The Tigers have ridden an incredible late-season surge. Photo: Getty Images Tigers players at training during the week. Photo: Getty Images
Damien Hardwick says Richmond’s finals-defining clash away to Sydney on Saturday is “one more bridge to cross to get, hopefully, where we deserve to be”.
Of the five teams vying for a finals berth, the Tigers are the only team that do not require other results to go their way. Coach Hardwick hailed this is “an enormous opportunity” for the club to secure its first back-to-back finals appearances for almost 40 years, since 1974-1975.
“Our destiny’s in our own hands, obviously, and we play an outstanding outfit in Sydney. We go up there and we’ll take the game on, we’ll play our way,” he said on Thursday, before the club’s training session at its ME Bank Centre headquarters.
“If we’re good enough we’ll come away with the four points, but there’s no better place you’d rather be than having your destiny in your own hands.”
The coach reiterated his satisfaction his players had not resigned themselves to a finals-free season after winning only three matches in its first 13. The Tigers are currently on an eight-match winning streak, with the first-placed Swans the last team to beat them.
“We stated earlier [in the year] we were a better side than what our record indicated. The win-loss column was the easy thing to look at but we knew we weren’t far away, needed a couple of things to go our way obviously,” he said.
“The guys have been really resilient. They could have easily put the cue in the rack, but credit to them [for not doing that]. They’ve played hard, tough, Richmond-style footy, which has managed to get results going our way.”
While the Tigers are three wins and about 15 percentage points behind where they were before last year’s final round, the coach said they had “absolutely” improved. He praised recruiters Francis Jackson and Blair Hartley for having “unearthed some talent” among players past their teens. The prime example has been prolific possession-winner Anthony Miles, although the coach also praised Nathan Gordon and Sam Lloyd.
Ty Vickery was available after completing his four-match suspension but the Tigers kept faith with Ben Griffiths, the 22-year-old who impressed as the Tigers’ replacement number-two forward target in Vickery’s absence.
“He’s been terrific, played really well,” the coach said, before the Tigers’ team was confirmed.
“He played some good football for us [in the] early part of the year, had a flat patch probably mid-point through the season, but we’ve been really impressed. He’s a really good contested mark, athletically he’s very gifted – and he can kick the ball a mile too.
“We’ve been really pleased with how he’s played, and defensively he really adds something also.”
Richmond’s next opponent, Sydney, is feted for its forward-line firepower, given the presence of not only Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett but also Sam Reid and Adam Goodes. Nevertheless the Swans ranked third in scoring this year, with their average of 98.1, inferior to Hawthorn (111.3) and Port Adelaide (99.2). Defensively, the importance of less-heralded key-position players such as Heath Grundy and Ted Richards is reflected in a league-best record of conceding only 67.6 points per match, better than Fremantle (69.5) and Essendon (77.6).
“They’re very good. Offensively, they control the ball very well, they play a system of play that helps them defensively also. They’ve got a capacity to win a lot of one-on-one contests … that’s what they base their game around,” Hardwick said of Sydney.
The coach said the Swans boasted many players adept at winning one-on-one contests, and that it was imperative the Tigers players “have just got to make sure we win them or don’t get beaten”.
“It’s going to be a really good test for our players,” he said. “We think we match up pretty well against them. We’re both very good contested-ball sides, both got forwards that are dangerous but also … our defenders are quite capable also, so it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Hardwick confirmed Alex Rance would be given the job of quelling Franklin. He said that despite Franklin’s status as the “matchwinner” in the teams’ last clash – he kicked four goals in a low-scoring match – his full-back had still impressed against the Coleman Medal leader.
“They’ll have a great contest. It was probably one of the best match-ups we saw this year. I think they had a truckload of one-on-one contests. ‘Buddy’ was the matchwinner in the end but I thought Alex handled himself really well in that contest,” he said.
“We’ve just got to make we [force Sydney to deliver] some dirty ball inside 50 … [because] if the ball use is good, Alex is going to struggle. But we back Alex, day-in, day-out.”
Veteran Chris Newman was the only current player on Richmond’s list when it last played at ANZ Stadium, in 2002, and was dropped for that match. Consequently, the only current Tigers to have played at the venue are Bachar Houli, once for Essendon in 2008, and out-of-favour forward Aaron Edwards, once for North Melbourne in the same year.
Hardwick said the players would attempt to familiarise themselves with the stadium by having “a bit of a kick and a catch” there on Friday.
“It’s very similar to, I think, Adelaide Oval’s dimensions, which we played well at,” he said.
The coach said he hoped the excitement generated by its winning streak would persuade many Richmond supporters, which he hailed as “louder than most opposition supporters”, to travel to the match – and hopefully be rewarded for doing so.
“Our fans have had a tough ride this year, there’s no doubt about that, and we hope to reward them with some finals footy,” he said.
“If we can get 10,000 people up there they’ll make the noise of 30,000, I guarantee you. The more we can get up there the better.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.