As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, Richmond.
In season 2021, reigning premiers Richmond have been through a lot and tested every step of the way. Leading into their bye this week, the Tigers are fighting to stay in the top eight.
Among a string of injury concerns at Tigerland, it’s allowed for the footy club to unearth some guys who have been contributing well to the club’s VFL program. So far this season the club has handed debuts to four players – Riley Collier-Dawkins, Rhyan Mansell, Hugo Ralphsmith, Will Martyn -, all of whom have benefited the Tigers when they needed help to cover losses of key players.
The Tigers sit second on total goals kicked for the season with 202 majors kicked in 13 games. A contributing factor is due to the resurgence of form from Jack Riewoldt who has kicked truly in every game this season with nine multiple-goal games, for 34 in total.
The emergence of second-year player Callum Coleman-Jones finding time in the main squad as a replacement to an injured Tom Lynch has sent Tiger fans into a frenzy. In three games, he’s kicked eight goals including a four-goal haul in Round 11 against Adelaide – his first game of the season.
The defensive unit of the Tigers hasn’t been firing this season as much as it would previous years. Bachar Houli had a calf complaint and missed the first three games of the season while Nick Vlastuin was sidelined for six weeks with a knee injury. David Astbury is another crucial member of Richmond’s back six though has gone down with an Achilles concern.
This season, the Tigers, usually a team who pressures opposition teams, have been put under the pump this year, with the worst clanger count of the league. Adding to the increased pressure on them, the Tigers boast the most free kicks against, indicating an undisciplined style of play or being caught out too many times to give away the possession.
Best and fairest (Jack Dyer Medal) contenders:
At the front of the queue for potential Jack Dyer Medal winners based on the first half of the season, midfielder Shai Bolton looks on track to claim Richmond’s best and fairest this year.
Even with Bolton missing Round 9 and 10 with a fractured wrist, the superstar has been excelling in his fifth year at the Tigers.
A career-best year for the 22-year-old, Bolton has been popping up everywhere and can produce magical things on the football field. Playing through the middle or spending time in Richmond’s forward 50, the Tiger can use his silky maneuvers to weave out of trouble and his speed is a key attribute of his game.
In 2021, he is averaging almost 22 touches a game – well up on last year’s tally of 15.84 touches. Working out of the centre, Bolton creates many chances for his side to get clearances, averaging 4.27 himself, launching forward inside 50 on average 5.73 times a game.
Playing as a forward, he has a knack for getting into clear space between he and his opponent, behind only Riewoldt and Lynch for marks inside 50. He’s already kicked 15 goals for the year – an equal-season-best from the past two years – so it’s got to be expected he’ll kick plenty more.
Jayden Short, who won the award last year, and two-time best and fairest winner Dustin Martin each would also be in contention early on to claim a Jack Dyer Medal, based on their individual seasons thus far.
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Triple-premiership Tiger Daniel Rioli needs to find better form this season, having the worst year of his six-year stint with Richmond.
While he has been relegated to the medical sub twice this year, in Round 11 where he was unused, and in Round 12, Rioli’s expected output is far below what he’s produced on the year already.
The 24-year-old started the 2021 campaign off well against Carlton, booting two goals from 10 disposals and by the end of Round 4, he had six goals to his name after another two two-goal games.
Unfortunately for Rioli, since then he’s popped up sporadically, only kicking three more goals in seven matches (where he saw gametime).
The tackling pressure, a trait Rioli is known for, has been on show with 30 tackles laid across the season though it’s still his lowest tally in this category for his career.
Expectations for second half of season:
The Tigers need to start winning games against fellow top-eight sides if they are to show they truly belong in September action in 2021.
As it stands with Richmond heading into a Round 14 bye, against sides currently in the top eight, Richmond has a 1-6 record. The Tigers’ only win against a current top eight side was the Western Bulldogs in Round 7.
In their final nine games to finish the home and away season, the Tigers play a current top eight side twice – Brisbane in Round 18 and Geelong in Round 19.
In reality, should Richmond be trying to stamp its authority on the competition and remain a finals threat and contend for a fourth flag in five years, those two matches are must-wins, as are each game against teams languishing towards the lower parts of the ladder.
With so many upcoming clashes against teams in the bottom 10, Richmond should see finals action once again, though may need to do it the hard way to claim another premiership, however, a path they achieved in 2020.
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