Tiger legend Matthew Richardson says Richmond should consider giving up on certain players and instead give opportunities to the inexperienced, even if they are not fully prepared for senior football, as current captain Trent Cotchin predicted a savage internal critique of its loss to Melbourne on Saturday.
Cotchin conceded that only two wins in its first eight matches was disappointing for a team aspiring to play finals. He expected the Tigers inability to compete with the Demons in one-on-one contest would be a key theme of their weekly review.
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Richmond have come to a "very significant fork in the road in terms of the bigger picture", according to senior AFL writer Rohan Connolly.
"This week will be probably be one of our most stern reviews," Cotchin told AFL Game Day.
"[Hard questions] need to be put on a few blokes and challenge them [to make amends], because when it's happened in the past guys have stood up. That's what needs to happen now."
Former greats Matthew Lloyd and Wayne Carey both wrote off Richmond's finals chances following it loss to the Demons. Lloyd argued only one player, defender David Astbury, had improved since last season, and he may not play again this season due to injury.
Richardson reckoned the Tigers' loss to the Demons was a watershed match for many supporters who had retained faith in their club.
"They [players] have to have a real soul-searching week and turn it around pretty quickly, because the fans came into this year with hope and a lot of people were positive right up until this week, but I had a lot of messages from Richmond fans last night and they've just about had enough at the moment," he told 3AW.
Richardson said the Tigers had been flattered by winning 15 matches last season, and reckoned the poor start to 2014 could herald a significant change in the selection strategy led by coach Damien Hardwick.
"I think under Hardwick there's been an incremental improvement in his first four years. I think he probably got the best out of a number of players that played right up to their potential, but this year I think some of those players have dropped off and they're not going to get any more improvement out of them," he said.
"They've got to now make a decision which way they go in the second half of this year, whether they play a few new players and go past a couple, because they're just not looking like it at the moment."
Cotchin's belief that the Tigers were beaten in one-on-one contests by the Demons was echoed by pundits such as Wayne Schwass and Tony Shaw, albeit with most differing from Cotchin by declaring it was a systemic weakness among the players rather than just being limited to Saturday's match.
Richardson said he thought that trait was exposed in the Tigers' shock loss to Carlton in week one of last year's finals, when in the first half they thrived when they had ample time and space to distribute "but after half-time when it was a one-on-one game they capitulated".
"I don't think players are shirking the issue - they're not not putting their heads over the ball - but they don't cope with one-on-one pressure. When it's a one-on-one game you have to work harder and push harder and get out in the open," Richardson said.
"Last year they got the game on their terms, they had a number of people behind the footy and they were able to hold onto it and work their way down the ground, but as soon as it's a one-on-one effort, across the whole ground . . . they're not coping with it. I simply don't think they're working hard enough."
Lloyd criticised Richmond's recruiting strategy for being too focused on "plugging holes", rather than a longer-term goal of compiling an elite team.
"They're slow through the midfield and also they've got a poor skill level, so they're in a real hole at the moment," Lloyd told The Sunday Footy Show.
Carey reckoned the players were more to blame for Richmond's slide this season than Hardwick.
"They're a classic case of getting ahead of themselves. After last year, [there was a belief] they were just going to roll up this year and it would happen," he told Triple M.
Carey reckoned spearhead Jack Riewoldt appeared "lost", and had to make a significant change to his approach if he was to regain his Coleman Medal-winning form.
"He hasn't got the tank to move around the ground like other key forwards . . . and he hasn't got the turn of speed now to lose his opponent. He really does have to find a way to evolve with this game, because right now he does look lost," Carey said. "He's either got to do some real power-off-the-mark-type stuff so he can get a break between him and his opponent, or put on a little bit of size and get that strength back."