Touchy subject: Jack Riewoldt found the going tough against Carlton. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THEY have one of the most exciting full-forwards in the AFL and one of the most promising centre half-forwards. They should be among the most potent forward lines, but this year the Tigers have been toothless.
The problem is Jack Riewoldt has been missing in action, Tyrone Vickery has been desperately out of form, and back-up forward Brad Miller has offered little, which has created a self-perpetuating cycle for Richmond where the poor form of one exacerbates the problems of the other.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick yesterday admitted he was troubled by his out-of-form forwards, but also pointed out it had not been a season for any tall forward yet.
Brad Miller is spoiled by Paul Bower. Photo: Pat Scala
''They're not playing to their potential,'' Hardwick said of Riewoldt, Vickery and Miller, admitting he had considered dropping one of the trio already this year. ''The funny thing about it is that the key forwards in general [have been down]. I think the leading goalkicker is on 13 goals this year, which is just over three goals a game.
''So overall there hasn't been a great deal of goals kicked by the key forwards. I think [Josh] Kennedy kicked a bag of seven, but he's on 11 for the year. So I think it's club-wide where key forwards aren't firing. We've got no doubt our guys will come through it, [and] hopefully deliver a blow this week, which would be nice.''
Riewoldt has kicked just six goals in four games after booting 78 and 62 goals in the past two seasons. His scoring accuracy of 40 per cent is the worst of the top 50 goalkickers. He booted 4.3 in the first-round loss to Carlton, but most of his goals came late in the match once the result was known. He took six marks against Melbourne in round three, but just two or three in the other matches.
Riewoldt remains the primary target for Richmond's midfield going inside 50, but his scoreboard output (not just his own scores but his score assists) is down from an average of 24 points a game last year to 18.8 points a game. He is taking fewer marks but has won 16 ground balls inside 50 this season, which is the most of any player, and he ranks sixth for disposals inside 50.
The result of this misfiring forward line has been that last year Richmond ranked third for scores from forward-50 entries; this year it is 14th.
Hardwick remains troubled by the defensive work Riewoldt is doing or, rather, not doing. ''His defensive area of his game is [what] we're probably a little bit concerned about,'' he said.
''The goals will come. I think he kicked … two out on the full. But if he keeps working on the defensive aspects and the intensity of his work-rate, that's where he'll get the results on the scoreboard.
''He can play better. There's no doubt about that.''
In part, Riewoldt's form line is a product of the quality of some of the opponents he has confronted. Ben Reid (Collingwood), James Frawley (Melbourne) and Tom Lonergan (Geelong) are all tailor-made to play against Riewoldt, each of them being taller, quicker and stronger.
He has also been hurt by Vickery's poor form as sides have been able to sag off Vickery in the belief he won't hurt them and concentrate on Riewoldt.
Riewoldt and Vickery both had extensive surgery in the off-season: Riewoldt had five operations but was back in full training by Christmas, while Vickery had shoulder surgery. Some at the club believe Vickery has yet to recover the confidence in his body since the surgery when flying for marks.
Riewoldt has normally played from behind a lot due to the fact he reads the ball better than most defenders and either runs at the pack to mark or he folds back towards goal and catches the defender out.
This year, though, he has been playing from behind more often, yet not been able to exploit his advantage.
Despite his lack of speed, he has a good leap and good hands and so marks over the back of packs rather than body-on-body with an opponent. His opponents have taken to playing him closer and keeping body contact.
Riewoldt has been criticised for poor body language, but that appears a relic of petulance in more recent years which has now made him an easy target for this criticism when his form is down.
''It's pretty hard to dull Jack's confidence on the field. He's fine,'' Hardwick said. ''He knows his form will turn around.''
Hardwick said he contemplated changing the mix in the forward line by dropping one of the tall forwards but had so far resisted the temptation.
''It's something that has come up,'' he said. ''Certain sides are playing three key forwards, some are playing two.
''But the hard thing about us this week is that with the Cox-Naitanui double, it's very hard to play with a smaller forward line when they've got four talls at the other end. So it's probably something that we haven't spoken about this week.''
Richmond has only won one game this year after a taxing early season draw which Hardwick admitted had him ''screaming throughout the night, for the first three nights'', when the AFL released the draw late last year.
''We've just got to make sure we try to get over the top of one of these sides and hopefully this is the week versus West Coast,'' he said.