READY TO ROAR

Richmond can go all the way be­cause its game plan is ...

Sunday Herald Sun - - Front Page -

FULL PRE­VIEW OF THE PRE­LIM­I­NARY FI­NALS

How the play­ers will match up, where the fi­nals will be won and what the Tigers must do to win

THE Tigers are in the box seat. They are sud­denly rem­i­nis­cent of great fi­nals sides past, hav­ing found the right for­mula. It’s not the mag­ni­tude of their 51point qual­i­fy­ing fi­nal vic­tory over Gee­long that sug­gests they’ve run into form at ex­actly the right time, it’s the method.

The score­line blew out in the fi­nal term, but it was the four-quar­ter team ef­fort that wore the Cats down and even­tu­ally broke the game open. Their game style is all about team. Against Gee­long it was manic. But even watch­ing them against St Kilda in Round 23 was enough to con­vince me that their style will stand up to fi­nals pres­sure.

Richmond’s mos­quito-fleet for­ward line is unique.

It is dif­fi­cult to match up against, par­tic­u­larly for the teams re­main­ing with a 3/3 back­line (three talls, three medi­ums.)

Hard tack­ling by the Tiger for­wards keeps the ball in their front 50m for more op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Shaun Grigg is the wild­card. At 190cm and just un­der 90kg he plays a cameo ruck role, where he con­cedes the tap but be­comes an­other ground-ball player.

Un­less the op­po­si­tion dom­i­nates this con­test, the Tigers au­to­mat­i­cally out­num­ber the op­po­si­tion’s ground­ball play­ers with Grigg play­ing in and un­der too. They are quick. The Tigers do not need 400-plus pos­ses­sions to win the game. Their aver­age in the past 10 weeks is 367.

Their op­po­si­tion gets more of the foot­ball on aver­age, but Richmond is go­ing from the mid­dle to the front 50m more of­ten then its op­po­nents.

This time last year it av­er­aged 400-plus pos­ses­sions but it was go­ing in­side 50m less. De­liv­er­ing the ball to its highly com­pet­i­tive for­wards is the most ef­fec­tive dif­fer­ence to the Tigers’ game style.

They have proven you don’t need a lot of the foot­ball to be pro­duc­tive. You just need to be more di­rect.

In de­fence they hunt in packs and when con­fronted, which in­evitably hap­pens, they are able to steady and hold up against the op­po­si­tion, and then surge again.

It all takes hard work, which ev­ery player seems will­ing to give.

The Tigers have their stars and a good long list with no ma­jor in­juries, and it’s al­ways a good sign when your re­serves team is play­ing fi­nals.

There is no doubt Richmond has a psy­cho­log­i­cal ad­van­tage when Dustin Martin is on fire.

He is a cham­pion with the unique abil­ity to bring his team­mates into the game.

We also know the huge value of Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt; but Trent Cotchin, Grigg, David Ast­bury, Dion Pres­tia, and Nick Vlas­tuin all have the highly-im­por­tant hall­marks of be­ing able to play well on the big stage. The other Richmond play­ers have em­braced fi­nals pres­sure ... the team has lifted as a whole. They’re young and they’re bold. Be­lieve me, at the aver­age age of 23 and play­ing bold yet cal­cu­lated foot­ball — in any weather — this Tigers team is as dan­ger­ous as they come. They have every­thing to gain this year, and be­yond. Richmond broke its fi­nals vic­tory drought with its win at the MCG, and now, all roads lead to Rome.

AT THE end of the home-an­d­away sea­son, the top four teams were sep­a­rated by half a game and per­cent­age.

And yet Ade­laide was sin­gled out as the sea­son’s most dom­i­nant team.

Per­haps it was the mag­ni­tude of some of the Crows’ wins that had peo­ple spell­bound.

Be­cause in re­al­ity, Ade­laide plays with shades of Jekyll and Hyde, even at Ade­laide Oval.

Its form lead­ing into fi­nals wasn’t per­fect, yet it sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroyed Greater West­ern Sydney in the first fi­nal.

Then again, the Giants have strug­gled against the top teams all year.

Ade­laide has the right in­gre­di­ents to be in the big dance, but some ques­tion marks re­main over its abil­ity to win the premier­ship.

The teams than caused the most trou­ble for the Crows this year have been those that dom­i­nate the mid­field and run the ball, deny­ing Ade­laide’s po­tent for­ward line op­por­tu­ni­ties to score, and putting pres­sure on a very good back­line.

But the dyke can hold up for only so long.

I am an ad­mirer of Ade­laide’s mid­field­ers — Brad and Matt Crouch, Rory Sloane and Richard Dou­glas. Of­fen­sively their spread for­ward and lat­er­ally is out­stand­ing.

But at times they get caught out de­fen­sively with a lack of at­ten­tion to de­tail.

A lot of this has been ve­neered over by the abil­ity of Tom Lynch to link the lines.

If he is well-held, good run­ning teams can get through Ade­laide’s de­fence too eas­ily.

Sam Ja­cobs and Josh Jenk­ins give them a dual ruck sys­tem (with Ja­cobs be­ing key), but this too can be off­set by a lack of de­fen­sive pres­sure by both at times.

Ade­laide would love to have Ed­die Betts and Char­lie Cameron fire on the same day, but this hasn’t been the case of­ten enough re­cently.

When the Crows’ game plan isn’t work­ing for them, there is a doubt that they can change things rapidly enough to swing the mo­men­tum back their way. Don Pyke has supreme faith in his troops and tends to leave things be for as long as he can. This is great, when it works. But in fi­nals, par­tic­u­larly in a pre­lim­i­nary when there is no se­cond chance, at times you need to has­ten your gut­feel moves. Things can get out of hand quickly. Some­times its bet­ter to have a 0-0 draw for five min­utes to steady the ship, rather than be a cou­ple of goals in ar­rears and fall fur­ther be­hind. Un­like other sport­ing codes, the AFL doesn’t have a set stan­dard for ground size. The shape and size of Ade­laide Oval very much suits the Crows’ game style. It is 167m x 123m as op­posed to the MCG’s 160m x 141m.

It doesn’t ap­pear to be a great dif­fer­ence on pa­per, but while length is gen­er­ally OK for most sides, width (or in this case, nar­row­ness) does bother them.

Ade­laide is gen­er­ally the mas­ter of its home ground by avoid­ing go­ing wide and fo­cus­ing all of its run and ball move­ment through a 90m chan­nel (20m ei­ther side of the square).

It feels like a life­time be­tween the qual­i­fy­ing fi­nal and pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal when you’re wait­ing to play it.

Pyke elected to shorten the week by tak­ing his play­ers north to the sun. Richmond stayed in Mel­bourne. There is no proven for­mula for what works best. I’ve done both with my teams. The only thing that is cer­tain is that pre­lim­i­nary fi­nals are great games in which to be in­volved.

They bring an ur­gency that is hard to repli­cate.

A noise level that is be­yond ex­treme. And at the end of the game, two emo­tions that are at po­lar ends of the scale.

Pic­tures: MICHAEL KLEIN, GETTY IM­AGES, AAP

Cameo ruck­man Shaun Grigg (main pic­ture) is the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nals wild­card, giv­ing the Tigers ef­fec­tively an­other mid­fielder. Clock­wise from top: Alex Rance, Dion Pres­tia, Jack Riewoldt, and Nick Vlas­tuin all can play well on the big stage.

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