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Richmond’s 2015 season had a familiar tune to it once again, solid enough throughout the 23 home and away rounds and poor when it came to finals footy. The Tigers finished with a 15-7 record and registered great wins against Hawthorn, Fremantle and Sydney, just to name a few, but their Elimination Final loss to North Melbourne really put a stinker in what was a promising year at tigerland.
Missing out on the top four may of well be down to their poor start to the year with their high pressure style of footy not quite working, forcing Hardwick to change to a possession based game after round six following a horrible defeat to Melbourne. However a fifth placed finish was still seen as a success amongst supporters, but they’ll all know well that winning big games throughout the season means nothing when it can’t be done on the big stage, in finals.
Richmond’s off-season recruiting wasn’t as big as it was in 2014, but they still filled the gaps that needed to be filled, with Chris Yarran being a vital recruit from Carlton, giving the Tigers that rebounding defender they lacked in 2015. Yarran brings 120 games of AFL experience and when he returns from a foot injury in about six weeks, he’ll provide that spark Richmond need.
The recruit of Jacob Townsend from GWS should provide the Tigers with a much needed grunt to their midfield as they look to improve their contested ball numbers. Port Adelaide delisted player Andrew Moore, also joined the club on a one-year contract, and is expected to provide cover for Richmond’s stacked midfield.
The draft saw the Tigers focus switch to speed as they picked up Daniel Rioli from the NT Thunder at 15 and brings genuine excitement to the club along with Oleg Markov and Nathan Broad, picked at 50 and 67 respectively. The latter looks likely to make the 22 for round one due to the injuries of Reece Conca, Shaun Grigg and Yarran and should slot in well to Richmond’s back six.
The Tigers managed re-sign talented half-forward Ben Lennon to a two-year extension back in October and the man dubbed the heir to Brett Deledio’s throne should continue to improve despite controversially being dropped for the final against North last year. Nathan Foley, Chris Knights, Chris Newman and Ricky Petterd all hanged up the boots at the end of 2015, whilst Matt Dea, Nathan Gordon, Matthew McDonough and Matthew Arnot were all moved on.
There might not be another team facing more pressure than Richmond in 2016 and they have no choice but to win a finals game come the end of the home and away season. Richmond have proven that they can mix it with the best and should no qualms about matching or even bettering than 15-7 record from last season.
Middle tier players need to improve and the teams that generally perform well in September have a few underrated players that step up and make themselves known. Expect to hear the name Connor Menadue throughout the year, the 19-year old picked at 33 in the 2014 draft has impressed in the NAB Challenge and is seen as an elite kick who can help Richmond reduce their skill based errors in big matches.
They need a solid start the season, something they didn’t get in 2015, ideally kicking things off with a big win over Carlton on Thursday night. I have them at fifth, but the top four will just be out of reach due to their inconsistency and tendency to flop at crucial moments during the season.
Key Player: Alex Rance
Voted into the leadership group for the upcoming season, key-defender Alex Rance is set be Richmond’s main man once again after an outstanding 2015 campaign. Rance solidified himself as the league’s best defender last season, combining his brilliant ability to lockdown on opponents with his impressive rebounding work that started many of the Tigers’ attacks. The club larrikin made his way into the All-Australian team for the second consecutive year and took out the Jack Dyer Medal (Best and Fairest) for the first time in his career, becoming the first key defender since Darren Gaspar in 2001 to win the medal.
Throughout 2015, Rance averaged close to six marks per game and 17 disposals as well as being ranked no.1 in the competition for one percenters as well as spoils. Known best for his one-on-one work, Rance took his rebounding work to new levels, ranking 11th in the league for rebound 50s. He led a defence that allowed their opponents just 10 goals per game, the third best in the league with up and coming players Dylan Grimes, Nick Vlastuin and David Astbury under his tutelage. His importance at Richmond is comparable to what Nat Fyfe does to help Fremantle score from midfield, possibly making him one the best players in the league as well as arguably the best defender.
In 2016, the 26-year old from Perth will look to improve his decision-making as he said himself in pre-season and to be honest, he’s not the only one. He cracked the AFL Players Top 50 List and sits 19th heading into the new season and he may well look to show ‘potential captain’ qualities throughout the year, an issue the Tigers need to deal with. Having committed his long term future to the club back in July of last season, expect Rance to lead the Tigers back six from the front as they look to make inroads to the top four.
Rising Star: Ben Lennon
Playing 16 games last season, Ben Lennon continued his development as Richmond’s next x-factor as the half-forward produced a solid third year at the club. He was controversially dropped for the elimination final with North Melbourne, a mistake that Hardwick admitted to in the end, after playing the final eight games of the season.
His highlights of 2015 were his 22 disposals he racked up against the Suns in round 20 and his three goal effort against the Saints in round 16, his best form coming late in the season. A few injuries here and there have pushed back his development after being taken at no.13 in the 2013 draft, an absolute steal according to scouts. He capped off the year by being nominated for the Rising Star award, but failed to poll any votes.
2016 should see Lennon play a prominent role within the Tigers’ side after signing a two-year extension during the off-season. He’ll be keen to work on his endurance and defensive running to prove he can be a full-time midfielder in years to come. He’s got a terrific right foot kick, whilst leading and marking the ball like a tall with an incredible sense of goal. As a risk-taker and a big game player, Hardwick is lucky to have a player in Lennon on his hands.
Under the Pump: Trent Cotchin
No one is doubting his footballing abilities. The 153-gamer has won three best and fairest awards as well as an All-Australian in 2012. With an average of about 23 disposals per game, he ran second in the 2012 brownlow medal behind winner Jobe Watson. However, with all the talent his possesses, his ability to lead the club as captain is still incredibly raw.
Calls have come for Cotchin to be replaced as skipper if Richmond are to move forward in their charge for a first premiership since the 70s and if he’s performances in the club’s last two elimination finals is anything to go to by, then those calls are quite valid. Against Port Adelaide in 2014, he finished with 16 touches and then a career-low nine against North last year. Those are alarming stats for someone who is expected to drive the club forward in these big matches. The problem for Cotchin, is that he’s susceptible to a good tag and he goes missing in big moments. Not what you want from your captain.
If you look at other captains around the league such as Taylor Walker, Luke Hodge and Joel Selwood, they all step up when their team needs them the most. It’s all well and good racking up 30 plus possessions against the Lions but if you can’t crack it on the big stage, then you’re better off handing the captaincy over to someone who can.
The backbone of this Tigers’ side is their defensive core which ranked as the third best in the competition behind the likes of Hawthorn and West Coast. 2015 was a fantastic year for the back six led by Alex Rance as they recorded the lowest average points against tally since 1967. Coached by Adelaide legendary defender Ben Rutten, the Tigers conceded just 71.3 points a game and will be looking to maintain this stat throughout 2016.
During pre-season a young Tiger defence consisting of David Astbury, Nathan Broad, Nick Vlastuin, Jake Bachelor and Todd Elton restricted Jack Riewoldt, Ty Vickery and Liam McBean to just four goals between them in an intra-club match. Turning defence into attack is what Richmond will be looking to accomplish this season with the recruit of Chris Yarran, bought in to help Bachar Houli. Reece Conca was also successfully trialled at half-back during the NAB Challenge, but will miss a fair bit of 2016 due to injury.
The Tigers will be looking to take a leaf out of the West Coast defensive play book which gained so much attention throughout their 2015 campaign. Look out for youngster Jackson Castagna – in his second year at the club – who has impressed in pre-season and could well be a roughie for round 1. There is now competition for spots in the backline and it will be interesting to see how they all perform throughout the year.
Weakness: Ruck stocks
Whilst the backline is Richmond’s strength, their depth in the ruck positions is something of concern. Their number one choice, Ivan Maric is a solid big man who battles hard against significantly bigger ruck opponents, but is starting to show signs of slowing down and Richmond don’t have enough depth to cover the contribution he makes around the ground.
Shaun Hampson was recruited from Carlton in 2014 with a view to lend Maric some support as a number two ruckman but has failed to step up at Richmond. He’s a decent tap ruckman at 201cm, but he struggles to do much else and with Ivan Soldo and Mabior Chol not quite ready, he really needs to better his game otherwise he may find his way on the outer come the end of the season.
Ty Vickery and Ben Griffiths can be used in the ruck, but are better placed up forward, while Liam McBean has shown he can chip in with a bit of ruck work himself every now and then. If Ivan goes down, then Richmond are surely in plenty of strife.
What the fixture looks like: Good
Richmond have got the exposure they want with their 2016 fixture, being handed 13 night matches with six of these being in the primetime Friday night slot. The start their season with three very winnable games against Carlton, Collingwood and Adelaide and they also finish off well, with four of their last five matches against bottom eight teams from 2015.
However, they do double up against two of last year’s finalists in Sydney and Hawthorn and between rounds 6 and 9 they play Port Adelaide, Hawthorn, Sydney and Fremantle. The only travel outside of Victoria on five occasions compared to six in 2015.
Hardwick now has the players and a favourable draw to give a real hot go at making the top the four and there are little to no excuses for failure.