AFL Round 16 – Richmond v Gold Coast: Lost in the torrid zone

I don’t know whether I would ever want to take my holidays in North Queensland.

Sure, the images of pristine white-sand beaches and the aquamarine hues of the Great Barrier Reef   displayed during the broadcast of the Gold Coast-Richmond clash in Cairns looks moderately inviting. But it is a shameless attempt to entice southerners to rush to their travel agents in a bid to escape the winter chill. On false pretences. One needs to hire a seaplane and pilot to enjoy the vistas in the promotion. Yes, it might be 25 degrees with spectators in t-shirts and shorts at Cazaly Stadium while we recline in our lounge rooms with heaters blazing away at 4:40 pm on a rainy Saturday afternoon. But I know differently about this part of Australia, even though I have never been there. And what I know is all confirmed on television over the next two-and-a-half hours.

Firstly, tropical North Queensland might have forested mountains, but it’s no good climbing tracks to summits or driving up to lookouts, because the peaks are permanently swathed in clouds and you can’t see a thing. Secondly, they have cyclones, a sure way to spoil any vacation. Sometimes these cyclones blow in straight lines, as this one does straight down the field from north to south. Thirdly, 25 degrees as a measure of temperature doesn’t tell the whole story, since the humidity is invariably around the one hundred per cent mark. That’s why some players are wearing gloves and star performers repeatedly have the ball slip from their grasp. Fourthly, when it rains it doesn’t fall in gentle showers like in Melbourne, but horizontally and it’s measured in metres rather than millimetres.

Fifthly, Richmond struggles to win once they fly beyond Brisbane’s northern suburbs. The region becomes a type of Bermuda Triangle where they inexplicably disappear off the map.  Losses to the Suns in 2011 and 2012 demolished those campaigns. In fact Richmond is the only club never to have defeated the new franchise, something even the GWS Giants achieved in their first year in the competition.

Naturally, the broadcast begins with images of Karmichael Hunt’s post-siren major which handed the Suns a two-point win last time the sides met at Cazaly Stadium. Hunt’s strike was the last in a sequence of three in the final two minutes of the match; a nightmare scenario for Tiger fans watching the tube. Pet dogs sensed something was amiss and ran for cover. Dinner plates were hurled at flat screen TV’s.  The half time interval of this encounter is spoiled when the commentators wheel out the injured Brandon Matera for an interview. Matera was the miscreant who centred the ball to the unmarked Hunt with a couple of seconds to go.

No, I just don’t feel that I could take a holiday in the tropics, and tonight only confirms it.

Any thoughts Gary Ablett may be labouring with a thigh injury after missing the Suns’ previous match with Brisbane are dispelled when he bursts out of the centre within ten seconds of the opening bounce and lets fly at goal, only to hit the post.

Conditions being what they are up here in the jungle, what follows is a two-hour slog where the teams kicking into the wind adopt ultra-defensive tactics to prevent the opposition from utilising the gale. Richmond drops as many as nine players into defence and moves the ball exclusively along the grandstand wing. A 12-point deficit at quarter time is quite acceptable. Visions of Tigers gliding into the 50-metre zone releasing perfect drop punts that sail through the big sticks at post height with the wind advantage fail to materialise. The Suns don’t stop at nine and drop everyone back and there is therefore no room for aesthetics. Relatively easy shots are missed and unlikely attempts from sharp angles by Jackson and Ellis are somehow sucked into the vortex for six-pointers.

Ellis puts the Tigers up by a goal just before the main break and the Suns are restricted to only one major with the wind in the third term. Chaplin, Petterd and Rance constantly repel them. It rains hard. Jackson boots a priceless second goal and is actually shading Ablett. Arnot cannons into Rory Thompson, who is nullifying Riewoldt, and the young Sun is assisted from the field. The Tigers carry a seven-point lead into the last quarter but are unable to break away and put the match beyond contention. The rain buckets down again. Gold Coast players fail to hit targets when coming out of defence. The ball keeps coming back. Jack misses one from straight in front which would have iced it. I am beside myself with frustration. If the Tigers need four more wins to make the eight then this is one that we have to capture. Then Jack marks on the lead in the pocket, wheels around on his left foot if you don’t mind and boots the ball into the night air. It is sucked thought the goals and the Tigers have a 16-point break late in the game. It could be over, but it’s not. Campbell Brown takes a breather from crashing into opponents and conceding free kicks and scrambles a goal for the Suns. With little more than a minute remaining substitute Andrew Boston marks within range. If he converts the Suns will be within four points. Surely it couldn’t happen again. To my immense relief Boston narrowly misses his shot and I know the Tigers are home.

I feel completely drained. Cairns will always be associated in my mind with the experience of watching Richmond flailing around in extreme conditions trying to win games of footy. I’m sure it would have been different at the MCG or even Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast.  Ivan Maric is interviewed after the game and agrees that the flight home will be more enjoyable than the corresponding match of 2012. I can picture CEO Brendon Gale up the back of the plane shaking out the cash from the envelope, Richmond’s fee for selling off its home games against Gold Coast.

“Here it is boys, this is what it’s all about! We’re a Big-4 club with lots of money! One out of three ain’t bad. And that’s it, no more trips up north for us! Next time we’ll get ‘em at the G!”


  1. Stainless says

    You captured my emotions exactly but I think enough angst has been expressed on the Almanac by Richmond supporters about the Cairns experiment to have induced collective yawn-stifling among followers of all other teams. All I can say is that yesterday’s game was a truly awful advertisement for the code, thank God we won it and thank God the experiment is over.

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