Of all the movement the Tigers made this offseason the most underrated acquisition was the signature of new assistant coach Mark Williams. The former premiership coach possesses all the traits this Richmond squad required and compliments Senior Coach Damian Hardwick like a pint to a parmigiana. Richmond needed experience on all fronts. They ticked this box both in the coach’s box and on the playing field.
Despite bathing in liquor at both the Cox Plate and Boxing Day Test, new Tigers Aaron Edwards and Ricky Petterd will look to continue a Richmond recruiting tradition that has become as lucrative as any in the AFL, and along with Chris Knights, Sam Lonergan, Orren Stephenson and most importantly Troy Chaplin there’s plenty to suggest the impressive streak has continued. It’s a haul of names that voice a familiar tone to the likes of Shaun Grigg, Ivan Maric and Bachar Houli.
It appears as though Richmond have a bit of an unorthodox way of going about their offseason. As far as I can tell they analyse results, Identify a need, and recruit as required. Outlandish I know. I’m not entirely sure why more teams aren’t doing this… They beefed up at every area of weakness.
In the draft the Tigers picked up contested ball magnet Nick Vlastuin, versatile defender Kamdyn McIntosh, Beanpole green Bean enthusiast and son of Bean farmer Liam McBean, and dead-eye dick Matty McDonough.
We’re four weeks away from the start of the season and it’s safe to say no team will go under the microscope in 2013 more than the poor old Tigers. With expectation comes pressure and for the sake of Richmond supporters, staff and players alike, one can only hope those external expectations, regardless of how logical or achievable, are met. Forget the internal KPI’s, Richmond appear to have success defined by the media and opposition supporters.
The “Make or break for Hardwick” headlines have already started. Don’t be surprised to find a double spread calling for Hardwick to be sacked on the Monday morning after round one, even if Richmond wins.
80% of the Tigers list has played fewer than 100 games, and 73% is still under 25.
Finals football for Richmond should be the expectation, but it shouldn’t be an ultimatum.
The Tigers defence gave up 88.31 points per game last season, the tenth most in the AFL. What’s intriguing to note about Richmond’s defensive output in 2012 is their level of consistency regardless of the competition they faced. In thirteen games against non-finals sides the Tigers relinquished 89.07 points per game, finishing with a record of 8-4-1. When facing finals sides they were surprisingly more restrictive, allowing 87.22 points per game in nine contests, registering a 2-7 win/loss record.
The results may be of concern but the consistency shown is a major positive for a young squad with finals ambitions. Richmond finished the year allowing opponents to break through the 100 point threshold just seven times, with only three of those teams (West Coast, Adelaide and North Melbourne) being top eight sides.
Offensively the Tigers defence was one of the AFL’s more impressive units in 2012, ranking fifth in scores generated from defensive fifty. Although last in rebound fifties, ninth for interceptions and tenth in one percenters, the Tigers will no doubt improve on this pedestrian output in 2013 with a more settled back-six headlined by the addition of former Power defender Troy Chaplin.
At 27 years of age and 140 games played Chaplin adds some much needed key position experience to a Tigers defence who last season had only former captain Chris Newman with at least 100 games under the belt in the back end of the ground.
One of the primary problems for Richmond last season was their opponent’s ability to score incredibly efficiently once the ball did enter inside fifty. Tiger opponents ranked eighth in free kicks inside forward fifty (no finals side ranked in the worst eight teams), seventh in time in forward half percentage (no finals side ranked in the worst nine teams), sixth in goals from marks (North the only finals side in the worst nine teams), fifth in goals converted when inside fifty percentage (ahead of only GWS, Melbourne, Bulldogs and Gold Coast), and fourth in scores sourced from half forward (ahead of only Melbourne, Brisbane and GWS). Things will need to tighten up down back.
The reason Troy Chaplin was such a much needed entity stands out most when you asses the individual statistics of Richmond’s defence last season. It was essentially Alex Rance playing the role of key position lone Wolf. Rance was the only Tiger inside the top twenty for both Interceptions (seventh) and one percenters (seventh). Dylan Grimes impressed averaging 5.2 interceptions per game and 5.7 one percenters per game but injury resulted in Grimes playing just nine games. With Chaplin joining the fold Richmond now possess a more settled balance and an increased capability to account for teams with multiple power forwards. Each of Rance, Grimes and Chaplin stands at least 6’4”. Chaplin ranked ninth in interceptions last season and managed to lead the competition in 2011, whilst also ranking 26th overall for one percenters at six per game.
Joining the defensive position stocks down back will be the gritty Steven Morris who burst onto the scene last year with his kamikaze style of play, veteran Chris Newman who still has plenty to offer and classy Bachar Houli who provides penetration and run out of defence.
Of these six only Morris and Grimes have failed to register at least 65 games experience, although given Morris’s mature standing and the impressive early signs from Grimes this shouldn’t be an issue. Combined this core sits at an average age of 25 with 88 games of experience, and now has the look of a complimentary unit that, outside of Newman, should have traction for years to come.
In regards to depth the options for the Tigers are quite versatile with a slew of 21 year olds in Jake Batchelor, Matty Dea and Brad Helbig among numerous utility types in Luke McGuane, Brandon Ellis, David Astbury, Ben Griffiths, and recent draft picks Nick Vlastuin and Kamdyn McIntosh who both featured against the Indigenous All Stars.
Former Demon Ricky Petterd has also been honing his craft down back all pre-season, which could also add another dimension to the Tigers defence.
On the whole Richmond’s defensive prospects for 2013 have improved on the back of savvy offseason moves and organic growth. Losing a key position cog in defence could severely hamper their stability but there appears to be enough stop-gap talent and range of options on offer to cover any minor holes or potential matchup issues.
Led by newly appointed 22 year old captain Trent Cotchin, the midfield is where Richmond is most impressive. We could harp on for hours and have a group Kumbaya about how great Cotchin is but any fan of the AFL knows the story goes and already has their Cotchin man-crush rating at maximum levels. That being said, I can’t help myself.
Cotchin blends together every element of what you want in a footballer, only with perfect hair and the demeanour of a flawless human. There’s really nothing more to add here. He’s headed for the Lenny Hayes “Impossible to hate” Hall of Fame with the way he plays the game, and is one player who doesn’t wow you statistically but rates arguably higher than anyone else when it comes to the eye test.
In 2012 the Tigers midfield output was up there with the best in the competition, ranking inside the top ten for virtually every key indicator and top five in differential rankings for contested possession, clearances, effective kicks and inside fifties. You could include disposals and uncontested possession as well but that output is solely a product of Hardwick’s Hawthorn influenced disposal heavy game style.
For a side so reliant on quality ball use last season it’s no surprise that Richmond ranked among the bottom five sides in turnover differential along with West Coast, Fremantle, Sydney and Hawthorn. The same could be said for effective kicks where the Tigers sat fifth behind only Sydney, West Coast, Hawthorn and Geelong, which is Midfield Company you want to be affiliated with. Despite winning so much football and utilising it at high efficiency around the ground it all came undone when going forward or sourcing scoring punch from midfield.
Richmond were ninth for scores from stoppages and sixteenth for goals sourced from centre bounces, ahead of only Gold Coast and GWS with Geelong the only finals side outside the top ten. No club should be generating the second most inside fifties but accumulating the twelfth fewest marks inside fifty either. That tells us that last year there was a severe disconnect between the forward line setup and the delivery inside fifty, that or the targeted personnel up forward just weren’t good enough. No matter which angle you look at it the Tigers were one of the worst outfits in the AFL going forward last season.
Defensively this midfield is virtually as sound as it can be. In 2012 Tiger opponents would rank last in disposals, fourteenth in contested possession, seventeenth in clearances, seventeenth for inside fifties (Richmond were top five defensively with Hawthorn, Fremantle, West Coast and Geelong) and first in turnovers. The Tigers were second to only Geelong in fewest opponent uncontested possessions as well, and were the only non-finals club along with Carlton to rank inside the top nine clubs defensively in this category.
If there was an area of concern for Richmond from a defensive midfield standpoint it was the amount of scores their opponents were able to generate from stoppages. 32% of Richmond’s score in 2012 was sourced from stoppages compared to 38% for their opponent. In wins the Tigers had a stoppage scoring differential of +13.3 points per game, in losses this dropped to -12.09.
If you break it down even further Richmond’s midfield woes are all purely a product of being far more inferior from an effective standpoint when it comes to centre clearances. Even in their wins last season the Tigers were outscored 131 to 138 in points sourced from centre clearances. Further to this, Richmond outscored their opponents from centre clearances in just seven games; Melbourne twice, Port Adelaide, Essendon, Brisbane, a depleted Carlton outfit and in their smashing of Hawthorn. In their losses last season Richmond were outscored in points from centre clearances 159-88. For a team with so many close losses that’s the difference between playing finals and watching from the sidelines.
Top eight sides have elite midfields, Richmond need to be tougher at the coalface this year.
Richmond Scoring Source Differentials (2012)
|Richmond||Turnovers (avg)||Stoppages (avg)||Kick-Ins (avg)||Centre Clearances (total)|
Individually the Tigers midfield is largely set in stone with inside personnel Cotchin, Shane Tuck and Nathan Foley meshing well with outside users Shaun Grigg, Brett Deledio and inside/outside talent Dustin Martin. Every player in this mix has over fifty games experience with Martin the least number of games played at 63. There’s three players, Deledio, Foley and Tuck with over 100 games experience and combined the six have an average age of 25 with 123 games experience. That’s a makeup primed to compete at the highest level, or one at least right on the cusp of doing so.
From a contested sense Richmond are ok with two players in the top thirty for both contested possessions and clearances (Tuck, Cotchin), although Tuck was the only member of the squad to register inside the top fifteen. With Tuck likely to retire at the end of the season and Nathan Foley so prone to injury someone will need to make the jump and assist Cotchin at the stoppages if not at some point this season then definitely in 2014. Dustin Martin looks the most capable to slot into the role provided the dark clouds off-field maintain their distance.
Tackling wise it was Tuck (twelfth in the AFL) and Foley (thirteenth) and then daylight until the next Tiger which further underlines the heavy one way nature of this outfit last season.
Offensively the midfielders were superb with Deledio (1st), Cotchin (6th), Foley (10th), Tuck (15th), Martin (32nd) and Grigg (39th) all inside the top forty in the AFL for inside fifties and Cotchin (18th), Deledio (38th), Martin (43rd) and Foley (49th) the top fifty for score involvements. It’s a shame this buffet of forward fifty entries were largely wasted on the likes of a triple teamed Jack Riewoldt, washed up Brad Miller, and combination of Tyrone Vickery’s hollow corpse and Luke McGuane.
In regards to midfield depth the Tigers can mix it up a number of ways with inside/outside youngsters Brandon Ellis, turnover king Reece Conca (3.4 per game), Nick Vlastuin, or take the experienced route with Daniel Jackson and former weapon prodigy Sam Lonergan. Robin Nahas, Shane Edwards and Chris Knights are other possible relief options as well.
Ruck-wise there’s no reason why big Ivan Maric won’t deliver another All-Australian calibre season. Maric simultaneously revived his career and a dead and buried hairstyle on his way to leading the Tigers to the number one spot for effective hitouts. With the powers of the Mullet operating at full capacity it would take a brave man to suggest Ivan would be struck down by injury but if some shock witchery does occur mature body Orren Stephenson is waiting in reserve. Stephenson can’t kick to save himself and looks to have one hand on the mantle as worst player in the competition but in his favour he is tall, so there’s that.
If improvements are made defensively regarding centre clearance work and the forward line can work itself out, the Tigers midfield should experience the results that eluded their first class output last season. The problem areas are so obvious and minor that there’d have to be genuine concern if they aren’t rectified this year.
Richmond averaged 98.59 points per game in season 2012, the eighth most of any club. Against teams outside the eight the Tigers produced a healthy 100.23 points per game, topping the 100 points threshold in seven-of-fourteen games, including their last four. Unfortunately that’s where the positives dried up with Richmond averaging 86.44 points per game against finals opposition, only topping the 100 point mark once against Hawthorn.
Since Matthew Richardson left the building the entire Richmond forward line has taken the form of a busker trying to play six instruments at once. We’re talking about a one man band in Jack Riewoldt. As good as Riewoldt has been that reliance has to stop this season if this club wants to go anywhere. It’s not the eighties anymore, it simply doesn’t work against disciplined defences, and there’s no better evidence suggesting that this is case than the Tigers forward line in 2012.
We know Richmond’s midfield is doing their job; they supplied the second most inside fifty entries per game last season. We know this squad’s usage is superb unless they’re tuned out mentally (two of their three worst games by foot took place again Melbourne and GWS). We know that Richmond had the third ranked time in forward half percentage in the competition last season, so the ball is more often than not in the goal scoring part of the ground. On the back of that elite output, this is where Richmond ranked in some important forward line indicators for season 2012;
- Eighth in goals per game
- Twelfth for inside fifty to goal conversion percentage (Bottom seven clubs with Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Gold Coast, GWS and the Western Bulldogs)
- Fourteenth for scores sourced from half forward (Ahead of only GWS, Brisbane, Melbourne, Gold Coast, and behind the no-forward line Western Bulldogs)
- Twelfth for marks inside fifty differential (Bottom seven clubs with Essendon, Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs and GWS)
- Thirteenth in goals from marks differential (Bottom six clubs with Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs and GWS)
- Thirteenth in goal accuracy percentage (50.65%)
To put it in perspective St. Kilda had 58 fewer inside fifties than Richmond last season but 33 more marks inside fifty.
Unless Richmond can employ the same tactics the AFL used for the Melbourne tanking inquiry by being found not guilty of generating marks inside fifty but being awarded goals anyway, this forward line will require a shakeup.
Thankfully the Tigers offseason recruiting strategy brought about a number of new forward line options and a wealth of experience. Although far from being A-graders the likes of Aaron Edwards, Chris Knights and Ricky Petterd are starting to look a whole lot more attractive after 2012’s dismal production.
Locating the right mix in 2013 will be paramount. There simply wasn’t enough continuity in the forward line last season from a second key forward perspective. Jack Riewoldt led the Tigers with 3.8 marks inside fifty per game and then after that it was Brad Miller and Luke McGuane, neither of whom were an obvious long term solution. Tyrone Vickery was the one bookmarked for the role as the second key position target in 2012 but inconsistency and injury ruined any flow on effect from a breakout 2011 season in which he averaged two marks inside fifty per game and kicked 36 goals.
Riewoldt had little to no help last year but that didn’t severely impact his output as evidenced by his splits against finals and non-finals sides;
Jack Riewoldt Finals V Non-Finals Sides
|Category||Top 8 (9 Games)||Bottom 8 (13 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||2.7||4.5||+1.8|
Numerous people have touted Aaron Edwards as being the key cog in reducing the opposition focus on Riewoldt and to a degree he will be effective, but when the going gets tough there’s no bigger front runner than Aaron Edwards;
Aaron Edwards (2012: Home and Away)
|Category||Wins (4 games)||Losses (5 games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||4.2||1.4||-2.8|
The opportunity to cement themselves as a permanent fixture alongside Riewoldt is an option for both Vickery and Edwards. Banking on either to grasp it with both hands is another story. Still, time will tell and both are definitely capable. It’s an intriguing element to follow in 2013.
The remainder of the Tigers forward line is generally locked in with small forwards Jake King and Robin Nahas likely to fill the pockets again with former Crow Christ Knights and the underrated Shane Edwards the flanks. Nahas and Edwards combined for 63 goals, 105 inside fifties and 46 score assists last season with Edwards essentially exploding onto the scene from a goal source perspective and putting together an impressive season.
Two intriguing prospects are newcomers Ricky Petterd and Chris Knights who at ages 23 and 25 still have plenty to offer. Whispers of Petterd playing in defence have surfaced but with 69 career marks inside fifty and 55 goals from 54 games you’d imagine the former Demons skill-set will be utilised up forward at some point. Although it appears Knights’s best footy is behind him it’s hard not to hope for the heights reached in 2009 when Knights produced 43 goals, 34 marks inside fifty and 28 score assists. If either can recapture their best form Richmond’s forward line will morph into a whole different level of dangerous.
The foundation of King, Nahas, both Edwards’s, Riewoldt and Knights has an average age of 26 with 93 games experience. The added versatility makes it a much better looking balance than last season but one still soiled in question marks.
Outside of the token midfielder resting in the forward line the Tigers have unpredictable and inconsistent depth in the aforementioned Petterd, Matthew White, Brett O’Hanlon, Luke McGaune and Todd Elton.
What to Expect in 2013?
A roller coaster, one way or another.
If the Tigers set the world on fire like numerous pundits are predicting we might see manic scenes at Punt Road that are on par with the Beatles stepping off a plane in the 60’s.
That being said there’s every chance Richmond miss the heights of finals football yet again, which will no doubt result in Coach Damian Hardwick becoming one of the main acts in the 2013 media circus.
Richmond is in every sense a statistical darling, and possesses a list with the age and experience profile that suggests they could make the jump to the status that has been eluding them for so long. The question is whether or not the balance and talent can emulate that billing.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Tigers recycled player recruiting this past offseason bringing with it a do or die scenario for 2013, which barring an apocalyptic free-fall appears to be a touch unfair given where the squad stands. This list needs to digest 2013 before it can really blossom.
Summing up the list; Chris Newman, Shane Tuck, Aaron Edwards and Oren Stephenson are the only players over 28. That’s not exactly prime time on-field leadership and there’s next to nothing in regards to finals football experience.
Only eight players on the list have over 100 games experience with North Melbourne, GWS and Gold Coast the only clubs who have fewer.
Richmond added a sea of experience over the summer but still possess the eighth youngest list in the competition. On average each team playing finals in 2012 had at least twelve players with a minimum of 100 games experience. In 2013 the Tigers will have eight.
The positive is that the fruit is ripening, with fifteen players now with 40-99 games experience, which is the equal second most with Essendon and behind only West Coast.
To suggest that the Tigers need one more year isn’t out of line, but finals football is indeed an ascertainable goal this season.
Nine of Richmond’s results in 2012 were decided by 12 points or less with the Tigers going 2-6-1 in these games. Four of these games were against finals sides (all losses), and included a streak of three straight losses to Gold Coast, North Melbourne and Carlton by a combined 10 points. If Richmond wins those three games they’re travelling to Perth for an elimination final against West Coast.
Considering the extreme level of competitiveness for spots in the top eight this season maybe 2012 was their best chance at playing finals football. It would be a cruel realisation but not surprising given the decade of negativity the club has endured.
The Tigers were the only side last season to defeat both Grand Finalists, although they were 0-7 against the remaining finals sides. They’re begging for consistency, leadership and late game poise.
Statistically the concerns for Richmond last season were largely minor and in part teething problems associated with enduring organic growth. To a degree an aspect of this has been addressed both on and off the field through the addition of experienced personnel. It appears correct in theory but the success in practice will tell the story. This club knew what needed to done and they reconfigured accordingly.
Forecasting whether or not it will all come together in 2013 is taking a stab in the dark.
That being said, a little luck is all these Tigers really need.
My Best 22
B: Morris, Chaplin, Grimes
HB: Newman, Rance, Houli
C: Foley, Tuck, Martin
HF: Knights, Riewoldt, S.Edwards
F: King, A.Edwards, Nahas
R: Maric, Cotchin, Deledio
Int: Grigg, Vickery, Ellis
You can follow Scotty on Twitter: @ScottyBarby