Richmond was the best team in 2017 and completed a remarkable turnaround in style.
The systematic destruction of the other top four teams in the finals was icing on a cake no one knew was being baked. By season’s end, Damien Hardwick was a genius, Trent Cotchin was the most inspirational of leaders and Dustin Martin was the best player in the game.
The small forward line worked in 2017, thanks to the relentless pressure applied by Richmond’s attack. The Tigers made that style their own and ended up being unstoppable when it counted.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect season for Richmond. The three-week stretch of heartbreaking narrow losses still places question marks on whether the Tigers can win when the game is tight, while the blowout loss to St Kilda in Round 16 was an aberration that mustn’t be repeated.
Yet, the discovery of players like Dan Butler and Jason Castagna, the reward of years of consistency for unsung heroes such as Shaun Grigg and David Astbury and the addition of Toby Nankervis, Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy, all younger than 25 years of age, was the true highlight.
This Richmond team has been the laughing stock of the competition for a long time. Now, it’s the powerhouse that can frighten even the best of opposition.
FB: Dylan Grimes – David Astbury – Nick Vlastuin
HB: Bachar Houli* – Alex Rance – Brandon Ellis
C: Shaun Grigg – Dion Prestia* – Kane Lambert
HF: Shai Bolton – Josh Caddy – Shane Edwards
FF: Dan Rioli* – Jack Riewoldt – Dan Butler
R: Toby Nankervis – Trent Cotchin – Dustin Martin
INT: Nathan Broad* – Kamdyn McIntosh – Jack Graham – Jason Castagna
EMG: Corey Ellis – Ryan Garthwaite – Jacob Townsend – Ivan Soldo
*Nathan Broad (suspension), Dion Prestia and Daniel Rioli are out for at least the first three weeks of the season, while Bachar Houli should be fit sooner.
Best 22 Analysis
The above is very similar to the Grand Final team, but realistically, there are 27 players to try and fit into Richmond’s best 22, which is a testament to the depth the club has developed.
Early season injuries mean we should see the likes of Shai Bolton, Corey Ellis, Jayden Short and Callum Moore play senior footy, which would provide them huge opportunities.
The best part of Richmond’s best 22 and those that can push into it, is the age bracket. There are a bunch of players in their early-to-mid 20s heading towards breakout seasons, or at least cementing themselves at AFL level.
One concern relates to operating with the same game-plan as 2017. Teams would have spent the offseason trying to counter Richmond’s relentless forward pressure, perhaps coming up with ways to force the Tigers to bomb the ball to bigger packs. This is where Moore or even Oleg Markov developing in attack this season could help offer a little more height.
Round 2 vs Adelaide @ Adelaide Oval
The Grand Final rematch is getting the Thursday night spotlight in Round 2, which is a great position for it. In 2017, the Tigers were annihilated at the Adelaide Oval by the Crows, which is motivation enough to put together a better performance. Richmond won’t be received well by the crowd either, in what will be a reverse reaction to the 2017 Grand Final.
Round 5 vs Melbourne @ MCG
Anzac Day Eve has now become a regular fixture between Richmond and Melbourne, once giving both clubs great exposure in a huge match. The Tigers will continue to have a lot to prove this season following their premiership, making this an important game. Melbourne is expected to be a contender in 2018, making them difficult opposition to deal with early in the season.
Round 12 vs Port Adelaide @ Adelaide Oval
It’s more what this fixture represents rather than the actual match itself that makes this a key part of Richmond’s fixture. The Tigers must face Port Adelaide, Geelong, Sydney, Adelaide and GWS on either side of its Round 14 bye, in what is the most difficult stretch of games for any team this season. The Power in Adelaide is going to be a tough match, but Richmond needs to start this five-game period off with a win to get some momentum.
Breakout Player – Nick Vlastuin
A breakout season is on the cards for Nick Vlastuin, who has been touted as a future captain of the Tigers. After returning from injury to play the last 10 games of 2017, Vlastuin averaged 19 disposals, eight marks and six rebound 50s across half-back. The 23-year-old was an inspirational leader in defence and really added stability and strength to an already powerful defensive unit. If he were to post those numbers across a full season, Vlastuin would be an All-Australian representative.
Fantasy Gold – Dustin Martin
Martin is clearly Richmond’s best fantasy option, with SuperCoach suiting his style more than AFL Fantasy. Even though he averaged 30 disposals last season, the best part of Martin’s game is that he doesn’t need many disposals to post strong fantasy scores. He will continue his form from 2017 and be one of the top three options in either competition.
Prediction – 4th
Having predicted a ridiculously close season in my other season previews, it’s hardly surprising that I think the top four could be separated by just one game. The Tigers are definitely here to stay and can be a premiership threat from anywhere within the top eight. Expect them to earn a double chance once again this season.