Malthouse: ‘Troubling’ stat Tigers must improve
Richmond has its past 10 games.
But as good as it has been, there is one troubling statistic that needs to improve in the preliminary final - its clearance rate. Along with its hitout ratio, it is well below the league average, which partially explains why the Brisbane Lions had 65 inside-50s to the Tigers' 54 last weekend.
Had Richmond not been so efficient in front of goal - kicking 18.4 (112) - the result would have been a lot closer.
Clearances are critical in finals, particularly with the 6-6-6 centre-bounce format.
It is very dangerous to rely on your defenders to intercept or turn the ball over in your back half time and again to provide drive.
The Tigers' backline is tight and methodical, even without Alex Rance, but you wouldn't want to play Russian roulette in a preliminary final by allowing the opposition 65 inside-50s. Brisbane missed a few sitters last week - perhaps due to finals nerves - but Richmond's opponent next Friday night will have settled into finals mode and will pose a greater threat in front of goal.
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Richmond's 315 possessions in the qualifying final was well below its season average, and that's OK. But I half suspect the Lions' nerves contributed to the Tigers' efficiency.
Richmond fully deserves to be where it is. But success with its controlled chaos style of play will depend on all three lines contributing at an elite level.
The Tigers potentially won't make any changes to the team which defeated the Lions, which means playing two ruckmen and that will serve them well.
Their mids are good without being brilliant. Dion Prestia's sore Achilles heel will benefit from a weekend off. Shane Edwards has taken his game to a higher level. Kane Lambert and Trent Cotchin have been serviceable. And of course Dustin Martin is brilliant, but he is used sparingly here as he is of greater impact in attack. Then again, they may not have the luxury of releasing him forward as often in the prelim.
Richmond has a rare forward line setup in which Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch are the key talls, with a wonderful host of medium-sized players at their feet - Shai Bolton, Daniel Rioli and Jason Castagna. As much as they'd love another six goals from Martin, big scores from individuals are rare in finals.
One missing link for Richmond is the lack of a genuine tagger. This could be a disaster.
The four teams left have deep and talented midfields. The Tigers' biggest mistake in last year's preliminary final loss to Collingwood was allowing Steele Sidebottom to dominate the match. He had 41 disposals (compared to just 14 in the Grand Final against West Coast when he was tagged.)
Lachie Neale had 51 disposals in Brisbane's Round 23 loss to Richmond. He had another 37 in the qualifying final. The Tigers like to back their players and pit their midfield head-to-head against their opponent, but if the team is not "on" there can be all sorts of trouble with this approach … and no way out.
I quite often talk about Plan B. For Richmond to insulate against a hijacking it needs a plan B and that is to have someone to cover the opposition's most damaging midfielder. Brandon Ellis has played this role before (though he's not a hard tagger).
It takes a certain type of player to be an effective tagger, so maybe even big-bodied Nathan Broad could be used. Or Jack Graham.
It will be a foreign task for these players, but the reality is that the sides who have deployed a tagger effectively have claimed big scalps. Matt de Boer at the Giants. Mark Hutchings at the Eagles. Levi Greenwood at Collingwood. Even Taylor Adams has sacrificed his game to take a player out of the middle.
I'm not sure if it's in Richmond's mindset to tag, but this approach leaves it vulnerable when the game gets down into the trenches. They at least need a backup option.
The Tigers are in great form. They have momentum. And they are heading into preliminary final week with confidence instead of staggering in like last year. Having a tagging option will make them even harder to beat.