After Richmond’s 18-point victory over Hawthorn on Friday night, there’s been plenty of talk about where the Tigers sit in 2015 and beyond.
Having beaten Fremantle, Sydney and now Hawthorn, Richmond have accounted for three of the top four teams: the only team do so this year. It’s certainly been an impressive turnaround after a 2-4 start.
With all the media plaudits associated with beating the premiership favourites comes a perfectly acceptable question – can Richmond win the premiership?
If you’re a Richmond fan, you have every right to be excited. The club has shown it can compete with the best, both in the nine-game winning streak to make finals in 2014 and in the three-month block following round six this season.
While the finish to 2014 was an exciting and entertaining ride, 2015 has seen a much more certain and controlled playing group. The defensive structure looks consistently sound and the emerging players in the team have performed at a high standard.
Richmond’s dominance over their opposition in recent times is indicative of the players buying into the self-belief that Hardwick has instilled into them. Ignoring the media hype that has well and truly settled around the Tigers, the players honestly believe that anything is possible this season.
While the club isn’t necessarily getting ahead of itself, the truth is a serious tilt at the flag is unlikely in 2015.
Richmond’s performances this season can be compared to the formative stages of one particular team who continue to dominate some eight years later.
2007 saw Hawthorn finish fifth, just one game outside the top four. In the opening six rounds, similar to Richmond, they lost two matches they were expected to win. Bottom-four placed Western Bulldogs beat them comfortably as did the Lions, who ended up finishing 10th.
Hawthorn’s season didn’t follow the same ebbs and flows that Richmond’s has, yet there are quite a few parallels worth considering.
In the season prior to Hawthorn’s 2008 premiership win, they beat all teams in the top four, including Port Adelaide in Adelaide. They did so as the younger team in each of those matches: Richmond’s wins against top four opponents have been done in the same manner.
Hawthorn’s group of core midfielders, with the exception of veteran Shane Crawford, were all fairly young. Lewis (21 years old), Mitchell (24), Hodge (23), Sewell (23) and Young (21) all developed in 2007, playing good football against good teams.
On Friday night, it was the likes of Ellis (21), Martin (24), Cotchin (25), Miles (23) and Lambert (23), that took it to the Hawks. Richmond also have players like Deledio (28), Grigg (27) and Edwards (26) often featuring in the centre square make-up.
Both teams relied and continue to rely on their strong midfields and elite key position players to play consistently good football. Hawthorn’s Roughead and Franklin were vitally important to the team’s success, while Richmond’s duo of Rance and Riewoldt are having and will continue to have the same impact on the Tigers.
From fifth position, Hawthorn were able to win their elimination final before losing to North Melbourne. Their average games played in that semi final was 103, equal to that of Richmond’s most experienced team this season.
The experience of winning a final and reaching the second week of September is what ultimately allowed Hawthorn to improve and understand what it meant to win in finals football. It’s something Richmond have not been able to do in well over a decade.
That’s where the Tigers sit this season. It has been stated previously that Richmond must win a final this season for 2015 to be a success. They’ve given themselves every opportunity to do so.
Brett Deledio said on Triple M Football that Richmond would “give it every crack” in regards to winning the premiership this season. On the outside, it appears the players truly believe they’re a chance.
The 2015 expectation, however, shouldn’t be based on beating top four sides throughout the year. The Tigers need to focus on winning that final for the first time since 2001. Do that, and they’ve set themselves up nicely for the next few seasons.
Hawthorn’s 2007 team saw the formation of what is now the most dominant team in the league. 2009 and 2010 saw a mini-rebuild, as the team lost two experienced players in Crawford and Dew.
Richmond needn’t worry about heavily relied upon experience retiring in a year or two. The way the list is set up, both age and experience-wise, the Tigers are ready to become constant premiership contenders from 2016 onwards.
With three straight finals appearances at the end of 2015, Richmond is no longer stuck in a constant five-year rebuild. Much like Hawthorn in 2007, the foundations have been laid for a prolonged finals era.
Prepare for the September streets of Melbourne to be awash in a sea of yellow and black.
The Holy Grail awaits.