As Richmond head into the 2012 AFL season there is only one thing that will satisfy the fighting fury at Tigerland, finals football.
It has been over a decade since the Tigers last made the finals, when they finished fourth in 2001, and will be desperately trying to break the finals drought as they look to put a painfully familiar, lack lustre, 2011 season behind them.
Last season provided the occasional glimmer of hope for Tiger fans with young guns Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin stepping comfortably into regular positions, and Jack Riewoldt enjoying another solid season down forward booting 62 goals and finishing third in the Coleman Medal.
Despite these good performances Richmond was never really in contention to play finals, mustering only eight wins and a draw the Tigers limped to finish in twelfth, three wins outside the eight. Statistics didn’t read well for the Tigers either; they were ranked fifteenth in goals conceded with only lowly Port Adelaide and new comers Gold Coast below them.
However, with a successful pre-season, including a 59-point thumping of 2011 premiers Geelong, at Symonds Stadium, the Tigers look the goods to earn their spot in the September action.
Most Important Player:
One man who will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of Richmond’s plan to play finals will be Dustin Martin,who had a breakout season in 2011.
Martin, who was best on field in the win over a youthful and star depleted Geelong,racked up 23 disposals and three goals, including one super goal, and is set to become an AFL big name after a promising 2011 in which he came fourth in the club’s Best and Fairest.
The development of Martin’s game has been nothing short of exceptional since his debut in 2010. The gutsy midfielder will be a driving force for Richmond this year after leading the club in clearances in 2011. Martin also isn’t afraid to do the hard yards to get his team over the line, claiming the second highest number of contested possessions for the Tigers last season, a year in which where the team lacked pressure, especially in defence.
Aiding Martin’s game in the midfield will be Adelaide recruit Ivan Maric in the ruck. Maric has looked impressive throughout the NAB Cup including a 15-disposal, 22 hit out effort against Geelong. Finding a good ruckman has appeared to be an impossible task for Richmond in past years but the 200cm, 102kg monster may be the missing piece of the puzzle needed for them to deliver a successful 2012.
Richmond will be hoping that their pre-season form can be carried into the home and away season, as their round one clash against Carlton will be a true indication of the Tigers’ ability to make the eight.
An affair that has been dominated by Carlton in recent years, the Tigers will be looking to pounce on a vulnerable Blues side who did not win a pre-season encounter out of the five matches they played.
Along with this,Richmond will also be looking to break the club’s horrible streak of not winning a game in the first four rounds since 2008. However, this task looks seemingly unlikely considering the Tigers face the harsh reality of Carlton, Collingwood, Geelong and West Coast in four of their first five matches.
The Tigers also need to win their most favourable contest against Melbourne in round three to give them what has been missing for so many years; a regular winning feeling early in the season.
Another big game for Richmond comes in Round 16 when they travel to Cazaly’s Stadium in Cairns to take on the Gold Coast Suns. This game doesn’t appear to be a block buster on paper, however,it’s a must win for the Tigers.
Last year, they were humiliated in a shock loss to the Suns when playing a home game at the same venue. The Tigers had the lead for the majority of the match when Gold Coast made a late charge in hugely windy conditions to upset the heavily backed Tigers. If Richmond is to play finals, they need to be able to put away teams they are favourite against. It has been a curse that they will have to break to be taken seriously this season.
The Tigers will find themselves in a pack of about eight teams all vying for ladder positions four to eight, and it’s imperative for Richmond to finally break into the finals, especially for its young players and its long suffering supporters.
2012 is a critical year for Richmond. The rebuilding phase has come to an end, young players have come of age, previous problems appear to be solved, and now these cubs need to become fully fledged Tigers and play finals football.
No more excuses.