The story of 2015

The Tigers did most things right across the home and away season. A slow start capped off to a poor loss to North Melbourne in round six had them sitting 2-4, but everything that followed was the Richmond we should be expecting. Wins over Hawthorn, Sydney, Fremantle and more meant the Tigers finished fifth, a game outside the top four with a better percentage than minor premiers Fremantle, and they did it with minimal fuss. On their day they were an excellent side and it was their day on many occasions in 2015. Alex Rance cemented himself as one of the very best players (let alone defenders) in the league and all of Jack Riewoldt, Brett Deledio, Dustin Martin, Shane Edwards and Anthony Miles were at their best. Trent Cotchin is almost out of Richmond’s top five or six; things are pretty healthy at Punt Road.

But it’s so hard to avoid. Three in a row…yikes. The Tigers let another final go and should be seething.

For the sake of the Tiger Army, hopefully it is something from which to draw motivation as this side is talented and settled and, with Damien Hardwick at the helm, the game plan is there. 2015 proved they can more than match it with the best. The next step: ensuring they become one of them.

What went right

If you’re after kamikaze football you would have struggled supporting Richmond last season as they brought a successfully conservative style of play to the table, especially as the season wore on. The Tigers made a conscious effort to be assured and well structured down back, matching trendsetters like Sydney and Fremantle, but managed to balance this well with patient and smart ball movement from the back half, like a Hawthorn or North Melbourne, waiting for options to present and working the ball forward with purpose and direction rather than pace. Other than the Hawks (who of course set the standard) the Tigers combined these two aspects of play as well as any side last season.

Their controlled, conservative set up proved effective. Scoring against them became a demanding task – they conceded the second least points from defensive half launches, the third least points overall and ranked top five in a plethora of other defensive indicators. This Richmond backline was mean – they conceded less than 60 points on eight occasions, more than the previous two seasons combined and their most in a season since 1967, a year in which they went 15-3 and won the flag.

The Tigers, despite being one of the slowest sides in transition, also scored from 47.7% of inside 50 entries, ranked sixth. That they were able to score frequently when going inside 50 despite allowing their opponents those extra few seconds to push numbers back is a testament to their good all-round skill and smart ball usage.

What went wrong

The next step for the Tigers would be getting a little more out of their forward line, something they lacked in 2015, pushing into that 90 points per game threshold and beyond. They scored 87.7 points per game across the 2015 season, ranked 10th in the league and the second-worst of all finalists.

Also concerning is that only 40.7 of those points were generated from the forward half – no top eight side fared worse. They also only ranked 11th for pressure differential across the ground. These two indicators suggest the Tigers are content to let their strong backline swallow up everything. It certainly worked last season. But it could work better yet.

Forward pressure is a team effort but once again the Tigers need a genuine small forward to lead the charge. Neither Sam Lloyd nor Nathan Gordon stood out last season. Perhaps this opens the door for Daniel Rioli, Richmond’s first pick in the 2015 draft, to stamp his own name. The surname will be more than welcome – Rioli ranked #1 for pressure among general forwards at the under 18 championships last year and can give Richmond newfound energy in the forward half of the ground. Dan Butler is another similar option who is yet to play a game. With these types of players hassling opposition defenders all day the Tigers can stop ball movement before it has a chance to begin and force some opportunities closer to goal. Scoring against the Tigers is already a difficult task, and it is compounded if they can get this right.

The Tigers already have things covered in the back half of the ground, offensively and defensively. If the forward half catches up with those extra couple of goals a game they’ll be hard to stop.

2016 preview

Whichever way you approach it the Tigers have an established side, a good game plan and the top end talent to ensure they can play finals again. They won 13 of their last 16 games in the home and away season and have won the fifth-most home and away games of any side over the last three seasons. This Richmond side is solid to say the very least and it would take a few things to go wrong to see them drop down the ladder in 2016. Everything is settled, and Hardwick has previously shown the knowhow to tweak things when necessary.

The bottom six is still a query, with around 10 players fighting for four or five spots and the likes of Conca, Menadue, Lambert, Lloyd, Hunt and Moore all biting at the heels of the best 22. In a strange, roundabout way, it is a strength of the Tigers now – the difference between their 17th best and 30th best player is small. Recent injuries to Deledio, Edwards, Yarran, Grigg and Maric, while they hurt, will faze them less than ever. But, most importantly, these players in the lower tier have to relish the pressure, force their way into the best 22 and play a good enough quality of football to establish themselves and complement the high-end talent already there.

The likes of Rance, Deledio, Martin, Riewoldt, Edwards, Miles, Cotchin and others are excellent – it’s difficult to ask for much more. But improvement from their bottom six is what will push them from finalists to contenders.

Or triumphant finalists, at the least.

One can hope.

Best 22

B: Nick Vlastuin, David Astbury, Dylan Grimes
HB: Bachar Houli, Alex Rance, Chris Yarran
C: Brett Deledio, Shaun Grigg, Brandon Ellis
HF: Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt, Shane Edwards
F: Ben Lennon, Ty Vickery, Daniel Rioli
Foll: Ivan Maric, Anthony Miles, Trent Cotchin
Int: Corey Ellis, Jacob Townsend, Sam Lloyd, Kamdyn McIntosh

Ladder prediction