Replacing the
injured Ivan
Maric, Shaun
Hampson's
seven marks
in five games
haven't helped
the Tigers.

Replacing the injured Ivan Maric, Shaun Hampson's seven marks in five games haven't helped the Tigers. Photo: Pat Scala

Since round 19 last year when Richmond beat Hawthorn by 42 points the Tigers have won five games and lost six.

That equation is a better reflection of where the Tigers are  at than either their win over Hawthorn last year, or their heavy loss to  the Hawks on Sunday. And make no mistake, it was a heavy defeat made kinder by Hawthorn’s 4.7 in the first quarter.

Richmond arguably over-achieved last year and, consequently this year, is battling to repeat the performance. Coach Damien Hardwick might be right that it has, in part, only taken the absence of a few key players to expose this underbelly.

After Sunday's loss, Hardwick opined the loss of three of his best six players – Brett Deledio, Alex Rance and Ivan Maric.

Generally it is correct that teams need their best players to consistently win games. Lose your best players and everything else must go right. At Richmond it has exposed the gulf between the better players and the plethora of battlers.

His argument was made to look thin by the fact that North Melbourne - a side that finished outside the eight last year - had beaten Fremantle in Perth the same weekend without Scott Thompson, Daniel Wells and Andrew Swallow.

Rance might be in Richmond’s best six players but if he is, then that is a reflection on where the club is at. Rance is a capable player but not elite. He is the best Richmond has got and while David Astbury has been playing his best football in a key defence post, Rance would have helped them.

The Rance was not there because he broke his foot riding his bike makes his injury all the more difficult to accept for the Tigers.

The fact the bullocking Maric was replaced by recruit Shaun Hampson - who has taken just seven marks in his five games this year - also reveals where Richmond is being let down.

What the injuries do not explain is the abject loss of run from the side. Hardwick noted  it had lost fluency. Missing Deledio - an extremely durable player, who prior to this Achilles problem, played 146 consecutive games - has helped expose its slow, tentative and stilted game.

Opposition sides have sat on Trent Cotchin and not needed to worry about anyone else with Deledio out. No one is regularly breaking the lines and moving the ball on.

Daniel Jackson looks to be fretting at the idea of having to kick the ball and so is holding onto it and turning in circles until someone arrives to handball to. It doesn’t help fluency when your best-and-fairest winner does not look like he wants to kick.

Mind you, it does help to have someone to kick to. Jack Riewoldt worked hard at the weekend, which is not something that can always be said, but he was the sole choice. Ben Griffiths played a role only as a decoy forward leading Brian Lake away from Riewoldt. And then the Tigers had nothing: no small forward to worry about; no mid-sized forward to threaten; no harassing defensive forward to rescue the ball from defenders.

Ty Vickery, a player who has been heavily invested in, was so out of form he had to be dropped and this also illustrates the Tigers' problem. He is a better player than Griffiths, though not a star, but he needed to be dropped.

These are not one-week maladies. These are not the over-reactions of a loss to the premier - a side the Tigers had beaten at their two previous meetings - they are questions about a side that finished fifth and still holds hopes of a higher finish  this year.

Richmond has not lacked for endeavour in its losses this year. It has lacked for class and this was - in fairness to Hardwick - ever more evident with Deledio out.

The lack of class is a consequence of the Tigers, like the Brisbane Lions, being the  casualties of timing.

The Tigers bottomed out at the worst possible time. When they got Brandon Ellis in 2011 at pick 15, GWS had 11 picks ahead of them. Take GWS out and they get pick four instead. After their horrid season in 2009 they got Reece Conca at pick six - but only after Gold Coast had the first three picks. In 2012 they got Nick Vlastuin at pick nine after the Giants had the first three picks.

All clubs were penalised by new teams needing to be built through the draft, but none more so than those who had the misfortune to be in need of their own rebuild at the time.

Richmond managed to finish fifth last year despite this draft denial, which in itself speaks to the idea of outperforming itself, but it  took only two or three injuries, a drop of form and a challenge to the game plan for the underbelly to be exposed.