NAB Cup, Round 1: Hawks to aim high, Tigers to finish low

By Richard Naco

I approached this game with some trepidation.  Channel 10 in Sydney stayed with their traditional AFL format & started the replay of this game well after 11pm, so as to not flood the Emerald City with too much AFL goodness too soon (the ‘play it mean/ keep ‘em keen’ approach, I guess).  It was preceded by Return of the Jedi, so the victory scene at the end of the film – dancing robots, feral teddy bears and the Ghosts of Jedis past – morphed seamlessly (if you ignore the 45 minutes of credits) in to Hawthorn v Richmond in northern Tasmania.

Both teams are coming off bad patches – Hawthorn had a pretty miserable season last year, while Richmond’s last 27 have been nothing to write home about.  Hawthorn were missing Rioli, Burgoyne, Bateman and a couple of other very good players, while Richmond have, of course, lost Richo (who may not be as good as the missing Hawks collectively, but was every bit as much fun to watch).  And Ben Cousins was also absent, so the neutral spectator was basically bereft of familiar faces in the black & yellow strip.

And although there is no team in the AFL that I currently dislike, if any such team which would degenerate to that level it will probably be coached by either Alastair Clarkson or Damian Hardwick.  To be blunt, I see “unsociable football” as being a very catchy camouflage for petty thuggery and a rugby league mindset, and little else.

It was just sheeting rain deep in to the Sydney night (it is smashing down on the tin roof of our back room as I scribe this report straight after the replay), and on-screen, Aurora Stadium was shrouded in dark, dim and ominous clouds as the game started. English summers reputedly consist of three nice days and a thunder storm, so the Apple Isle must be right at the end of its summer season about now.  Whatever the meteorological explanation, it really look as though this game was to be played on the Death Star of the preceding movie, with the dancing robots and feral teddy bears all set to be coached by Darth & the Emperor.

There seemed to be about three men and a dog populating the stands, which seemed to totally validate the AFL’s decision to expand in to the Gold Coast and Grater Western Sydney (no typo) instead of Tassie.  (Seriously folks – I love Tassie probably more than any other state, but if you want the AFL to take your declarations of undying love and fealty seriously, you’ve basically got to prove it by coming to every show possible!)

The game opened up sloppy.  The AFL site has described this somewhat optimistically as a tight even contest, but the early sequences of play had more turnovers than you’d find in your average bakery anywhere in the Apple Isle.  Eventually the Buddy Show kicked in, and a tattooed & mouth-guarded Lance Jnr. took Hawthorn & the game on to his broad back and carried it to a much higher plane.  The Hawks’ offensive efficiency (damn, I sound like an accountant talking like that) was breath taking: their first 10 entries inside the 50m zone produced 7 goals.

As Buddy kicked three of Hawthorn’s first four goals, the Hawks started playing the classic, exhilarating style of risk & reward footy that has been the hallmark of a certain country-based team of hooped heroes since 2007.  It really was fantastic stuff to watch, and although all the usual disclaimers can apply (NAB Cup, opposition about as deadly as a bunch of dancing feral teddy bears, etc etc etc), the vision and execution were highly impressive regardless.  At every possible opportunity they played on, and hammered the ball straight up the spine of the field, piercing the Richmond defence time and time again.

Umpires Tiggy and Touchwood were in attendance, and the men in red were far too visible for the good of the game.  The Tigers, especially, got utterly smashed with repeated 50m penalties in the first half, with the 5m exclusion zone being the main blight on the game.  Still, it must also be said that Hardwick obviously addressed that issue during the long break as it was less of a factor in the second half.

While Hawthorn were exciting and incisive in their transition, Richmond played a static and scared style of football.  Passes by foot – when they occurred – were inevitably short, and more often than not, lateral or backwards.  The Hawks were on to them like sharks in dirty water, and repeated Richmond passes to open Hawthorn players inevitably resulted in soft scores against them.

Hawthorn’s 38pt lead at quarter time blew out to 72 by the half: 2.10.7 (85) to 0.2.1 (13).

Richmond opened the third quarter with a fabulous free flowing transition which climaxed in a charity free quick in front of goal.  Being Richmond, the shot missed.  Hawthorn then swung back in to their wonderful flow, and despite some good honest resistance by Trent Cochin and 2009 draftee Dustin Martin (who wound up with a very creditable 26 possessions), the Hawks, driven forward by superb performances from Sam Mitchell (38 possessions) and Luke Hodge (a very tragic haircut) produced some breathtaking runs through the heart of the field to stretch the lead to 102pts at the final break.

By the this time the dog had wandered off, but the three men watching the game live had been joined by a few mates, although the stands still generally looked as empty as your bog standard NRL blockbuster.

At three-quarter time, unseen by the three blokes, their new mates, or the Channel 10 commentary team, the two teams obviously swapped uniforms.

It was the ‘Tigers’ who came out all guns blazing in the final quarter, assaulting the ‘Hawks’ defence in the central corridor and playing good hard free-flowing footy.  Jack Riewoldt had started to get more of the ball in the third quarter by pushing up the field, but in the last quarter he became a very viable target in the heart of the 50m zone (hurling himself skywards at every possibility as if possessed by the spirit of Richos past) and he and Nahas started to really sting the ‘Hawks’ defence.  Meanwhile, ‘Hawthorn’ abandoned the risk & reward style of play, and resorted to chipping the ball short and wide, only rarely showing glimpses of the highly effective (and it cannot be emphasised enough: attractive) brand of footy with which they had so seduced us with in the preceding three periods.  Inevitably, when they could be bothered playing that way, they scored goals.

But generally, they just couldn’t be bothered, and it was a Richmond squad desperately playing for their collective and individual livelihoods that easily outshone a Hawthorn team far more intent of avoiding injury or innovation.

Richmond more than doubled their score in the last stanza, but the only worrying factor was that they still managed to repeatedly miss easy targets and butchered quite a few gimme goals.

Final score was Hawthorn: 3.16.12 (135) d. Richmond 0.9.8 (62).

Player Points: [3] Sam Mitchell (H); [2] Luke Hodge (H); [1] Buddy Franklin (H) – for blowing the game open in the first half, and for not snoring in the second.

So what did this game offer us for Season 2010?

Well even ignoring the vagaries of the pre-season competition, it must be said that Hawthorn really looked top shelf for three quarters.  That ugly underwhelming unsociable football has been superseded by a fast and highly effective game plan, which should result in both a very healthy strike rate and – as importantly, in my opinion – more fans paying more money to go see such scintillating spectacular stuff.  The lightning speed of the missing Cyril Rioli & Shaun Burgoyne will only enhance this approach, and if it’s an accurate precursor of things to come this year, the Hawks are destined to be one of four clubs at the fore of a very tightly packed premiership race come September.  Their membership numbers should also deservedly soar as well!

The Tigers won’t be there with them.  I think that there is a very good chance that Melbourne are going to start to climb off the bottom this year, but the first body that they will be clambering past will be that of the Richmond Football Club.  Skills are poor, there is no obvious on-field leadership, and when the pressure of the inevitable string of heart-breaking losses kicks in, this squad will stand on the precipice of total disintegration. And to add salt to the wounds, the entry of the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney has effectively neutralised the draft as a means of rebuilding depleted squads, so the road away from perdition is going to be long, hard & gridlocked.  I hope that they can stick it out, and that Damian Hardwick can slowly and patiently turn the fortunes of the club around.  The AFL is only as strong as its weakest link, and that link looks like being the Richmond Tigers in 2010.

About Richard Naco

We are Geelong.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Most comprehensive Richard

    Is there any stated intention for the telecasts of AFL to begin earlier in Sydney?

    Or are they waiting for the new broadcast deal and the arrival of GWS?

    Presumably the league would have to insist on this in the new agreement (which begs the question why they didn’t in the old one).

  2. Sydney Malakellis says:

    Being a Richmond fan sure seems to be a lot like being a fan of having your nails extracted by a hungry possum whilst lying on a bed of nails and being sat on by Andre the Giant.

  3. Richard,

    Firstly I would like to say that I in no way disagree with the fact that the Tigers in general were utterly terrible for the first 3 quarters, in particular White, Tuck, Rance, Deledio and the new Oakley-Nicholls, Tom “Miss-lots” Hislop.

    But I should point out apart from Richo and Cousins, Richmond were also missing Foley and Jackson (thats arguably 3 of Richmond’s top 4 midfielders) as well as our two best defenders Thursfield and McGuane, who have defended Buddy and Roughead well in the past.

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