It was a disappointing season for Richmond in 2021 with unprecedented circumstances compounded by injuries to key players leaving the three-peat pursuit in tatters.
The Tigers are primed to bounce straight back into contention however, with a fit and healthy list complemented by the acquisition of a star defender who will play a significant role.
So why is it Tiger time once again in 2022? Here’s why.
12th (nine wins, 12 losses, 97.9%)
For the first time in five years, the Tigers failed to make the finals in what should be deemed as a write off year.
There were times Richmond threatened to take the competition by storm once again, but the writing was on the wall this wouldn’t be the typical Tiger tyranny in round two when they suffered a heavy defeat to the inexperienced Swans. The season was completely lost until much later in the season however, after superstar Dustin Martin suffered a devastating kidney injury that scuppered any hope of a finals berth.
The 2021 season could be described as a blessing in disguise with Damien Hardwick able to get a look at some key youngsters and more importantly, get a fresh injection of youth into the team with the lower placed finish.
The Tigers will be ecstatic with the ascension of Shai Bolton, who emerged as one of the most exciting and reliably impactful players in the league. Liam Baker’s ability to impact the play forward of centre and Daniel Rioli’s move to half back raised eyebrows at the time, they both showcased the ability to become key components in this new-look Richmond going forward.
Josh Gibcus (National Draft – Pick 9/GVW Rebels), Tom Brown (National Draft – Pick 17/Murray Bushrangers), Tyler Sonsie (National Draft – Pick 28/Eastern Rangers) Sam Banks (National Draft – Pick 29/Tasmanian Devils), Judson Clarke (National Draft – Pick 30/Dandenong Stringrays), Robbie Tarrant ( Traded – North Melbourne Kangaroos)
David Astbury (retired), Mabior Chol (Gold Coast Suns), Callum Coleman-Jones (North Melbourne Kangaroos), Derek Eggmolesse-Smith (delisted), Ryan Garthwaite (delisted), Bachar Houli (retired), Patrick Naish (delisted)
All eyes have been on the return of Dustin Martin, who looks to have trimmed down significantly and ready to reclaim the throne as the league’s best player. Dusty looked terrific in the scratch match against Geelong two weeks ago, showcasing his customary ability to evade tackles, find space and hit the player leading at him with consummate ease.
Another player returning from a long layoff is Noah Balta.
Balta’s injury was a key factor in Richmond’s slide down the ladder in 2021 but he looks fit, firing and ready to make an instant impact on his return to senior football. Surprisingly, Balta was played forward in the pre-season fixture against Hawthorn but the move proved to be a fruitful one, with the swingman booting three goals.
The huge pick up in the off-season was former Roo Robbie Tarrant, who slots straight into the hole left by retiring fan favourite Dave Astbury. Tarrant is an All-Australian level defender that can guard the big forwards and has a steady influence on he fellow defenders that will help the Tiger defense retain that level of rugged reliability the competition has come to fear.
In not so good news, Dion Prestia, who spent time on the bench with ice on his hand, while Ivan Soldo set a scare through the camp after twisting his ankle in a marking contest.
Both men will be in doubt for round 1 against Carlton.
What to look forward to:
Getting all the premiership Tigers back fully fit and thriving is what the Richmond faithful will be hoping happens in season 2022.
Last season’s capitulation has to be viewed as an aberration, with this list capable of pushing towards the top-four and beyond.
The fascinating aspect to the upcoming season will be the versatility the Tigers’ list provides with Balta, Baker, Rioli and others all capable of playing key roles either up forward or down back.
It’s a big year for:
There’s numerous factors that will ensure it’s a make-or-break season for Dan Rioli.
Firstly, a move down back could be viewed as a desperation move by the coaching staff, but with his ability to apply pressure, his foot speed and evasive skills, it does seem like he’d be ideally suited to a playmaker role off a flank.
Another factor is the fact Rioli is out of contract at the conclusion of the season.
The talent has always been there for Rioli, now it’s a matter of getting the best out of himself. Being dropped multiple times last season could be the catalyst for Dan to take his preparation and execution more seriously.
Only time will tell.
Biggest unanswered question:
Does the dynasty fire still burn?
Richmond is a perennial powerhouse in the competition, but continued success always breeds complacency in professional sport.
Three flags in four years will do that to any team.
However, the fact that so many are writing this Tiger team off coming off the back of a shock missed finals run seems like the incendiary instance that will drive the yellow and black back to their best.
It is a cliche to label teams ‘proud’ after a sustained period of success, but if there’s one thing Damien Hardwick instils in his players it’s the pride in the jumper, the trust in the system and the willingness to do what other teams won’t to achieve the ultimate.
Missing the finals is just the tonic this Tiger team needed to bounce back sharply and there’s no doubting they’re ready to make a strong statement in season 2022.
Coaching pressure index:
Damien Hardwick is one of the most decorated coaches currently in the AFL and the benchmark for others to aspire to.
Such is the success of the man they call Dimma, teams like Essendon have poached a number of coaches that have operated under him to have immediate success at their new clubs.
The luxury of coaching a team like Richmond to the ultimate success after a fruitless period is that there’s a certain level of leeway that’s afforded to you, especially if you’re reign has yielded three flags in four years.
Barring a calamitous campaign where Richmond finishes inside the bottom four, there should be no pressure at all on Hardwick in season 2022.
Predicted round 1 lineup:
There’s a certain level of expectation that comes with being the Richmond Football Club on the back of recent years, and those anticipating the fall of the Tigers have vastly underestimated just how strong this list is.
With the return of Balta, Martin and the pick up of plug-and-play defender Robbie Tarrant into this team, anything less than a top-four berth should be considered a failure.
The dynasty is set to continue for at least another year Tiger fans, get excited.
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