Has there been greater hope at Punt Road since the 1980’s?
Season 2011 is now 9 rounds in and one of the surprise packets of the season are without a doubt Richmond. Of course, Essendon’s improvement, St Kilda’s demise and Geelong’s resurgence were unexpected however the young Tigers have achieved more in nine games than many expected for the season.
A close loss to an improved Carlton side in round one was encouraging and a thrilling draw in round two against St Kilda was unexpected. Looking back now, it was a good indicator of the two side’s change in position within the AFL as St Kilda have under-achieved thus far, whilst Richmond have over-achieved somewhat.
Rounds three and four saw thrashings at the hands of Hawthorn (63 points) and Collingwood (71 points), however they opened their win account against North Melbourne in round five. A second win in as many weeks followed in round six against Brisbane however at this stage, they were still yet to beat a side expected to finish in the Top-8.
This all changed in round seven though when they smashed the highly fancied Fremantle by 49 points on the back of 20-goals in the final three quarters. Round eight saw an end to their 3-game winning streak against the Western Bulldogs before a solid round nine win over the much improved Essendon once again had the Tiger army screaming.
Currently sitting just inside the Top-8, Richmond has 4 wins and a draw but most importantly, has a run-home which includes Port Adelaide, Brisbane (Away), Melbourne twice, Gold Coast (Away) and North Melbourne. If they can win these six, which on last night’s form is more than possible, they’d then need to manage just two more wins and finals action would be the reward.
The wins aside, one of the most encouraging signs for the Tigers is that some of their better players have included many youngsters on the Richmond list. Reece Conca, an 18-year-old playing his first season of AFL, is averaging just under 19 disposals per game whilst 19-year-old Dustin Martin is averaging just under 28 disposals per game in just his second season. In addition to this, he is proving to be a handy goal-kicker having slotted home 13 majors this season. Jake Batchelor (19), Dylan Grimes (19), Bradley Helbig (19) and Tyrone Vickery (20) are four other youngsters making their mark in 2011 with a series of consistent performances.
The improvements in the kids is being matched by solid performances from 21-year-old duo Trent Cotchin (24 disposals per game) and Alex Rance (20 disposals per game), whilst Brett Deledio (26 disposals per game), Robin Nahas (20 disposals per game) and ex-Carlton recruit Shaun Grigg (24 disposals per game) are all still 23 or 24-years-old respectively. Finally, 22-year-old forward and 2010 Colman Medalist Jack Riewoldt is once again proving a handful for backmen, having kicked 33 goals in 9 games this season.
Whether or not the young Tigers can maintain this impressive run of form remains to be seen, however if it continues, the clubs first finals berth since 2001 is a real possibility. If however the form drops away, there is still a breath of hope in the air at Punt Road and if it’s not to be in 2011, with the current list of young stars, 2012 and beyond are dead-certainties.