The modern key forward is a remarkable beast: he can split a pack, hold his ground in a one-on-one, present on the lead, run like an onballer, and do a spell against Aaron Sandilands in the ruck.
Jack Riewoldt is not a modern key forward. He is of the retro variety: he will clunk contested marks and kick goals, and then do it again, or fail gloriously in the attempt. He’s one-dimensional, but it’s a hell of a dimension.
He is also the sort of player condoned by coaches and loved by fans, a maverick in the tradition of Warwick Capper, Mark Jackson and Allen Jakovich.
He might throw a strop when teammates fail to honour his dinky five-metre lead, and he may go for the optimistic hanger a little too often, but his presence in the goal-square guarantees entertainment, and the odd match-winning performance for a club stalled in the lower reaches of the top eight at best, this is important.
It means hope, and hope sells memberships.
Riewoldt, though, spent the first half of Richmond’s surprise round three loss to the Bulldogs in exile at high half-forward, before almost snatching the game with an explosive second-half performance.
Afterwards, Jack mumbled all the right words about playing his role and sharing the forward 50 with Ty Vickery and Ben Griffiths, but anyone could see through the shrinking violet act: Riewoldt craves the limelight, and the limelight craves him.
Depriving one of the other simply doesn’t play to his, or his club’s, strengths.
Sure, he’ll show clean hands on the lead, but then he’ll turn around and look for…Ty Vickery? Ben Griffiths? Where’s Jack? Oh wait, I’m Jack…
Bona-fide tall forwards are rare enough. Specialist pack-markers at AFL level are as rare as a four-leaf clover stuck between a hen’s teeth. Given the space constraints that have killed off lead-and-mark full-forwards in the Matthew Lloyd mould, they are also a precious commodity, and there’s only one place that you’d want to play them: right out of the goal square.
Give him a run and a jump, and Jack Riewoldt will outmark anybody. Send him on long, searching leads up to mid-wing, though, and you’ll have yourself one knackered Jack Riewoldt. Sure, he’ll show clean hands on the lead, but then he’ll turn around and look for…Ty Vickery? Ben Griffiths? Where’s Jack? Oh wait, I’m Jack.
Herein lies the issue. Damien Hardwick clearly has a grand plan in mind for the Tigers. Top teams have nuggety ball-winners in the middle, silky ball-users around the ground, and an even spread of goalkickers. Top teams don’t rely on unpredictable stars with outsized personalities anymore – the Tigers have had enough of that in their recent history, anyway.
The plan looks great, and the decidedly modern mania for maintaining an even spread of goalkickers has a hydra-like logic to it, but it doesn’t work quite as well in a team full of blue-tongued lizards.
Hardwick would never admit it, but on present form, being competitive is the best that Richmond can hope for.
Vickery has his good days, and they may grow more frequent. Likewise, Griffiths has the right shape and plenty of potential, but until either can be relied upon week in, week out, the Tigers need Riewoldt to keep them competitive.
Hardwick would never admit it, but on present form, being competitive is the best that Richmond can hope for. After dropping eight attainable points in the opening three rounds, it might be time for Hardwick to admit as much and start focusing on the needs of the here and now.
For the good of the team, the faithful, and Riewoldt himself, that means allowing Jack to return to his natural habitat.