Story Of The Summer
The 2013 season can only be described as bittersweet for the Tigers. Not only did they make finals for the first time in 12 years, but there was little doubt as to whether they should have been in there or not. They deserved to be there. However, on the other hand, they were swiftly eliminated by arch-rival and yearly tormentor Carlton, a team who found themselves in the 2013 finals series after Essendon were famously relegated to ninth position.
This off-season would be one of soul searching. The script was set for Richmond to go deep into September, particularly after they were able to convincingly beat Hawthorn and Fremantle, two teams that would eventually finish up as 2014 grand finalists. But, like most things in football, and for Richmond in particular, it never goes according to plan. The devastation of losing a final that they should never have lost must still hurt every Richmond player who played in that game and will no doubt motivate them for season 2014 – even if they choose not to acknowledge it.
In terms of recruiting, the Tigers were able to add more depth to their list through at both the draft and trade table. List manager Blair Hartley, who is starting to develop a reputation for recruiting average footballers from other clubs and turning them into consistent performers, identified Carlton ruckman Shaun Hampson as someone who could fill a need at the club. While he struggled to develop his game at Carlton for various reasons, Hampson will be given every opportunity to show his wares at his new club. With first choice ruckman Ivan Maric sitting on the sidelines for at least the first six games of the season, Hampson now finds himself as the first choice ruckman and with a point to prove. Add this to the drafting of talented youngster Ben Lennon, former Sydney player Nathan Gordon, and mature age recruit Sam Lloyd, and the Tigers now have considerable depth that should allow them to experience sustained success over the next three to five years.
Where They Excel
Slowly but surely the Tigers have been putting together a quality list. It has taken a significant amount of time, starting in 2004 by drafting Brett Deledio, but they have finally assembled a list that will no doubt contend finals for the next three to five years. Since 2007, where they took Trent Cotchin with their first selection, they have added quality to their list every year.
Their midfield which now boasts established guns such as Deledio, Cotchin and Dustin Martin, as well as emerging stars such as Reece Conca, Brandon Ellis and Nick Vlastuin, are all evidence of a midfield that runs very deep which is no surprised given they have the second-best rated midfield in the competition. Then there is the recruitment of players from other clubs who have been starved of opportunities for one reason or another. Shaun Grigg, Bachar Houli, Troy Chaplin and Ivan Maric have all found their way to Richmond and have instantly had an impact. Who could forget when the relatively unknown ruckman with the mullet from Adelaide arrived and became an overnight sensation with his ability to run, compete, run, compete and do this for the majority of each game? It really was something to watch and signalled the success that Hartley was having in finding gold where other teams believed there was none.
Statistically, they are a team that generally likes to kick rather than handball. If we use 2012 as a comparison to last, the distinction between the two is obvious. The Tigers were ranked fifth in kicks and first in handballs with a kick-to-handball ratio of 1.2, ranking them 12th overall. In comparison to 2013, they kicked more (ranked second) and handballed less (ranked 14th). It is also interesting to note that while the Tigers had found a balance in both contested and uncontested possession differential in 2012, ranked 3rd and 1st respectively, their uncontested possessions differential dropped to 5th in 2013. While it isn’t a huge decrease, it is worth noting that their contested brand of football played a significant part in finishing fifth at the end of the home and away season.
Hiccups On The Horizon
They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same and this definitely applies to Richmond. They have contested finals twice between 1982 and 2013 and the perception that the Tigers are their own worst enemy is an accurate one. This why I feel that Richmond is the only club that can prevent itself from having sustained success over the coming years. Their backline is solid with the likes of Chaplin, Rance, Houli and Morris forming the nucleus of it, while their forward line of Riewoldt, Vickery, Edwards and King, makes them extremely potent when it comes to kicking goals. However, in saying that, one might argue that the success and failures of Richmond in 2014 rely heavily on Jack Riewoldt and his output.
He is the modern day Matthew Richardson in a sense that while he is an extremely talented footballer, he is somewhat unpredictable in his performance and erratic in his attitude. He has been voted out of the 2014 leadership group and has placed a self-imposed ban from any media work. However, it seems that this decision has had the reverse effect as commentators and experts alike have begun to question it.
He kicked 58 goals in 2014, a poor return considering he has been able to kick totals of 78, 62, 65 in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively. If Richmond are to take the next stop and claim a top four position, which is what they would ideally be aiming for in 2014, Riewoldt will have to kick 60+ goals for the season. A return of anything less than what he kicked in 2014 will almost certainly kill off any chance they have of advancing further up the ladder.
It took them 12 years to get there, but Richmond finally competed in September. The experience from that loss to Carlton that the collective would have gained would have been enormous and should hold them in good stead for 2014. They would have already assessed where they went wrong that day and I have no doubt that Damien Hardwick will use that as motivation to get this current group up and running again for 2014.
Their depth has been well documented in this article, however, the age of their list also further highlights the health of their list. Their list has an average age of 24 years and 62 days, with 14 players between the ages of 25-29. Furthermore, in terms of games played, eight players, some of those from their core group of players, have played 100-149 games. With Aaron Edwards, Alex Rance and Dustin Martin set to move in to this bracket during the season, the 2014 Tigers now have a solid nucleus that should take them deep into September.
Ladder Range: 5-8
B: D.Grimes, A.Rance, S.Morris
HB: S.Grigg, T.Chaplin, N.Vlastuin
C: B.Houli, T.Cotchin, B.Ellis
HF: S.Edwards, T.Vickery, D.Martin
F: J.King, J.Riewoldt, A.Edwards
Foll: I.Maric, D.Jackson, B.Deledio
Int: C.Knights, R.Conca, S.Hampson