Nine wins from 13 games. Sixth on the ladder, two points outside the top four. And a few heavily important and decisive matches in the near future could realistically see them leap into it.
It’s still a little unusual to associate that with Richmond, but if their form is indicative of anything, we’ll have to get used to it.
While they are yet to lock themselves into finals just yet – mathematically, no team has, though it takes many stars aligning for Hawthorn to miss out this year – they are doing everything they can to suggest they will be an important feature in September football for the third time in 31 years.
Despite not claiming the scalps of yesteryear, managing brilliant victories over the two Grand Finalists in Hawthorn and Sydney, the manner in which their wins have come about this season suggests they’re doing everything right.
In their previous four matches, victories over West Coast, Adelaide, Western Bulldogs and St Kilda, they have opened up a gap that will have finally given them the realisation they have truly broken away from the bottom half of the ladder in which they have been so prominent in previous years. Two games against North Melbourne and Gold Coast – a side they’re yet to beat – should only solidify that, and would leave them on 11 wins ready for a strong finish to the season.
Through rounds 17 to 19, they face Fremantle at home, Sydney away, and Hawthorn back home. It’s a daunting task. But one has to think Damien Hardwick is salivating.
They hold strong recent form over all three, not losing to the Dockers by more than 22 points in their past three clashes, including an infamous trip to Patersons Stadium in round five. Their last clash with the Hawks and previous two with the Swans also netted convincing victories.
These three opponents should finish top five. The power is in Richmond’s hands to derail that if they can walk away with premiership points. Wins against Fremantle or Sydney (or both), currently two premiership points ahead of them, leave the top four race even further open, the Tigers then further in the mix. A clash against Essendon then takes further significance, provided no action is taken from ASADA prior to their round 23 contest.
Hardwick and co will also know that to threaten come September, these matches are as important as they come. It also daunts the top eight, knowing Richmond – while not an experienced finals team, of course – knows how to perform on a big stage and will be a tougher team to defeat.
This side is, perhaps most importantly, still young. Finishing sixth or seventh and even losing an Elimination Final should sit well with the club, giving them the understanding of the level of football required to see them fight for that ever-desired premiership over the next few years.
Those years will be their window, with only five players on their list over the age of 28 – veterans Chris Newman and Shane Tuck, backup ruck Orren Stephenson, and the useful Jake King and Aaron Edwards. With Richmond’s depth – once a hindrance, now a strength – it’s likely that these players can effectively be replaced once their careers inevitably end, despite the importance of some of them.
It is becoming a trademark of the Tigers, their depth. The strength of the Brett Deledio, Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin trio is well publicised, but it’s the work of those below that has helped them so much.
Shane Edwards has become vital, Nathan Foley has returned with little discomfort, Shaun Grigg is an excellent outside midfielder, Reece Conca and Brandon Ellis have slotted in well, Daniel Jackson is playing well and Tuck and Chris Knights were very handy before the two injured themselves against Port Adelaide. Behind them sit names such as Nahas, Lonergan, White, O’Hanlon, Arnot and Helbig, all of them either experienced and handy or young and talented.
And that’s just their midfield; they sit third in the league for scores per inside 50 and seventh against, as well as sixth for opposition inside 50s rebounded, and second against. They are very healthy stats – they are dangerous when delivering and keeping it inside their 50, and efficient at keeping it out of their opposition’s.
It’s a forward line less reliant on Jack Riewoldt than ever – though he consistently delivers – and a defence with so many negating options from the fighting efforts of Troy Chaplin to the offensive abilities of Bachar Houli.
The side still remains relatively young; the average games per player of the side that took on St Kilda was 82.3, and of Grand Final sides from the past five years, only the Collingwood of 2010 was lower. It’s a rising level of experience – and talent – synonymous with very successful teams.
And, with a final or two under their belt this year and a strong platform to improve on it, there’s no reason why the Tigers won’t be the next.