I was really interested to see what happened with this game. I actually think both of these teams have the players on paper to match any team in the competition on their day. What I suspect lets them down is team consistency and the occasional lack of tactical cohesion. After being thereabouts for a few years, neither team was going to be happy to go out in week one of the finals and I wished both could have somehow progressed. While neither coach is quite at Mick Malthouse’s level of aggression in media interviews, I could see the losing coach at least matching Serena Williams and being about as amused as the Pacific Island leaders were with Peter Dutton’s sense of humour. Brad Scott’s decision to rest a number of players last week drew more opinionated media discussion that the Chinese Free Trade Agreement last week (that is barely even a joke and almost a sad indictment on our society) so how the roos responded would be another interesting subplot.
The first quarter was a really interesting start to the game, featuring a fair bit of pressure and a pretty good level of skill. The ball went inside both attacking 50s regularly, but for the most part defenders seemed to have their players covered. Early in the quarter, Richmond looked a class above in their transition out of defence, allowing them to rebound quickly and launch further attacks, with only poor kicking preventing them extending their lead early. As the quarter wore on, Richmond’s avenues out of defence seemed to become more difficult, allowing the roos to reclaim the ball quickly when the tigers tried to clear their defensive zone.
The ball was quickly in the Kangaroos forward line at the start of the game, but after a bit of a scrap it came back hard. A high ball towards the goal square was marked bravely by Rance in defence when he might have punched through. From here he quickly restarted the attack, which saw the ball well used by a number of players and featuring a strong early mark from Vickery on the wing. It ended up kicked inside 50 where Griffiths was unable to hold the mark, but Newman was held onto as he tried to crumb the ball. He was awarded a free and scored the opening goal from just outside 50.
Deledio won a second free kick within range of goal when he caught Goldstein trying to evade several tacklers just outside the goal square. After converting the free kick, the tigers were off to a strong start. Newman and Griffiths both missed easy shots before North got going, but finally they did.
Swallow looked to have the run of a bouncing ball that had cleared the defence, but it bounced awkwardly and he fumbled it out of play. Even after Swallow choked and coughed up the chance, (sorry, couldn’t resist), North made it work. Brown won the ball down from the throw in and Waite showed impressive strength and skill to snap a goal while holding off a tackler. Now it was North’s turn to miss a number of gettable shots that could have got them the lead. Waite in particular was looking dangerous.
The second quarter continued the theme of both teams struggling to get clear of their defence easily and a number of goals came from turnovers on the wings. Grimes caused the first of these early with a strong spoil that enabled Mcintosh to gather the ball and hit Reiwoldt on the lead. The tiger forward, who began to have a strong impact from this moment, kicked accurately from the set shot to increase the Richmond lead to nearly two goals.
There was little space around the ball for a fair bit of the time. A moment of strength and skill from Martin got the ball out of a scrum at half back and into the corridor with players running in space. The kick inside 50 was poor, but the rebounded ball was won back by some strong play by Edwards, who got it to Deledio. Once again the kick to Vickery in the forward line was terrible, forcing him to gather the bouncing ball close to the boundary line. Hanson was disappointing (by coincidence that phrase has historically been used, not only in a sporting context, but also in the music industry and political commentary), letting Vickery get around him easily and run into an open goal.
Richmond were once again back into attack quickly and Miles (who had been involved in almost every clearance in this quarter and was close to best on ground at this stage) won a free kick for a high tackle from Dal Santo. The young midfielder went back and kicked another goal from 50 which took the tigers’ lead out to almost four goals and no doubt had Brad Scott’s blood pressure rising quicker than the hashtag LibSpill trended.
After their early success, the tigers luck turned a little from here and the game evened up, before beginning to slide in the roos’ favour. Higgins took a strong mark at half forward (not something I ever expected to say) and kicked to the goal square where Garner took another, before going back and kicking a goal from close range. The tigers looked to quickly reclaim the momentum when a poor kick by Ziebel was intercepted on the wing, enabling Mcintosh to again find Riewoldt in a similar spot to earlier in the quarter- and with the same result.
North were back in the game now though. A clever kick by Garner found Waite in a crowded tigers defence and the former blue continued to stamp himself as a danger to the tigers, kicking his second goal for the match.
Perhaps as a result of building fatigue, or just by coincidence there was a sudden blitz of goals towards the end of the half. Brown might have deserved a free as he went for a high kick from Atley under heavy contact from both Rance and Chaplin. The whistle wasn’t blown, but Brown was quick enough to recover his feet, pick up the ball and kick the goal. Soon after, clever play by Petrie in the middle of the ground gave him a chance to kick inside 50 and find the leading Waite who took yet another mark (he had taken about 5 by this point). Once again he kicked accurately and the tigers’ lead was suddenly back to within a goal.
Not for long though. A short kick from Martin found Edwards just outside 50 and Tarrant must have thought he had been called to play on, as he ran straight in to tackle, giving away 50 and letting Edwards kick a goal from point blank range. Miles won the next centre clearance for Richmond too, with the ball making its way out to Newman who ran towards 50 and kicked long for another goal. Things were happening really fast at this point. North won the next clearance and got it forward, where Garner gave off to Harvey running through 50 and kicking a goal to reply.
The final goal for the half was kicked by Reiwoldt after the tigers had worked the ball forward from half back with some accurate kicking, finishing with Martin hitting Vickery at half forward and the big man kicking deep for Riewoldt who had got behind Firrito and drew the free kick which he converted.
The third quarter pretty much belonged to the roos, as their midfield got on top and started winning more of the ball. They continued to stifle Richmond’s ability to work out of defence, but began to get on top in the midfield so that they were still able to do so themselves. I have spoken previously about Richmond’s lack of midfield accountability and tendency to run hard ahead of the ball and it came back to bite them in this game as each time the roos caused a turnover, they were able to move into attack without enough opposition pressure. Meanwhile the Richmond ball use was terrible, allowing the roos players to follow Malcolm Turnbull’s example of capitalising on their opponents mistakes.
The quarter began with several minutes of play in the roos’ forward line. The Richmond defenders seemed determined not to rush a behind and were lucky to get away with a few risky decisions in their defensive 50. Their luck wouldn’t hold forever though. Chaplin tried to get around Nahas close to his defensive goal. It never looked like it was going to work and the nimbler roos’ forward caught him and kicked a goal from the resultant free kick.
It again took something special from Martin to break the pattern of the play. He pushed off a tackler, gave a one-two handpass and then kicked perfectly for a leading player. The next kick found Mcintosh inside 50 and he goaled. Considering the number of possible variables involved, it would be a lazy analysis to say that resting players last week was allowing North to run over the top of Richmond late in each quarter, but it certainly seemed that the latter half of each quarter was when they were at their best. This was particularly so in the third quarter.
Nahas caused a turnover, beating Mcintosh on the wing and kicked inside 50 where the ball was knocked to ground. Brown showed skill in gathering the ball and getting off a quick snap under pressure which went through the goals from an angle. Another turnover coming out of defence saw the ball kicked back inside to an unmarked Higgins, who then squared the ball up to McMillan to take a set shot from straight in front and the defender’s accurate kick gave North the lead for the first time.
Riewoldt nearly took a spectacular mark in one of Richmond’s rare forward forays. In fact he may well have held it if his teammate, Griffiths, hadn’t been coming the other way and hit him bodily from the side. Having been underwhelming to this point, it wasn’t too surprising that this was Griffiths last impact on the game, being subbed out for Conca shortly afterwards. The impact of the roos' sub was immediate. Unable to hold a mark under pressure, he recovered to smother the defender’s handpass, regather the ball and sprint away towards an open goal, putting the tigers back in front again.
The game got even more congested late in the quarter. With their defence facing more unwanted incursions than the Hungarian government, the tigers looked to push more numbers back behind the ball, but still the goals continued. Harvey kicked to a crowded goal square where Petrie took a strong contested mark and goaled. At the following centre bounce, Swallow nearly had his head taken off and everyone stopped for the obvious free kick. Everyone except Dal Santo, who took full advantage and ran away with the ball kicking long, where Petrie marked and converted again.
The roos could have extended their lead to nearly three goals in the final minutes of the quarter, but the sub, Thomas, was too slow getting his kick away close to goal. Having been critical of Thomas in the past, it was about as surprising as the revelations the bachelor has cheated on the winning bachelorette (could these women be any stupider?) to see Thomas let his team down within moments of coming on, but the manner he did it surpassed even my low opinion of him. Frustrated that he had missed the kick, he made up for it by kicking his tackler in the chest, giving away 50m that ended in Vickery’s hands at the other end and saw him running towards goal and kicking from outside 50 to goal with eight seconds left in the quarter.
The final quarter remained close and entertaining until the final few minutes. Richmond kept coming hard, but let themselves down with some bad turnovers running out of defence, which the roos punished. But even with limited supply, Vickery and Riewoldt continued to look dangerous in their forward line, so it was anyone’s game. Both teams spent a lot of time kicking to packs on the wings.
After a few minutes of kick to kick at the beginning of the final quarter, Riewoldt juggled a high kick inside 50, jumping above the rest of the pack. He took his shot and brought his team back to within a kick. Goldstein (who plays with far more skill and agility for someone who looks that much like Frankenstein) and Harvey combined to extend the margin again though, with the ruckman winning the ball down to a dangerous space in front of Harvey and the little veteran running onto it and kicking the goal from close range.
After repelling another attack, the tigers looked to be away, running out of defence soon after, but a terrible kick by Conca turned the ball over and gave the defence no chance to get back to their players before the ball found Higgins inside 50 and the former bulldog, who has been the butt of a number of my jokes, kicked truly. Credit to Richmond though. They pressed again, locking the ball inside 50 for a few minutes, without managing to kick a goal. They eventually came unstuck with another errant handpass and were lucky they didn’t concede another goal as a result. They finally did get a goal when Atley was caught holding the ball by Lambert, running back inside 50. The first year tiger goaled with the free kick, bringing his team back to within 4 points.
You would never blame the umpire for the result of the game, but tiger fans would have been shattered when a pretty obvious illegal disposal free kick was not paid to Edwards close to goal. To add insult to injury, the ball swept up the wing where Waite took an athletic mark, turned and kicked over the defence for Harvey to run onto it and give it off to Thomas for an easy goal. Having been robbed of the chance to take the lead, Richmond fought on and the roos had to defend hard at times, but when it came out their way, they looked dangerous. Unfortunately, for the Tigers they continued to use the ball by hand and foot with about as much accuracy as the Egyptian security forces. After another failed attack, Nahas ran onto a ball on the wing and kicked long to Waite, who outmarked Batchelor in the goalsquare and kicked his fourth to take the game almost out of reach for the desperate tigers.
Goldstein won the ball at the next centre clearance and kicked straight into 50 where Higgins got in front and marked, giving him the chance to seal the game, considering the limited time available. He missed his shot and the tigers counterattacked with purpose. The ball was run out of defence and with Richmond running hard, there was still time if they were good enough. Waite ended the danger with a terrific chase and tackle to win the ball (I think on Deledio). With only a few minutes to go, that tackle was effectively the end of the match, as the roos were able to eat up the rest of the time with possession and stoppage play, putting an end to a very entertaining match.
Best On Ground
There were a few contenders for BOG today. Harvey got a lot of the ball, showed a few moments of class and also kicked a couple of goals. On any other day, he would have been best player out there. Or the losers, Miles and Martin worked hard around the ball, but had too little competent help in the midfield. Riewoldt was also extremely impressive working hard up the ground at times and kicking four goals. I thought the player that had the greatest impact was Jarred Waite. Apart from his four goals, he was involved in a number of other plays that ended up as scoring opportunities for his team. He took a number of really strong marks around the ground and also made a number of tackles, as part of an excellent all round performance.
The Snickers Award
A few people could have earned themselves a snickers throughout the game, mainly for the tigers. Cotchin put in an audition to take over the mantle left vacant by Nick Maxwell as, “Most useless AFL Captain,” as he just couldn’t get near the ball or do much with it. But to be fair to him he was being tagged. Still, having let his team down as badly as Jackie Lambie let down her son by talking to the media of his drug addiction, the Richmond captain was a front runner by the end of the game, until I remembered, Ben Griffiths. Despite throwing himself into the contests with effort, his game pretty much consisted of dropping most of the marks he went for, missing a set shot from one of his few marks and taking out Riewoldt as he was going for a mark in front of goal. Having missed much of the season with injuries, the poor guy just wasn’t up to the pace of the game today. Definitely needed a snickers and I could only wonder what a difference Lennon, who I have been very impressed with in recent weeks, would have made.