The Richmond Tigers fell to their lowest ladder position since 2016, dropping all the way down to 12th position. Due to injuries, form and some bad luck, the Tigers were unable to capture the form that saw them win three flags in four years. Here's how we review their year.
Season Finish: 12th
Record: Nine wins, 12 losses, one draw
2021 Season snapshot
After coming off back-to-back premierships, the Tigers came into the season as one of the favourites. With little change over from their best 22, Richmond looked poised to make another run that would see them as one of the best few teams at the end of the season.
Things started off slowly, but the Tigers were holding onto the eighth position on the ladder. After the first ten rounds, they were able to maintain an even win-loss record. After two impressive wins in Rounds 11 and 12, the Tigers found themselves two games clear of the ninth position.
Finding themselves in front of West Coast with minutes to go, Richmond was about to reach a game away from the top four and heading into the bye as the powerhouse we have come to recognise. Unfortunately, some late-game Josh. J Kennedy heroics cost them against the Eagles and their season plummeted from there.
With injuries plaguing the Tigers (especially in the latter part of the season), Richmond fell out of the finals race with a disappointing end to the season. The slide resulted in them moving from two games clear, all the way to missing the finals by a pair of wins.
When fit and healthy, Dustin Martin showed that he was still the most damaging player in the league with multiple best-on-ground performances. Many of the Tigers' veterans such as Jack Riewoldt, Dylan Grimes, Kane Lambert and Trent Cotchin all had top ten finishes in the B&F, while others made the most of new opportunities. Jack Graham, Liam Baker, Shai Bolton and Jayden Short all continued to improve and will be important pieces for the Tigers moving forward.
Star player: Dustin Martin
Martin was again a match-winning player for the Tigers, still possessing the ability to singlehandedly take over a game.
Despite being hampered by injury, he led all Tigers with 11 Brownlow votes. He also finished 5th in the club best and fairest.
The three-time Norm Smith medallist averaged 22.6 disposals, 1.2 goals, 3.6 clearances and 5.3 inside 50s.
Martin's ability to change to the game is still an important part of the Tiger's identity, and his absence was felt by the club. Whether it was beating out opponents one on one, kicking a much-needed goal or releasing the ball from the stoppage, opposition players were still fearful whenever Martin gets near the ball.
If Richmond is looking to bounce back and make another finals run, a healthy and engaged Martin is still essential for any success throughout finals.
Breakout player: Liam Baker
After finding himself a permanent spot in the Tigers backline in 2020, Baker was looking to be an important defender for Richmond moving forward. His consistency and solid play helped him to finish sixth in last year's Jack Dyer Medal tally.
While it appeared that his spot in the club had already been found, injuries and absences altered Baker's career in 2021.
With injuries to Lambert early in the season, Baker found himself playing forward where he was able to positively impact the game. When further injuries hit the midfield group, further opportunities were presented to Baker, which he ended up thriving on.
Baker finished the season averaging 20.3 disposals, three inside-50s, 4.6 intercepts, 2.8 tackles and four score involvements. Baker was in the top three for contested possessions, disposals, intercepts, uncontested possessions and tackles for the club and was also fifth for one-percenters.
These efforts were rewarded with sharing the Jack Titus Medal with Jack Graham for runner-up in the club's best and fairest count.
While his talent has always been evident, the versatility that Baker showed this season has taken his game to the next level. Being able to thrive all over the ground allows the Tigers to play him wherever he is needed on a particular night.
Baker has become the type of player that Richmond would love to have multiple of, as he can play in a range of positions.
Injection of youth: While the Tigers were ravaged with injuries throughout the season, it allowed many of their younger players to show their capabilities when given opportunities.
Jack Graham was given more midfield opportunities and showing that he is a capable midfielder as the Tigers move into their next generation. Liam Baker, as highlighted earlier, showed off his versatility and flexibility, playing excellent footy in defence, up forward and through the midfield.
They both ended up tied for second place in the Jack Dyer Medal, and at 23 years of age, both have plenty of football ahead of them.
Noah Balta had solidified his spot down back before suffering a season-ending injury in Round 15. A large number of injuries in defence allowed Richmond to debut Rhyan Mansell and play him in 13 games for the season. The Tigers were impressed with what they saw, giving Mansell an extension until 2023.
Shai Bolton continued with his improvement of the past few years and could turn into a genuine A-grade midfielder over the next few seasons. Thomson Dow got an opportunity late in the season that allowed him to show flashes of turning into a reliable and impactful midfielder for the Tigers' future.
Richmond will also add even more youth in 2022, going into this year's draft with their best hand for years. Currently having picks 7, 15, 26, 27 and 28 in the top 30, the Tigers have the opportunity to bring in a lot of young talent. They are also well placed to move up the draft order, making them one of the teams to watch come draft night.
Best brand of football proved to be competitive: It was a disappointing season for the Tigers internally as they were expecting to play finals. While there were some terrible losses, in some games they still showed that suffocating pressure football.
When healthy, they showed they are still capable of playing scintillating football that Richmond is synonymous with. Those unstoppable patches blow the game open and make them look unbeatable for a period of time.
The Tigers' best game for the season was in Round 7 against the Bulldogs. After finding themselves behind by three goals at half-time, they were able to find that extra gear in the second half, dominating the Dogs after the main break.
Richmond outscored their opponents 9.3 to 2.4 over that time, with only the Demons (in the grand final) making the Dogs look worse over a stretch of time in the 2021 season.
While it was some of the Saints' worst patches of football for the season, the Tigers also blew out St Kilda in an 86-point defeat in Round 5.
Once again the first half was a close affair, with Richmond taking a slim four-goal lead into the half-time break. Another dominating second half (12.8 to 3.1) gave the Tigers their biggest win of the season.
In their Round 9 match against the Giants, the Tigers fell behind by 21 points at the half-time break. They were able to switch gears in the second half keeping GWS to only three goals for that period while scoring seven of their own. This allowed them to steal a four-point victory over the Giants.
Their last dominant second-half performance came against the eventual top four finishers, Brisbane. Coming off losses to bottom three finishers Gold Coast and Collingwood in consecutive weeks, the Tigers had something to prove. Falling behind at halftime again, Richmond were able to flip momentum and upset the Lions.
Scoring 9.6 to 5.4 in the second half, it wasn't the same domination that was seen earlier in the season but did enough to beat out the in-form Lions. The Tigers were missing many key players in this Round 18 match and also proved to be Dustin Martins's final game of the season injuring himself in the second half.
Extra break for 2022: Having made it to the preliminary finals in the past four seasons, including the grand final in three of them, the Tigers usually have one of the shortest offseason breaks. This continued success puts pressure and strain on a club with a shorter turnaround each season. This compounds every subsequent season and becomes one of the reasons that teams struggle to continue to win for a long time.
The last team to win more than three grand finals in their premiership window was Hawthorn in the 80s. For the modern-day 'dynasties' Hawthorn, Geelong and Brisbane were only able to win three premierships. They then saw their success drop off afterwards. Geelong took nine years to make the grand final again, while Brisbane and Hawthorn are yet to make it back.
Missing the finals could end up being a blessing for the Tigers as they get some young talent and an extended off-season that the other premiership favourites didn't get. All while keeping a squad that is similar to their 2020 grand final winning team. The extra month in the off-season could give the club a small advantage at the end of next year.
Richmond also hasn't panicked or made drastic changes going into next year. After winning premierships, Hawthorn and Geelong both tried to add experienced talent and maintain their success. They continued to play in the finals but had to sacrifice draft picks and youth to bring in those top-up players.
Richmond however, has allowed their youth to develop and kept their most important players. With an extended off-season, the younger players will get more of an opportunity to improve and push towards the best 22. The veterans will also have extra motivation and energy being well-rested but also disappointed about wasting another season in their premiership window.
End to the season: Coming into Round 13, the Tigers were still in the mix for the finals. They looked like a lock for one of the bottom few spots in the top eight. Having the bye in Round 14 allowed the side to have a much-needed break. Many experts thought the Tigers would storm home to the finals with one of the weaker draws remaining in the league.
Those predictions didn't eventuate. Richmond played their worst football since 2016 in the last ten games of the season. Over that period, the Tigers claimed two wins, seven losses and a draw. In these games, only two came against sides who were above the Tigers on the ladder (Geelong and Brisbane), and GWS was the only other side who made the finals.
Besides their impressive win against the Lions in Round 18, there was no other time the Tigers looked like the unstoppable force of the past four seasons. Here are some of the lowlight performances over that stretch of games:
Round 15- losing to the Saints while only scoring 22 points for the entire match
Round 17 - losing to Collingwood by 16 points at the MCG
Round 23 - Drawing with Hawthorn
Missing the finals: Few teams have been able to have the same success as the Tigers. Despite that, experts and those within the club would have expected a finals appearance in 2021. Before the bye, the Tigers found themselves securely in the top eight. At the time, something drastic would have to happen for the club to end up missing the finals... Unfortunately, that is what happened.
With five losses and a draw to sides that missed the finals, it was a horrible end to the season for the Tigers.
Injuries were one of the main factors for such a fall, with only four players managing to play in all 22 of their team's games. But Richmond has been a side of such depth for the past four years, managing to win through injuries and adversity over the course of their run. 2021 felt different, however, as it was the first time that they looked beatable and a step behind the league's best teams.
While expectations were high, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the Tigers weren't able to repeat again.
Hawthorn and Geelong were both able to make the finals after winning three premierships, though neither were able to win a premiership. Brisbane made the Grand Final after their three premierships but lost to Port Adelaide in 2004. The following year they fell to 11th.
With less than half of the league making the finals, and only one team winning the premiership success is difficult in football. While the Tigers could turn it around again next year, with Fremantle, Carlton, West Coast and St Kilda all looking to break into the top eight, spots could be hard to come by in 2022.
Losing tall forwards: Despite all of the players who saw increased opportunities in 2021, there was one position that remained steady. With the club possessing two of the league's best forwards, Tom Lynch and Jack Riedwolt, it leaves little opportunity for emerging forwards.
The Tigers have spent the past few years investing time and resources in Mabior Chol and Callum Coleman-Jones. After years of work, both ended up getting the AFL experience that both had been deprived of for years. While still only having limited opportunities, they still flashed some of the talents that Tigers officials have been excited about.
Lynch and Riewoldt are still playing great football, however, both saw the writing on the wall. Instead of hoping and waiting for injuries or opportunities, they decided to leave the club.
While losing both players hurts the Tigers, Coleman-Jones would have stung the most. After injuries, form and off-field incidents impacting his career, it seems like Coleman-Jones has finally put it all together.
Now, when it looked like he could challenge for the best 22, he had to be traded to the Kangaroos. North Melbourne appeared to have gotten an excellent replacement for Todd Goldstein. Don't be surprised if Coleman-Jones takes a big leap this season with increased opportunities and the opportunity to learn from the excellent Goldstein.
Season Grade: C
Coming off back-to-back premierships, the Tigers were one of the favourites going into 2021. While injuries impacted the side, falling all the way to 12th is still a disappointing and underwhelming finish to the year. It is difficult to grade them any higher due to where most had pegged them to finish.
In 2022, spots in the top eight will be even harder to come by with at least 13 teams expecting to make finals. With a healthy team, a full off-season and added motivation the Tigers still have enough talent to be in the finals next season. Once they get there, they have shown that they are difficult to beat once September rolls around.