The AFL’s first ever week of free agency brought about a number of players changing clubs, but the biggest winner potentially for 2013 and beyond was the Richmond Football Club.
The Tigers acquired midfielder/forward Chris Knights from Adelaide as an unrestricted free agent, and later in the week sealed a four-year deal that allowed defender Troy Chaplin to cross from Port Adelaide to join the Tigers.
26-year-old Knights played 96 games for the Crows, debuting in 2005 after initially being selected from the Eastern Ranges in the TAC Cup Under-18 competition.
Knights was drafted to Adelaide with pick 56 in the 2004 National Draft, but took until 2007 to become a regular senior player at the Crows.
His best season was in 2009 where he played in 20 games while averaging 17.6 disposals per game, also booting 43 goals.
Unfortunately, Knights has suffered from persistent injuries since and, in 2012 particularly, a lack of opportunity to break into the strong Crows line up. These issues have resulted in him only playing 26 games in between 2010 and 2012, including just five matches this season.
Troy Chaplin was a highly-regarded junior footballer and as such, he was drafted in 2003 from North Ballarat Rebels as a first-round selection at number 15, and managed 140 games in his time at the Power.
A consistent and reliable defender, Chaplin has averaged 16.5 disposals and 5.5 marks per game, and provided much-needed stability for the Power in their defensive zone during the club’s struggles in the last two seasons, while also acting as a key member of the Power’s leadership group.
He twice finished in the top three in Port Adelaide’s best and fairest count, the John Cahill Medal, in 2009 and 2010, and also was a member of the losing 2007 Grand Final side.
Chaplin played in 18 games in 2012 and managed a creditable fourth placing in the John Cahill Medal, despite missing the last three games through injury.
The concern for both players is their longevity, with rumours emanating from the Power about the unstable knee of Chaplin, and the lingering worry of Knights only managing to play 20 games in a season twice since his debut.
However, the flip side is that the Tigers have now acquired two bona fide senior players who can complement their already talented list, and the experience and leadership that the pair can provide will only assist the development of the younger players in the Tigers’ squad.
Given Richmond finished 12th on the ladder in 2012, two ready-made players that will slot straight into their best 22 could be just the boost that Richmond need in order to turn the bottom eight finishes of recent years into their first finals appearance in more than a decade.
The risk of acquiring both Knights and Chaplin is one worth taking for the Tigers, as the rewards far outweigh the negatives.
Should both players suffer with injury in 2013, the Tigers will face criticism from the wider media, but with careful management techniques from the Tigers fitness and medical staff, the risk of injury to both players is no more pertinent than for any other player over the age of 25.
Should Knights and Chaplin play up to their potential, it would not be a shock to see Richmond finish inside the top eight, possibly even challenging for the double chance.
The Tigers are to be praised for their gamble on recruiting the pair, and should results fall their way in 2013, the clubs who weren’t able to use free agency to their advantage may well be kicking themselves at the lost opportunity.