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No place to run, or hide

Date

Martin Blake

Lance Franklin is guarded by Ted Richards.

Lance Franklin is guarded by Ted Richards. Photo: Paul Rovere

LANCE FRANKLIN (Hawthorn) v TED RICHARDS (Sydney)

Ted Richards is a great story. Originally drafted to Essendon as a marking forward, he did not make an impact there over four seasons under Kevin Sheedy, netting 33 senior games, and was traded to the Swans for two draft picks at the end of 2005, just after Sydney's drought-breaking premiership.

On his second chance he went to the back line and immediately looked more comfortable. He was superb in the 2006 grand final against West Coast, but knocked unconscious in the final minutes as the Swans failed by the narrowest margin in their bid for back-to-back flags. He has had to wait six years for another shot at a premiership.

Richards is the modern backman personified. He can play man-on-man, is fiercely competitive, and strong. But he picks his moment to get off his man and help a teammate or, better still, for an intercept mark. Remarkably, he is not often exploited by opponents when he does this.

He is the No. 1 intercept marker in the competition and No. 2 for intercept possessions, which makes him an offensive player as well as a defender. Champion Data says his average of 3.3 intercept marks a game compares favourably with, say, the best of Matthew Scarlett (2.2 in 2005).

Twice this year he has played on Franklin, in round five in Launceston when he won handsomely and helped his team to a dominant second half and a 37-point win, and in round 22 at the SCG when he curtailed the great forward for three quarters but gave up enough ground in the second for Franklin (three goals in 10 minutes, and four for the day) to be a factor in the Hawks' seven-point win.

In Launceston, Franklin did not kick a single goal - the only time that has happened this year - but his supply lines were cut; Hawthorn had just 41 inside-50 entries, its lowest this season.

Richards is smaller (192cm and 92kg to Franklin's 196/102) but this has become a trend with teams trying to stop the Hawk. They know his greatest threat is his athleticism and ground play rather than his marking. Out in the open, he is unstoppable.

Franklin can win the grand final for Hawthorn. He is that good, and Richards will go to bed on Friday night knowing that. The Hawk is an outstanding finals player, and was important with four goals despite Chris Tarrant's close attention in the qualifying final, before being subdued by Ben Rutten against Adelaide.

There is no more important individual duel in the grand final. For Richards, this is his biggest day.

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