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