Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a look at the AFL’s most recent dynasty in the Richmond Tigers.
After three premierships in four years the Tigers surprisingly fell out of finals contention in 2021. With some better luck on the injury front and a return to form from some of their ageing champions, can the Tigers again see finals action in 2022?
For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.
12th position: 9 wins, 12 losses, 97.5%.
Yes, they were ageing, but with the core of a team that won three of four premierships, including back-to-back in 2019 and 2020, the Tigers were expected to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season (this writer tipped them to finish 3rd).
Alas, it wasn’t to be as the Tigers failed to find their best in the early stages of the season before a series on injuries to key players saw them barely keep their heads above water. Early losses to the surprising Swans and heavy defeats to fellow contenders Melbourne and Geelong had the Tigers looking a step below the very best teams.
A mid-season kidney injury to talisman Dustin Martin would see the star ruled out for the remainder of the campaign. Without their driving force the Tigers form fell off a cliff as they missed the finals for the first time since 2016.
It wasn’t all bad for the Tigers, though. Daniel Rioli’s move from the forward line to being a creative half back worked better than many expected. Liam Baker came on as a leader who can impact a game from midfield or as a forward. Shai Bolton emerged as a genuinely match winning small forward, an excitement machine with the ability to produce the unexpected.
With so many deep finals runs, it was no surprise that the Tigers veterans started to break down. They had to at some point, right? A season cut short by injury can be seen as the beginning of the end for some of these Tigers legends. Alternatively it could be viewed as a much needed rest, rejuvenating old legs.
It will be interesting to see how the older players respond in 2022.
Key ins: Robbie Tarrant (North Melbourne), Tom Brown, Josh Gibcus, Sam Banks, Judson Clarke, Tyler Sonsie (all draft)
Key outs: Callum Coleman-Jones (North Melbourne), Mabior Chol (Gold Coast), Bachar Houli, David Astbury (both retired), Ryan Garthwaite, Patrick Naish, Derek Eggmolesse-Smith (all released)
When the Cats and Hawks have looked to extend their lengthy periods of premiership contention over the past decade or so, they’ve generally turned to older, more mature footballers in an effort remain at or near the top of the mountain. The Tigers have gone down similar roads with the recruitment of Tom Lynch a couple of years ago and Robbie Tarrant this season.
However the major difference between the Tigers and the other two, is the Tigers have worked in a greater level of internal promotion. Just last year, the Tigers gave significant game time to Jack Ross, Riley Collier-Dawkins, Thomson Dow and Rhyan Mansell, whilst shifting increased responsibilities onto Rioli, Baker and Bolton, as well as Jake Aarts, Sydney Stack and the very promising Jack Graham.
Should those players continue their development (again, as this writer is at pains to point out, progression is not linear) and the veterans return to something approaching their best, then the Tigers should return to the top eight.
Defensively, the team will miss the rock solid Astbury and especially Bachar Houli, who was an outstanding rebounding defender right up to his last moments on in the AFL. Tarrant comes over from North Melbourne and should be able to fill Astbury’s boots, but Stack and Rioli have a long way to go before they’re at Houli’s level. Nick Vlastuin is as tough as old boots, but isn’t going to replace Houli’s playmaking.
Much depends on the availability of Dylan Grimes and Noah Balta, both outstanding defenders. The 30 year old Grimes is injury prone, but has put together a three years of solid health. As he starts to age, the Tigers must hope his body holds out as he is by far the teams best full back. Interestingly, Balta has played predominantly forward through the preseason and with some success. If he sticks, then it’s a boon for the attack but leaves a big hole to fill defensively.
Alongside Balta, Richmond’s forward line is star studded. The twin full forwards of Tom Lynch and club legend Jack Riewoldt continue to produce the goods, kicking 86 goals between them. A full 51 of those went to the 33 year old Riewoldt who enjoyed an Indian Summer in 2021. One of the best judges of the flight of the football that this writer has ever seen, that skill has come to the fore as Rielwoldt’s pace has faded. Around them are the newly emerged star in Bolton, Baker, Aarts and the steady Kane Lambert.
Martin will likely continue to play as a forward who moves into the midfield when the game needs breaking open. In what was a down year even before his kidney injury, Martin still averaged 22 disposals and kicked 19 goals over his 16 games. Given the amount of physicality the three time Norm Smith Medallist – the most in league history – puts into his game, his body more than most might appreciate the rest that an injury provides. If he bounces back, anything is possible for the Tigers.
Martin – when he plays in the centre, is joined by a star studded cast. Former skipper Trent Cotchin isn’t the ball magnet he was as a younger man but is still incredibly classy with the ball in hand. Shane Edwards and Dion Prestia are the innings eaters that drive the Tigers engine room, able to star on occasion and rarely beaten on match day. They’re serviced by Toby Nankervis or, in his stead, Ivan Soldo. Jack Graham is a budding star and the natural successor to Martin as a forward-cum-midfielder. He struggled a little in 2021 in a reflection of the Tigers general malaise, but it should be noted that when he was at his best, the Tigers were at theirs.
Of all of the prediction made in this series, this is the one that this writer feels the least comfortable with.
The Tigers certainly had a down year in 2021, but there were clear mitigating circumstances. With veterans back in the fold and presumably healthy and a wealth of young talent, the Tigers should bounce straight back into the finals, right? Right?
As a rule, athletes and teams rarely see the cliff edge until they’re in mid air, feet flailing like a real life Road Runner, about to crash into a deep ravine.
This prediction may well come back to bite this writer squarely on the backside, but there is a non-zero chance that the fall off in fitness and form from many of the veterans in 2021 is not an aberration and that the youngsters level off for a period before finding another level.
Much like last season when a similar prediction about the Eagles saw this writer take a beating on the socials (before ultimately being proven right, for what it’s worth) the Tigers of 2022 might not be the champions that they once were.
It’s not an easy or comfortable call. Time will tell if it’s a correct call.