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Tougher Tigers pass test

Richmond's Brett Deledio is chased by Fremantle's Ryan Crowley. Click for more photos

AFL Round 17 Richmond v Fremantle

With eleven wins so far this season Richmond has secured a finals berth after a 27-point win over top-four contender Fremantle at the MCG. The Dockers were handicapped without their key players, Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and Hayden Ballantyne. Final score, 12.12 (84) to 8.9.(57). Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

There was rich symbolism indeed in veteran Tiger Chris Newman having the ball in his hands when the final siren rang at the MCG on Sunday.

Next week, Newman, in his 240th game, will equal an unwanted record he will share with St Kilda great, the late Trevor Barker, as the men to have played the most games of football without a single finals appearance.

Finals bound: Chris Newman (right) and Dustin Martin high-five the fans after Richmond's win over Fremantle.

Finals bound: Chris Newman (right) and Dustin Martin high-five the fans after Richmond's win over Fremantle. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

But barring injury, the record will be Newman's alone for only five weeks. Because that same siren also sounded the end of a major drought for the club he has served so well for so long.

Richmond's gritty 27-point victory over an injury-depleted Fremantle has all but made certain of the Tigers' first finals appearance since 2001, the year before Newman made his senior debut.

With 11 wins and a three-game buffer to ninth-placed Carlton, Richmond probably needs only one more win to start organising its finals tickets. It could lose its next four and still pick that up against Greater Western Sydney in round 22. But there's prospects of more than a token finals appearance if the Tigers play their cards right.

Sure, they've got Sydney and Hawthorn over the next fortnight, and Carlton and Essendon in the last three rounds. They will also never meet a top side as vulnerable as were the Dockers, already without skipper Matthew Pavlich, key defender Luke McPharlin and the energy of Hayden Ballantyne, and then the late withdrawal of Aaron Sandilands.

But while the talk all week had been about Richmond needing to bag a big scalp, this was as much a win in which the Tigers battled and managed to defeat their own demons.

No Ross Lyon-coached side, relying heavily on a system rather than personnel, is ever going to lie down simply because it's missing a quartet of its biggest names. In fact, Lyon has shown repeatedly - not only with the Dockers but in his St Kilda days - the bigger the challenge, the more emphatic the response.

So out came the usual weapons. The manic defensive pressure. The predictable clamp down on Richmond architect Brett Deledio by Ryan Crowley. The late releasing of the handbrake. But the Tigers withstood them all.

At least four times, Fremantle came hard at them. And each time, the Tigers passed the test, kicking three of the last four goals of the third term, and again dominating the last after the Dockers had again crept within eight points. That wouldn't have happened last year, perhaps not even earlier this season.

It's becoming a recurring theme, though, the Tigers perhaps trading in some flash for a larger dose of fortitude, their recent wins hardly spectacular but, in a credibility sense, more convincing.

Fremantle's capacity to control the tempo and maintain possession had it a clear No.1 in the AFL for uncontested marks, but the Tigers put on enough heat to comfortably win that statistic, as well as beat Freo for contested ball and nearly double it on the clearance count.

But for one hell of an off day against North Melbourne a fortnight ago, it's that sort of solid, resilient spirit Richmond has shown since it flunked a test against Essendon in round nine. No longer can you foresee things spiralling out of control after some error. And there were plenty against the Dockers.

Some bad misses from Dustin Martin. Some ill-discipline from Jake King. The odd turnover from Alex Rance and Daniel Jackson.

But the latter pair, maligned at times - even recently - for cracking under pressure, poor decision-making, skills, or all three, still ended up among the best handful of players on the ground because rather than letting heads drop, they just shrugged off the setbacks and went again.

As outstanding as skipper Trent Cotchin was, it's the likes of Rance, tremendous in defence, Jackson, whose season out of the box continued with some tough clearance work and a critical late goal, and youngsters Brandon Ellis and Nick Vlastuin whose contributions are helping spread the load.

Enough so that while Deledio was quietened again by Crowley, this time the result wasn't a nail-biting loss such as in round five, but in the end a strong victory.

Top four for Richmond remains an achievable if unlikely prospect given the difficult run home.

And only a romantic would aspire to any more than that for the Tigers.

But the gradual improvement under Damien Hardwick has been far more pronounced in 2013. And this September, Richmond will actually get a taste of the crops they look likely to be harvesting for a few years yet.

14 comments

  • But on Friday Rohan, you said the dockers would beat the tigers, now the poor dockers had too many injuries, not a full team, blah, blah, simple, dockers lost, and they only beat the tigers at home in round 5 by one solitary point. Tigers won't play for a grand final berth but they will play finals.....now just to beat Sydney at home......

    Commenter
    shemp
    Location
    melb
    Date and time
    July 22, 2013, 8:59AM
    • Is this the type of arrogance we will have to become accustomed to if the Tigers continue their ascendancy? The majority of expert tipsters said the Dockers would beat the Tigers, as did the punters, so don't pick on Rohan for that. The only reason anyone tipped the Tigers was because they were playing at home. One win and you think you are the champions!!! It is nice to see Richmond back in the finals but lets not get carried away.

      Commenter
      Thunder
      Location
      the sky
      Date and time
      July 22, 2013, 11:01AM
    • Hey Thunder..."One win and you think you are the champions!!!" Get it right mate, try 11 wins...also I did say they won't be getting into the grand final, and that we do need to beat Sydney at home this week, so still a way to go. FYI, in Friday's Age, 10 "experts" tipped the Tigers and 14 the Dockers, so much for your theory that the "majority" of the tipsters tipped Freo!

      And can you imagine the tiger army when they have a little bit of success? Over 60 thousand members and growing......what's that, the tigers are in the top three teams in the AFL by membership? WOW!

      Commenter
      shemp
      Location
      melb
      Date and time
      July 22, 2013, 11:31AM
  • An important win for the Tiges, and while I like your article, Rohan, you and many others in the media have made much of a perceived 'undermanned' Fremantle side.
    Granted, McPharlin and Ballantyne were major outs, but Freo have been without Pavlich and Sandilands for virtually the whole season and have still played well enough to be on the cusp of the top four without them.
    Richmond won it in the middle and around the stoppages, which would have largely negated Pav's influence anyway.
    Take nothing away from the win. It was courageous, hard-fought and well earned.

    Commenter
    Quack
    Location
    Carlton North
    Date and time
    July 22, 2013, 9:25AM
    • I liked Deledio's game. Was tagged again by Crowley, and spent time forward and back to shake the tag, but it followed him wherever he went. Meanwhile Richmond won the clearances convincingly led by Cotchin and co. and the best Freo defensive mid able to stop this was standing next to Deledio in the back pocket. Win for the tigers on that match up

      Commenter
      Mick
      Location
      Mornington
      Date and time
      July 22, 2013, 9:39AM
      • Tigers are deluded if they think they're getting any further than being eliminated in the first week. Freo were severely weakened yesterday and fielded close to a "B" team. That they got as close as they did was a great effort and there were plenty of times Richmond looked likely to throw it away. Let's be frank, Richmond have next to no chance against Hawthorn, Geelong, Sydney, Essendon - or a better Freo lineup for that matter, especially in WA.

        Dream on, Richmond fans.

        Commenter
        janeygotagun
        Date and time
        July 22, 2013, 10:47AM
        • Your comments display a degree of hatred towards the yellow & black. While i agree the tigers are not a top 4 team yet, it'l be foolish to discard them completely..!

          Commenter
          Sonny
          Location
          mel
          Date and time
          July 22, 2013, 11:28AM
        • Richmond being no chance of beating a better Freo side is somewhat Ironic, given they got within 1 point of them over in the west earlier in the year and probably should have won. And I don't know when Richmond looked likely to throw it away this weekend? The game I watched saw Richmond kick the first two goals of the game and answer quickly and definitively every time they were challenged. They led all day and controlled the contest. Richmond aren't aiming for Premierships this year, they're aiming for improvement. So far, TICK!

          Commenter
          Mick
          Date and time
          July 22, 2013, 12:31PM
        • How many B teams does Freo have, round 5 at home in WA (the infamous ball hits umpire and tigers get a point) where they lost by, a point, that was their B team as well?

          Commenter
          shemp
          Location
          melb
          Date and time
          July 22, 2013, 12:55PM
      • they were ok but they are a fair way off the top 4.... they could well lose the next 4 in a row without playing badly...

        Commenter
        Wigmus
        Date and time
        July 22, 2013, 11:01AM

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