For the last few years, there has been a benchmark test for any team that finds themselves in the conversation about AFL flag contenders.
The question is: how did you go against Richmond?
So when Melbourne started the season unbeaten at 5-0, the buzz rose about the Demons, but some doubts remained.
After Melbourne’s stunning 34-point win over the Tigers in the wet at the MCG on ANZAC Day eve, however, Simon Goodwin’s team have answered the question. They may or may not win the flag, but are they genuine contenders? Absolutely.
They came into the match having lost five straight against the Tigers, and early on it looked like they would be facing a similar outcome.
Richmond had the Demons on the back foot from the start, dominating inside 50s but not managing to land an early knockout blow.
Jack Riewoldt booted two early goals, but the Melbourne defence made life hard enough for the opposition forwards that they only managed 2.3 from the first 10 minutes instead of the five or six goals which could have gone a long way to putting the game away.
Melbourne managed to get on the board through Christian Salem, and although the Tigers scored again, the Dees ended the opening quarter just seven points down — and from there the game turned.
The Tigers only managed three more goals in the last three quarters, compared to 10 for Melbourne. In fact, if you go from the 10-minute mark of the game, Richmond was outscored 12 goals to four.
The Dees had plenty of motivation aside from the opposition, with club stalwart and former skipper Nathan Jones playing his 300th game.
They produced a big performance to deliver a comprehensive win, built on strong defence — thanks to a focus on an extra man at the back, gritty performances from Steven May, Jake Lever and Adam Tomlinson, and a heap of intercept possessions and rebound 50s.
Melbourne also relied heavily on the two Christians — Salem and Petracca — for their drive.
Petracca won the Frank ‘Checker’ Hughes medal for his 38 disposals, 10 clearances and 11 score involvements, but it could just as easily been Salem, who gained 786 metres on the night and racked up nine intercepts and six inside 50s to go with his 39 disposals.
The Demons were able to break out ferociously from their back half and in some cases go coast-to-coast with Richmond unable to stop a series of kick-marks or relentless surges forward, in the wet conditions.
Instead of the usual fanatical Richmond pressure, it was the Demons who were up for every contest. They put Michael Hibberd on Dustin Martin and kept him to six disposals to half-time — skipper Trent Cotchin had four — by which time they had turned things around and had a 17-point lead they never relinquished.
It was a first huge test for the unbeaten Demons, and they passed with flying colours. By the end of the game, spotfires were breaking out across the ground, as a frustrated Richmond side lost its discipline. If these two teams meet in September, watch out for some fireworks.
The Demons now have North Melbourne, Sydney, Carlton and Adelaide in coming weeks, and on the basis of their displays thus far, they are well capable of running through those games and all but locking up a finals spot before they face the Western Bulldogs in round 11.
Tough stretch ahead for injury-hit Tigers
For the Tigers, this third loss of the season is not the end of the world, although it does reinforce the message to the rest of the league that they are vulnerable.
They have now been beaten by the Swans, the Power and the Demons — and while it has often been observed in the last few years that Richmond lifts a gear (or maybe two) in September, they don’t usually give so many potential finals opponents bragging rights this early in the year.
It was a 250th AFL game to forget for Martin, who was kept to eight possessions for the match, the lowest return of his career.
Damien Hardwick confirmed after the match that Martin would miss next week’s crucial match with the Western Bulldogs with concussion, but also admitted the Tigers’ superstar had been struggling with a foot problem as well, and that the enforced break might help him.
“He has had some foot issues. They’ve not been significant but it has impacted him and last week was a little bit the same. In fairness, although he’s going to miss some time, it might be the best thing for him,” Hardwick said.
The problems for the Tigers don’t just end with Martin, however. Kane Lambert (calf) and Dylan Grimes (ankle) were injured during the game, while Dion Prestia hurt his calf at training.
It’s not a great time to be having personnel issues for Richmond.
The next month for the Tigers sees them facing the Bulldogs, then a resurgent Geelong followed by GWS and then the Lions in Brisbane.
If they split those games they would be 5-5 after 10 rounds — not out of finals contention by any means, but definitely behind the eight ball.
They clearly would have the talent and the experience to make a charge for the eight, and even the top four, but they would need a lot to go right to give themselves a decent shot at making it four flags in five years.
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