Sport AFL AFL season preview: Richmond Tigers
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AFL season preview: Richmond Tigers

Brett Deledio
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Before these Tigers can hunt an AFL premiership, they must learn to run without stumbling.

Or tumbling into a pot hole.

As Richmond coach Damien Hardwick starts the fifth year of his reign, there is plenty to like about the state of play at Punt Rd.

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Trent Cotchin. Photo: Getty

On-field, they have the basis of a top-four list.

Off-field, the way Richmond coped with four issues of varying severity in the last few months proved they are now a much stronger, smarter club.

They’ve made the finals for the first time since 2001 and the recruiting is spot-on.

But Hardwick warns that ongoing improvement is no given.

“There’s going to be a stage where every footy club runs into a pot hole as such – our challenge is to avoid that pot hole,” he said.

“Our aim again this year is to once again improve.

“While we hope that equates to more wins, it might just mean that overall, we improve our capacity to compete.”

So forget about talk of when Richmond might be ready to contend for the drought-breaking premiership they crave.

“This club hasn’t played successive finals series since `74-75,” Hardwick notes.

“No doubt, every club wants to win a premiership and we’re no different.

“You have to remember the process that gets you to that stage – we just have to worry about that process this year.”

It’s also worth acknowledging how far Richmond have come.

How would the Tigers of 10 years, or even five years ago, have coped with Dustin Martin shopping himself around to other clubs?

What about Jake King’s public associations with a bikie figure?

Peggy O’Neal became the first female AFL club president, ending a deadlock between candidates Malcolm Speed and Maurice O’Shannassy.

How would that have played out a few years ago?

It’s much more minor, but also consider how much of a distraction Jack Riewoldt’s self-imposed media ban would have become when Richmond were perennial strugglers.

The point is not that Richmond are now perfect. It’s that they’re much better at dealing with the problems that beset every AFL club.

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Jack Riewoldt. Photo: Getty

“We had those three to four stories which could have quite easily back in the old days, if we were a little bit under-resourced, have distracted us,” Hardwick said.

“One person can’t make a footy club – the Messiah complex, so to speak.

“(Chief executive) Brendon Gale and the board have done a terrific job of supplying not only my football department, but every department with the necessary tools.

“It’s hard to relate that to wins, but your club can generally move forward if it has the right people in place.”

For all the justified enthusiasm at Richmond about where they’re going, last year’s elimination final loss to Carlton was a whopping reality check.

They gave up a healthy halftime lead and were belted in defensive 50m contested ball and scores from stoppages versus opposition – two statistical strengths for Richmond.

“We learnt a lot of lessons that day, as a coaching staff and as a football club,” Hardwick said.

“You have to be at your best every day.”

The Tigers have experimented heavily in the pre-season – Martin across half-back, Brett Deledio at half-forward, Chris Newman into attack.

Hardwick admits it’s more than just fine-tuning.

“We’re probably still messing with the engine a little bit,” he said.

They will be without Ivan Maric for the start of the season, but his short-term loss is offset by Shaun Hampson’s so-far successful trade from Carlton.

Ben Griffiths is also a ruck understudy who needs to step up.

Hardwick admits Hampson was a little bit of insurance for Maric, who has struggled towards the end of the last two seasons, but said there have been broader issues.

“Ivan is a bull, which is why we love him, but he did have some trouble against those taller opponents,” he said.

“We felt he needed some help in that area.”


 RICHMOND

Coach: Damien Hardwick

Captain: Trent Cotchin

Last five years: 15-15-12-12-7

Premierships: 10 (1920-21, 1932, 1934, 1943, 1967, 1969, 1973-74, 1980)

Key five: Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio, Jack Riewoldt, Alex Rance, Dustin Martin

One to watch: Shaun Hampson. Richmond have gained an enviable reputation in recent years for clever Moneyball-style trading. Hopes are high that the towering ruck-forward has more to offer at Tigerland than was often the case with his previous club Carlton.

Ins: Nathan Gordon (Sydney), Shaun Hampson (Carlton), Ben Lennon (Northern U18), Sam Lloyd (Frankston VFL).

Outs: Tom Derickx (Sydney), Luke McGuane (Brisbane Lions), Robin Nahas (North Melbourne), Shane Tuck (retired), Matt White (Port Adelaide).

Best 22: B: Steve Morris, Alex Rance, Dylan Grimes
HB: Bachar Houli, Troy Chaplin, Nick Vlastuin
C: Shaun Grigg, Brett Deledio, Brandon Ellis
HF: Shane Edwards, Jack Riewoldt, Reece Conca
F: Jake King, Tyrone Vickery, Dustin Martin
R: Shaun Hampson, Trent Cotchin, Daniel Jackson
I: Chris Newman, Nathan Foley, Ivan Maric, Ricky Petterd

Predicted finish: 4th

Betting (Sportingbet)

To win the flag: $15

To make the top eight: $1.60

-AAP