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In the first of round 23’s much-talked about ‘meaningless’ matches, Richmond took on North Melbourne in an entrée to next week’s elimination final main course between the two.

The Tigers took in a full team, hoping to get some consistency in their game prior to a third finals appearance in a row, while North took a completely different approach in resting nine players.

A Kangaroos win would’ve likely seen them take on the Bulldogs in the first final next week, while Richmond were hoping for a Suns upset win to get them into the top four. With neither eventuating, we’ll see the two sides battle it out again next Sunday.

How did the opening match of the final home and away round play out? We certainly learnt more than many would have thought.

Deledio’s dominance

Brett Deledio’s season has been completely understated, as has much of his career. He continued his brilliant 2015 against the Kangaroos, with 26 disposals across the half-forward line. Deledio finished with a goal and two goal assists, and his delivery inside 50 was exceptional.

Richmond really lifted in the third quarter, winning it by 21 points, and eight of Deledio’s 10 disposals were dangerous across the forward 50. The Tigers won the inside 50 count 33-17 in the second half, led by the smart move of Bachar Houli to the forward line along with Deledio.

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It’s clear just how important he is to Richmond’s set-up. With 26 goals from his 17 matches, Deledio has provided another strong marking target for Richmond. Although it was against a severely undermanned North Melbourne line-up, Deledio’s performance highlights the need for him to be shut down next week.

It will be a big job, but Sam Wright looms as the key for North. His ability to play tight defensively and provide rebound for the Kangaroos will make Deledio accountable, potentially limiting his ability get involved in score involvements.

First half ruled by defensive setup

At half-time, the scoreboard was 29-19 in favour of North Melbourne. Inside 50s were 24 apiece, but there was a distinct inability for both sides to control their entries into their respective forward lines. Both sets of defenders were able to peel off their opponents at the right time in the first half, creating mismatches for the likes of Jack Riewoldt, Ben Brown and Drew Petrie. Lachie Hansen was superb in the first half, cutting off a number of Richmond’s forward forays (five intercept marks for the match).

At the other end, Alex Rance played a smart game. Defensively, he stayed tight with his opponent (Petrie/Brown) until the 60 metre mark, where he allowed them to take a mark while he sprinted back into his defensive 50 to impact the next contest. Richmond’s ability to cover this has been excellent this season, playing a major part in their tight backline.

Offensively, Rance took on his bigger opposition and was a good rebound option. Petrie must put more pressure on Rance in next week’s clash, otherwise North run the risk of letting Richmond open them up through the middle.

Tigers’ high defensive line the secret?

In attack, Richmond hasn’t been a particularly high-scoring team. With a preference towards a defensively sound structure to win matches, the Tigers rely on quick transitions through precise ball movement to score. With only 19 points to half-time, largely thanks to lethargy and strong pressure from North Melbourne, a change was necessary. When they had ball in hand, Richmond played a high line in essentially a soccer formation, with two defensive-minded players: in this case Nick Vlastuin and Taylor Hunt guarded the central space on the 50 metre arc with one player slightly advanced on each flank.

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This allowed Richmond midfielders to move higher up the field, pressing hard to keep the ball in their forward half. At worst, North Melbourne had to bomb the ball out of their defensive 50 which allowed the likes of Rance, Chaplin, Vlastuin and Batchelor to sweep up the loose ball and start sending the ball forward again.

In the first quarter, North were really effective in their pressure acts and tackling. Although it was low-scoring, they switched sides a little more than usual and opened the corridor up. This allowed them to get plenty of numbers running alongside each other, forcing Richmond onto the back foot. When they weren’t hitting the scoreboard, Richmond’s efficiency was well down on their season average and the kick-to-handball ratio was less than 1:1: the opposite of what the Tigers want. Stuck deep in defence thanks to the pressure, Richmond struggled to come up with any meaningful attacking plays.

Class shines through

At the end of the day, it was clear that North Melbourne were severely depleted as Richmond’s best players finished off the game strongly. Missing Nick Dal Santo, Todd Goldstein, Ben Cunnington, Andrew Swallow and Shaun Higgins, there just wasn’t enough consistency in the depth players taking their spots. Trent Cotchin proved to be a major part in keeping Richmond in the game, while Deledio, Dustin Martin and Shane Edwards were superb in the second half.

The image below highlights a play that really fired up the Tigers’ resurgence. Edwards had just got the ball and run through three North players before passing it to Riewoldt. He then sprinted further forward alongside Brett Deledio, before shepherding for his teammate who received the ball from Riewoldt and ran into an open goal.

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Richmond are at their best when they can control possession and then take the game on at the right time. When Martin moved forward in the final quarter to kick his bag of goals, it was clear that Richmond’s mindset had changed and they were able to create more one-on-ones in their forward line. In these situations, Tiger forwards will back their strength every time.

How does either team win the elimination final?

Of course, the round 23 clash between the two sides was a dead rubber, but both teams will have learnt something about each other.

North Melbourne will welcome back nine of its best players which automatically makes them more competitive. As shown in the first quarter, if they can bring their tackling pressure and close-checking in between the arcs, they can limit Richmond’s ability to move the ball effectively through the middle.

Creating two or three-on-ones is important as well. If Tarrant or Hansen can get their intercept game working well when peeling off the likes of Riewoldt and Vickery, they will create a hesitancy in the way Richmond send the ball inside 50. Indecision up the field for Richmond would create more turnovers for North to attack from different positions.

Richmond will have learnt a little from the win over a weak Kangaroos team as well. The Tigers need to have a 100 percent ready mentality next Sunday: otherwise, they’ll be caught out again against a far more dangerous North side. Richmond’s midfielders lacked run early on, which meant a decrease in their usual uncontested mark count. They invited North Melbourne’s pressure, which left defenders under pressure against a lot of blue and white jumpers.

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Shaun Grigg will be important around stoppages. As was highlighted in last week’s analysis of Western Bulldogs vs North Melbourne, the third man up tactic was effectively employed against Todd Goldstein and played a major part in the Bulldogs’ win. Grigg is Richmond’s main man in these situations, and he will need to help Maric in contests to limit his influence. He may also follow Goldstein loosely around the ground, as the ‘Roos big man has been immense in that area.

Votes

3: Brett Deledio (Rich)

2: Trent Cotchin (Rich)

1: Dustin Martin (Rich)