18 Teams in 18 Days: Richmond Tigers

2017: 3rd (15 wins -7 losses; beat Adelaide in the Grand Final)

Key Acquisition:

Jack Higgins (AFL Draft – Pick #17), Patrick Naish (AFL Draft – Father Son Pick #34)

Key Losses:

Ivan Maric (retirement), Ben Griffiths (retirement), Steve Morris (retirement)

Million Dollar Question

How do the Tigers deal with being Premiers again, after spending so long in the proverbial “football wilderness?” This just may be the biggest question of all heading into the 2018 AFL season. Richmond is a club that once upon a time had no trouble dealing with success, as they were a club that sought and demanded it. How will the Tigers, who stunned the football world en route to their drought-breaking premiership last season, deal with each team coming for them week after week this season. All teams guarantee they won’t face a “premiership hangover” and say they’re hungrier than ever after coming off the back of a flag, but it’s an easy thing to say. Richmond will have to prove themselves again in 2018, which is perhaps a tad unfair given their feats of 12 months ago. But that’s the nature of the “what have you done for me lately” league such as the AFL.

Case For

If the Tigers show the same tenacity and appetite they showed throughout their dream September rampage, who’d bet against them? The Tigers didn’t do too much in the offseason, which some may label as standing still or resting on their laurels, but there’s a strange sense of stability and continuity heading into season 2018 for the reigning champs. While the Tigers got incredibly consistent seasons in 2017 from accolade accumulator Dustin Martin, All-Australian full-back and captain Alex Rance and skipper Trent Cotchin, the Tigers, astonishingly, still own the 6th youngest list in the league at an average age of 23 years and 255 days. As good as the Tigers were the last 2 months or so last season, this list looks set to compete for a premiership for a few years to come yet. Richmond also got a good run with injuries last season, but as the great season the reserves had suggested, there’s all of a sudden some great depth at Tigerland. Young players such as Corey Ellis, Shai Bolton, Connor Menadue, Jayden Short and Jack Higgins will ensure that the regulars in coach Damian Hardwick’s  22 don’t get complacent. This is one of the best attributes a playing list can have. Though many may be predicting a Tiger drop-off, a further look at their list composition suggests there’s no reason to believe Richmond won’t be in September once again this season, and perhaps even have their success-starved fans queuing up for Grand Final tickets once more.

Case Against

It’s just so damn hard to win a premiership, let alone back to back. The Tigers had plenty go right for them in 2017, from a softer draw thanks to a horror 2016 campaign, to a dream run with injuries. Like most sides, the Tigers will need a good run with injuries again this season regardless of how much depth they appear to have. After having a game plan based on a small forward line who pressures and harassed all season long, it will be interesting to see if Damien Hardwick is tempted to play another tall in the forward line this year. There’s also the human nature side of things; can the Tigers get themselves back up for another tilt? Or are they happy to live off the success of last season for a little while longer? That’s always the tricky question when a young team wins a premiership unexpectedly. It will be interesting to see just what other teams try and do to Richmond to curtail that high press and manic field pressure they prided themselves on last year. Will Hardwick and his coaching panel have plan B’s and C’s for when they inevitably need them? Can the Tigers start to find themselves on the right side of close contests for a change? (every game decided by 10 points or fewer was a loss for the Tigers in 2017). Either way, you know it’s going to be interesting viewing with this mob, a post-premiership roller coaster the tiger army will be happy to buy tickets for.

One to Watch

How Jack Higgins slid all the way to Richmond at pick 17 on draft night is anyone’s guess. Disregard his lack of size at 177cm and 76 kilograms, Higgins is a footballers footballer who eats, sleeps and breathes footy. Higgins averaged 145 champion data ranking points a game playing for the Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup in 2017, breaking the record set by former Brisbane Lions captain Tom Rockliff (144). He may not necessarily get a shot early on, but when he does, he will endear himself to the Tiger army, just like he’s already endeared himself to his teammates and coaches.

Bold Prediction 

A bold prediction for many may see the Tigers missing the finals altogether in 2018, but that just doesn’t look like happening. This is a changed football club. From game style to culture to the recruiting department, everything has changed for the better. They need a handful of things to fall into place like any aspiring premiership club does, but Richmond saluting on Grand Final day doesn’t seem or feel as far-fetched as it has for the previous quarter of a century. Anything less than another prelim berth in 2018 would be a disappointing season for the Tiger faithful.

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