Our 2021 Australian Football coverage continues today with another team preview. This time time we take a look at the defending premiers, the Richmond Tigers.

Richmond’s home geurnsey

The Tigers won their third premiership in four season in 2020 and proved themselves as dominant as any team in the modern era. Can they continue to take all before them in 2021?

For all of our previous AFL 2021 team previews, click here.

Season 2020

3rd: 12 wins, 4 losses, 129.9%

Finals: lost to Brisbane by 15 points in week 1, defeated St Kilda by 31 points in week 2, defeated Port Adelaide by 6 points in week 3, defeated Geelong by 31 points in the Grand Final.

A premiership season – or in the Tigers’ case a 3rd premiership season since 2017 – is a good as it gets. But it’s worth remembering that despite a dominant grand final performance, Richmond, who came into 2020 as the defending champions, didn’t have it their own way all year.

Once the season resumed after the COVID enforced league wide shutdown, Richmond struggled to play with the fluency that this group has become so famous for. However they were slowly able to get their swagger back and secured a top four finish. Then, in that first final, they suffered a shock defeat to the upstart Brisbane Lions. That seemed to shake off whatever complacency had crept into the group. They handled the Saints with ease; survived in an absolute classic again the Power, then overcame a slow start to smother the Cats in the last match of the season.

As always, there was no one truly dominant force for the Tigers (with due respect to All Australian Dustin Martin). This is a group that is as deep as any in recent memory, perhaps as deep as those formidable Lions teams of the start of the century.

Key Ins: Samson Ryan, Maurice Rioli Jnr (both draft), Rhyan Marshall (free agent)

Key Outs: Jack Higgins (Saints), Oleg Markov (Suns), Luke English, Fraser Turner (released)

As is to be expected from a list that is as talented and deep as this one – and with most players in their prime years, to boot – the Tigers generally stood pat this off season.

The name that stand out from those coming into the club is Maurice Rioli Jnr – the son of the late Tigers superstar Maurice Snr, and the patriarch of the Rioli footballing dynasty. If he has a career half as good as his fathers, the Tigers will be ecstatic.

Higgins and Markov are interesting studies in that they’re both very good footballers who should serve their new clubs well, but such is the strength in depth at Punt Road, that they probably won’t really be missed.

Along with Port Adelaide, Richmond are the most talented side in the competition. Defensively, the criminally underrated David Astbury will man the key defensive positions with the flawless Dylan Grimes. Nick Vlastuin, Nathan Broad and Liam Baker are all outstanding utility defenders. Noah Balta will be one to watch. His move to defense in 2020 was a masterstroke from coach Damian Hardwick, as Balta established himself as an ever-present in the team. Watch for him to break out and become a star in 2021. Up forward, the Jack Riewoldt-to-Tom Lynch succession plan worked a treat. The 32 year old Riewoldt has sacrificed his game to allow Lynch to take the mantle as the #1 forward since his arrival in 2019. After a season where they couldn’t quite get on the same wavelength, they dovetailed perfectly in 2020, both providing a constant source of goals for the Tigers. Jack Graham, Jason Castagna, Daniel Rioli, Kane Lambert and – when he goes forward – Dusty Martin round out a scary forward line.

The Tigers midfield is one of the best in the league. A hard running group with power, pace, and more than a few goals in them, they’re a frightening spectacle. It all start with the superstar that is Dustin Martin. He is the best ‘big game’ player in the AFL right now, and one of the best of the modern era – a trio of Norm Smith medals for best on ground in the grand final attest to that. Martin is – when he decides to turn up the dial – the most unstoppable player in the league. His effort in single handedly turning around last seasons grand final was spectacular.

Martin is more than capably backed up by an array of stars in captain Trent Cotchin, Josh Caddy, Shane Edwards, Shai Bolton and Kamdyn McIntosh.

If there is an area of concern for the Tigers, it’s in the ruck. Toby Nankervis is an excellent player, but can’t ruck all day. This is where Ivan Soldo’s knee injury – which will likely keep him sidelined for all of 2021 – could be important. Mabior Chol (and his hair) has stepped in when needed, but he clearly struggles as a ruck and is far more comfortable as a complimentary forward, where he can use his remarkable athleticism to full effect.

To that end, this could be the year Callum Coleman-Jones finds a place in the senior side. This is this fourth year at the club and he’s only played a single game thus far. At such a dominant club, that’s not an indictment on the young man: opportunities are hard to come by at Richmond. But this is his chance to stake a claim. If he doesn’t play regularly this campaign, it will probably be his last in yellow and black.

Prediction: 3rd

This isn’t to say that the Tigers don’t win the premiership – this prediction it all about the regular season.

Richmond is still as talented as any team in the AFL, and they know exactly what it takes to get to the promised land. That’s why it’s likely that the Tigers pace themselves – especially after such a hectic 2020 schedule – this campaign. The Cats will be on a revenge mission; the Power driven to give themselves every chance to succeed: both clubs will take the regular season more seriously than the Tigers.

For that reason alone, this writer predicts that the Tigers will lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce come finals time. Y’know….like a tiger.