last couple of seasons when winning the possession count, yet a damning 1-8 when they didn’t. 

Richmond thus employed an elaborate, four-quarter masterpiece of ‘keepings off’, taking a massive 31 extra marks and dialling up a 586 metres gained edge. They completely dictated the game’s tempo, leaving the Dogs looking like a bullied schoolkid as their tormentors cruelly tossed their stolen lunchbox among themselves.

In recent weeks the Tigers have also been turning upon the dial on their patented defensive intensity, while also using their strong ability to intercept as a springboard to launch attacks of their own.

Richmond is currently ranked 3rd where opposition points are concerned, while their +4.2 intercept possession differential speaks to how precise they are when they have the footy, and how hawkish they are when the don't.

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Up forward too, the Tigers are starting to rediscover their groove. 

Their 25 shots and 90 total points last week was their best return since the league resumed, while it's even more noteworthy that their star Jack Riewoldt-Tom Lynch tandem is still yet to kick into gear, each barely managing a goal and three marks per game in 2020. 

While they wait for their prestigious duo to come the life, the brilliant Tiger ground crew have continued to cause utter mayhem. 

Dustin Martin was at his best against the Bulldogs racking up 25 touches and booting three goals, while the criminally underrated Jason Castagna continues to excel, ranked 2nd at Richmond for both goals (11) and tackles inside-50 (6) this season.

Just how potent the Tiger attack can be remains contingent upon their defensive intensity and ability to harass their opponents into blunders. With a +5.5 tackle differential they sit behind only Essendon (+8.1) and Port Adelaide (+8.0)while they’ve caused 532 opposition turnovers (ranked 3rd) and which is a key number to monitor as Richmond have topped this stat for three consecutive seasons. 

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In assessing the Tigers premiership credentials it’s also worth keeping in mind how extensive their absentee list has been this year.

Captain Trent Cotchin had his first post-exodus hit-out against the Dogs, and while he at times looked rusty, he was still good enough to amass 19 touches and 6 tackles, while his midfield industry is a key reason as to why Richmond has the luxury of deploying Martin as a forward.  

Cotchin will soon be joined by decorated teammates Bachar Houli and Shane Edwards, while Josh Caddy and David Astbury are also due back from injury later this month. The brilliant Dion Prestia will return a little later, while dual-premiership ruckman Toby Nankervis is also waiting in the wings. 

The Tigers next couple of games are against the league’s two best teams so far in Port Adelaide and Brisbane, arriving at the perfect time to gauge just how advanced Richmond are. 

While they are in fifth spot at the moment, their only encounter against a team above them on then ladder was against the Saints in Round Four, who beat them by five goals.

While it has been an exceptionally chaotic, often traumatic year, there is at least something vaguely familiar about a re-awakened Tiger outfit who seem set to reassert it’s dominance ahead of the half-way mark. 

Dynasty is still a word which should be on the tip of every footy fan's tongues.

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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