The Tigers have won seven in a row. Photo: Getty Images
Just two months ago, as Richmond counted three wins alongside 10 defeats, Tony Jewell, the club's last premiership coach, vented his displeasure. He was critical of the club's game plan, in particular the chip-kicking and indirect style, and said the on-field leaders needed to take a stand.
Having improved in each of these areas, the Tigers have since won seven straight, and a win over St Kilda on Sunday would be their longest winning streak since their 1980 premiership year, when, under Jewell, they managed 11 straight between rounds four and 14.
The Saints have a quirky role in each of the streaks. It was a draw with the Saints, then in Alex Jesaulenko's first season as captain-coach, which preceded the 11 straight wins, though Jewell and fellow Tigers great Francis Bourke each said on Monday that result had not heightened pressure on the famously volatile club. The Tigers had begun that season with victory over Hawthorn and a loss to Essendon.
Tony Jewell in 1980, the year the Tigers set their previous record for a winning streak.
"Hawthorn, from memory, were a power side. Our form had been pretty good," Jewell said. "I know we finished the year before pretty well and we had a bit of belief that we had something going. St Kilda wasn't a bad side, either."
After a shocking start to this year, with ruckman Ivan Maric calling out his team for its poor attitude, it was a win over the Saints in round 15 that kick-started one of the more unlikely surges to a possible finals berth. And by nature of an unbalanced fixture, it is the Saints again this week, with September dreams possibly riding on the round 23 trip to Sydney.
"I don't know why they didn't play like this earlier in the season," Jewell said. "They were playing that little chippy, backwards-forwards game - no one wanted to watch them. All of a sudden they have got last year's form back and away they have gone.
Richmond's winning streak.
"The fact Richmond had such a horrific start - it's been such a fantastic turnaround. The club would be excited about it all."
Jewell said the current streak may be of greater importance than 1980 because of the dire situation in which the club found itself. "Back then, we still had [Kevin] Bartlett and Bourke; there were still a lot of blokes that had played in premierships. We weren't down and out, on our knees like we were earlier this year," he said.
That is certainly no longer the case. Since round 15, the Tigers are No.1 on the form ladder, rank No.1 for quarters won (21), are second for contested possessions and clearance differentials, and have the second-best defence, conceding 69 points per game, behind only the Swans. The Tigers have also been quick to capitalise on mistakes by rivals, ranking fifth in scores from turnovers and clearances.
Bourke said the return of Maric from injury in round 11 had been important.
"There are all sorts of modern terms, but we are getting first use of the ball," he said. "Obviously, Maric coming back has been a help. [Brett] Deledio coming back into it [after injury]. [Anthony] Miles has made a contribution and Brandon Ellis has progressed."
Ellis has indeed improved, with his outside run hurting opponents. He is averaging 26.7 disposals a game, but only 18.8 per cent are contested. According to Champion Data, he is the "most outside" of the top 50 ball winners. So good has his form been that Tigers great Matthew Richardson believes he has moved ahead of Dustin Martin and skipper Trent Cotchin in the race for the Jack Dyer Medal.
Cotchin was superb on Saturday night, while vice-captain Deledio was strong when it counted. Cotchin had a game-high eight disposals in the final term, while Deledio had seven as the Tigers regained the lead just as the Crows looked to have all the momentum. As Richardson said, the Tigers showed "vastly improved levels of self-belief".
Jewell said: "They copped plenty earlier in the season, including from me. I didn't think the leaders were standing up - the leaders have certainly shown the way. There are a lot of good signs. The AFL would want us to be [in the finals], too, to get that yellow and black army going."