Four years at the top came crashing down in 2021, for a Tigers team ravaged by injuries.

Finishing with a 9-12-1 record, the Tigers missed an opportunity to capitalise on their star's prime years.

Despite not meeting expectations, Richmond was still in the top eight at the end of Round 15. This shows that even in a bad season, they aren't far off.

Richmond didn't appear too worried, not looking to top up their list with too much ready-made talent. Instead, they took five selections in the top 30 draft picks to help refill their list with more young talent.

The real questions on everyone's minds is after a down season in 2021, should we expect more of a decline from the once perennial finalists? Could it be a sign of the beginning of the end for the Tigers’ Dynasty? Or will we see a resurgence once they get everyone healthy?

We look into the five burning questions facing the Tigers in 2022.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 24: (L-R) Jayden Short, Tom J. Lynch, Jason Castagna and Kamdyn McIntosh of the Tigers celebrate during the 2020 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the Geelong Cats at The Gabba on October 24, 2020 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Can Richmond bounce back in 2022?

While it feels like a lifetime ago, it was just over twelve months since the Tigers won their third premiership in four years. While dynasties such as Hawthorn's were never able to bounce back after they began to slide, this Richmond team appears different.

Comparing their current roster to their 2020 premiership list, only a few players are no longer on at Punt Road. From the 22 players that were named on grand final day, only Bachar Houli and David Astbury have departed.

Richmond Tigers Training Session
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 16: Bachar Houli of the Tigers hand passes during a Richmond Tigers AFL training session at Punt Road Oval on June 16, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

While some players such as Cotchin and Riewoldt are starting to near the end, Jayden Short, Noah Balta, Jack Graham, Liam Baker and Shai Bolton are just a few of the players who have improved since 2020.

While there were a few reasons why the Tigers fell down the ladder, the major reason was injuries.

After battling through ailments for the past few seasons, the totality hit them hard in last year's campaign. Balta, Cotchin, Edwards, Lambert, Martin, McIntosh, Prestia, Stack and Vlastuin all missed at least five games last season. Given a better run of health, that should drastically improve the club's record in the upcoming season.

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With a fully healthy list, the Tigers still have the talent and game plan to make another serious push for the flag. They are the only team who missed the finals last season that could make a genuine case for a top-four finish.

This season is looking like one of the tightest finals races in recent memory, but given the dominance of the club over the past five seasons, it is impossible to count the Tigers from playing deep into September.

Is 'Dusty' still the best player in the competition?

Before last year’s grand final, there was little debate over who the best player was in the competition. After his third Norm Smith Medal, Dustin Martin had solidified himself as one of the all-time greats and the one player that no one wanted to go against.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Dustin Martin of the Tigers celebrates victory with the Premiership Trophy and fans during the 2019 AFL Grand Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 28, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Fast-forward a year, and many have started to crown Petracca, Bontempeli, Wines or Oliver as the league's best player. While neither Richmond nor Martin lived up to their high expectations, it wasn’t a lost year for the Tiger's premiership hero.

Prior to his season-ending kidney injury, Martin was still playing elite-level football. While he had taken a slight dip from previous seasons, he was still averaging over 22.5 disposals and over a goal a game. Only Marcus Bontempeli and Christian Petracca managed those averages in the 2021 season.

AFL Rd 5 - Melbourne v Richmond
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 05: Christian Petracca of the Demons in action during the round 5 AFL match between the Melbourne Demons and the Richmond Tigers at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 05, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The drop in his numbers is due to his role on the team. With excellent midfield depth coming through Bolton, Graham, Ross, Baker, Collier-Dawkins, Dow and McIntosh all pushed for stoppage selection last year.

During the Richmond Dynasty of 2017-2020, Martin would spend 66% of his time in the midfield during the home and away season. Comparing that to last season, he only spent 45% of his game time in the midfield. That 32% drop-off in midfield minutes reflects his diminished statistics for the season. For context, his best season over that time was 2017 when he won the Brownlow with close to 30 disposals a game. Last season saw close to a 25% decrease from that Brownlow season.

During the 2021 season, Richmond instead used Martin similarly to how he was used in the finals. Over that same time frame, Martin spent 46% of his time in the midfield. Instead, he was being played more one-on-one up forward. His disposals dropped to 24 per game over the twelve finals appearances, instead of having more of an impact on the scoreboard. score assists, score involvements, goals and contested disposals all increased when played more as a forward option.

AFL Rd 1 - Richmond v Carlton
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Dustin Martin of the Tigers is tackled by Sam Walsh of the Blues during the 2021 AFL Round 01 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Over his career, he has also demonstrated an ability to elevate his game in the biggest matches of the year. As a genuine matchwinner, he has swung the momentum of multiple games off his own boot.

While not performing with the same consistency as previous years, he still was able to assert his dominance throughout last season. Games of four goals/28 disposals (Giants), three goals/27 disposals (Essendon), one goal/34 disposals (St Kilda) and two goals/31 disposals (Carlton) were some game-winning performances that he had throughout 2021.

While Martin has hit his 30s, there is still plenty of high-level football left for the Richmond champion. Missing the end of the season could prove to be a blessing in disguise. This will be the longest break that Martin has had between matches for his entire career. That rest could leave him fresher and more driven than we have seen for the past few years.

Teams should be fearful of what Martin can produce in 2022. With the motivation of missing the finals, a potential captaincy and the tragic passing of his father Shane, expect a bounce-back season for Martin. He might not reach his 2017 career-best football but expect when September rolls around, Martin will regain his throne as the number one player.

Is the next generation ready to make the leap?

The Tigers still have a competitive list similar to their 2022 premiership team. Several of their key players, however, are hitting the tail end of their careers.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 14: Trent Cotchin of the Tigers runs with the ball from Tim Taranto of the Giants during the round 17 AFL between the Richmond Tigers and the Greater Wester Giants at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 14, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Shane Edwards, Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Dylan Grimes, Kane Lambert and Robbie Tarrant are all over 30 years of age heading into the upcoming season. Dion Prestia and Tom Lynch are other important pieces that are 29 years old.

While they are all capable of playing winning football, the Tigers will be looking towards the next chapter as those players continue to age.

Often sustained club success can make it difficult to rebuild and retool the list in the long term. This is due to clubs trading for win-now players, or not receiving high-level draft picks. Eventually, most teams hit a point where they need to invest in more youth.

Richmond has begun that thinking as evident by their 2021 draft. They were able to stockpile some assets allowing them to take five selections in the top 30. That included Josh Gibcus (#9), Tom Brown (#17), Tyler Sonsie (#28), Sam Banks (#29) and Judson Clarke (#30). While all these draftees have the potential to be valuable contributors in the future, most are unlikely to have a huge impact in the next few seasons.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 24: (Back L-R) Ben Hobbs of the Bombers, Finn Callaghan of the Giants, Mac Andrew of the Suns, Sam Darcy of the Bulldogs, Josh Gibcus of the Tigers, Nick Daicos of the Magpies (Front L-R) Josh Ward of the Hawks, Campbell Chesser of the Eagles, Josh Rachele of the Crows and Josh Sinn of the Power pose for a photograph during the NAB AFL Draft at the London Tavern on November 24, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Instead, they need a handful of talented players who are able to contribute now, while still able to play high-level football throughout the remainder of the decade. That is where the following few players come in.

Liam Baker, Jack Graham, Shai Bolton, Noah Balta, Riley Collier-Dawkins and Sydney Stack are all going to be 22 to 24 in the early stages of 2022. They have all been developing in the Tigers system and have had to earn every game they have played.

Due to the challenges of 2021, it allowed more of their younger players to show their potential and what they could bring to the club moving forward. Last season became a career season for all these players who all benefited from increased opportunities.

Throughout 2021, Baker, Graham, Bolton and Balta all got the opportunity to be the number one option for the Tigers. The experience and confidence brought on by those opportunities will help their finals push as everyone gets healthy.

Their stats for 2021 are as followed:

Baker: 20.3 disposals, 2.77 tackles, 3.0 inside 50s, 1.4 clearances
Graham: 19 disposals, 5.6 tackles, 3.9 inside 50s, 1.8 clearances, 0.5 goals
Bolton: 19.7 disposals, 2.8 tackles, 4.8 inside 50s, 3.6 clearances, 1.2 marks inside 50, 1.2 goals
Balta: 13.1 disposals, 1.3 tackles, 3.1 rebound 50s, 1.4 marks inside 50
Collier-Dawkins: 14.7 disposals, 3.6 tackles, 2.3 inside 50s, 3.3 clearances
Stack: 16.7 disposals, 2.4 tackles, 2.6 rebound 50s, 1.9 inside 50s

While last season would give the Tigers confidence about their future, there are still a few questions that are left unanswered.

One area of concern for Richmond is whether their young players are able to produce at a high level while contributing to winning football. Balta and Collier-Dawkins both won 50% of their matches last season. The others all had more losses than victories.

There has been excellent football played by these players during Richmond's premiership runs. However, they are yet to prove that they can be one of the team's best few players, on a premiership level team.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 22: Riley Collier-Dawkins of the Tigers poses for a photo during the 2018 NAB AFL Draft at Marvel Stadium on November 22, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The other area of concern is whether they all can play consistent football and remain healthy. While Baker, Graham and Bolton only missed two games between them, it was a different story for the other three. Balta, Collier-Dawkins and Stack only managed 30 games. Form, opportunities and health were all factors in missing over half the season.

The Tigers will need all these players to continue to develop and improve over the next couple of seasons. Getting to play in meaningful matches and finals will be crucial in their development and will help transition into the new era of Richmond football.

While the Tigers don't need them all to be stars in 2022, staying competitive past the next few seasons likely fall into the hands of the young guns.

Who will captain the side in 2022?

Since Trent Cotchin stepped down from captain at the end of the 2021 season, speculation surrounding his replacement has filled the media.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Tigers captain Trent Cotchin and Tigers head coach Damien Hardwick hold aloft the Premiership Trophy after victory in the 2019 AFL Grand Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 28, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

The most high-profile replacement discussed is three-time Norm Smith Medallist Dustin Martin. One of the most vocal about his candidacy has been SEN host Kane Cornes. While speaking on his breakfast program, he said that Martin is ‘ready to go’, and that becoming a premiership captain is the ‘only thing left' in his career.

Richmond boss Brendan Gale has also shown his support towards selecting Martin for the role. When discussing the Tigers’ succession plan, he referred to Martin as an ‘uber-professional’. When asked about the Tiger's next captain, he highlighted all the characteristics that the club will be looking for from their next skipper.

‘His [Dustin Martin] preparation to get the best out of himself is inspiring, to be honest. He is a terrific leader and he has got a strong sense of who he is and really cares about his teammates and his club.’

‘They are all really strong leadership attributes and that’s something he really wanted to develop. I think, absolutely, he is more than capable to fill that role.’

Martin has taken the league by storm since his breakout 2017 season. Since then, he has been the most damaging player in the competition. His on-field talent is unquestionable, but some criticise his ability to be the vocal leader of the team.Seen as a quieter leader, he has strayed away from the media in the past.

He would still be an excellent choice for the position and would have the full support of his team and the club. The only real question is his desire for the position.

Dylan Grimes has also been mentioned in regard to the vacant position. Former Adelaide Crow Josh Jenkins told SEN Breakfast that he believes that Grimes is the ideal replacement.

‘Grimes would be my selection,’ Jenkins said on breakfast radio.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 20: Dylan Grimes of the Tigers warms up during the round 5 AFL match between Richmond and Sydney at Marvel Stadium on April 20, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

‘But again, context. We’re not inside the club, so it’s very hard to make a call. But Grimes would be my call.’

Grimes has been a steady presence down back, being a part of their strangling defence that leads to three premierships in four years. Despite turning 30 years old, he is continuing to impress as a defender, as demonstrated by his 2021 club Best and Fairest award. He has been an on-field leader for the Richmond defence, and would step into the role seamlessly if chosen.

Another candidate is midfielder Jack Graham. Earlier in December, Zero Hanger completed a poll asking football fans their opinion. In a close race, Graham was selected with over a quarter of the votes. Throughout the duration of the poll, over 2100 votes were cast.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 23: Jack Graham of the Tigers grabs the ball during the Second AFL Preliminary Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 23, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Coming off a career year, he finished second in the club's Best and Fairest. He also played a crucial role in Richmond’s previous two premiership runs. The benefit of selecting Graham is also his age, being over half a decade younger than the other candidates. While having the least experience, he would develop into the role with the support of Martin, Grimes, Cotchin and Riewoldt.

Some other candidates have been mentioned throughout the selection process. Nick Vlastuin and Jayden Short are other players who have been discussed but haven’t seemed to get the same level of attention as the other three.

While the Tigers have plenty of suitable candidates, one thing is seemingly certain. They will continue on with the sole captain model in 2022. Club legend Jack Riewoldt hinted to fans that the Tigers will stick with their previous regimes with only a single skipper named.

Currently, the two most likely candidates are Martin or Grimes, both of whom would be excellent choices for the club as they try to push back towards the finals in 2022.

Will this be the year that they lose their first game of the season in 10 years?

Over the past decade, the Tigers have had a stranglehold over their round one matchup against the Blues. Including their round two matches in 2014, the Tigers have won the past nine opening round matchups by an average margin of 22.7. They have also won their past eleven straight matches against the Blues.

AFL Rd 1 - Richmond v Carlton
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Dustin Martin of the Tigers is tackled by Sam Walsh of the Blues during the 2021 AFL Round 01 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

There have been calls from fans to remove the meeting from its position as the first game of the season, due to uneven contests. Not since 2014 has there a matchup closer than two goals. Usually, the game is over before the final quarter with Carlton never really making it close.

This year’s matchup however should be different than previous seasons.

Firstly, has scheduled another match prior to the Richmond vs Carlton matchup on Thursday night. On the Wednesday prior, a replay of the 2021 Grand Final will open the season. While likely to still draw a large crowd, expect a dip in the attendance numbers due to the fixture changes.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: A general view is seen during the round one AFL match between the Carlton Blues and the Richmond Tigers at Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 21, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Secondly, this is the first season since 2017 that Richmond isn't considered the best team in the competition. Both teams battled through injuries last season and underperformed preseason expectations. For the Tigers, if they are able to get everyone fit and playing by round one, they should be contending for a top-four position once again. It is slightly more complicated for Carlton however.

With new signings, a new coach, improved health and player development the Blues are expected to be a big improver in 2022. Carlton fans have been waiting for the list to live up to its potential. It finally looks like this season will be the year.

With both teams fully healthy, Richmond still has the stronger list. Unlike other years, however, the two teams are a lot closer. Carlton has enough youth and players entering their prime to potentially cause an upset.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Paddy Dow of the Blues celebrates a goal with Levi Casboult during the 2021 AFL Round 01 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

New coach Voss will also give extra motivation, as he will be eager to start off with a win.  Especially because they play the Bulldogs in round two. A 0-2 start could put him in the hot seat and begin the Clarkson to Carlton rumours.

While the previous history indicates that Richmond should be the odds on favourite for round one, expect a closer match than the past few seasons. 2022 is Carlton's first real opportunity in years to start the season off with a win. Despite that, a healthy and motivated Richmond team would be hard for anyone to beat in round one this season.