Round 23 – Richmond v St Kilda: A Tale of Two Riewoldts


Sunday 27th August
Melbourne Cricket Ground



The anticipation for what, two weeks ago, should have been the biggest game of the round, had, by 3pm on Sunday afternoon, started threatening to evaporate.


Pubs and bars along Swan Street had been packed all day for a boxing match on the other side of the world – Dustin Martin was lucky to be the third most talked about athlete with a surname starting with ‘M’. The footy was far from the front of the minds of many sports fans.


Richmond’s chance at a third-place finish had suddenly become a lot more achievable after Geelong’s relative thumping of GWS at Simonds Stadium the day before. The 44-point loss had depleted the Giants’ percentage that Richmond just had to get the four points and third was all theirs.


While this was almost certainly going to be Nick Riewoldt’s last AFL game, the home game goodbyes had been last weekend. Only some sort of miracle would see the Saints find themselves in 8th place – a miracle that would have likely required just the right upsets in three other games and some percentages voodoo – and see St Nick play again. I doubt even the most ardent Saints fans thought it possible.


Despite the overnight rain leaving Yarra Park almost entirely unparkable, the MCG website’s truly horrific crowd size estimates were once again proven wrong.


While the first quarter was relatively mundane on the scoreboard, Richmond took the opportunity to show their ability in the drizzle. A few years ago the Tigers would have been troubled by the wet –but several times this season they have taken the opportunity to punish less skilled teams. St Kilda, on the other hand, played in the wet exactly how the Tigers used to: not quite sure when to play on, not quite sure how to create or maintain pressure, and ultimately not quite sure how to score.


There is perhaps no better sign of how well a team plays in the wet (or how poorly their opponents do) than fans high up in the Southern Stand unironically calling the game (still in the first quarter) for the Tigers as soon as raincoats appeared a few levels below.


The rain had all but disappeared by the start of the second quarter, which simply allowed the Tigers to pile on five unanswered goals in the first half of the quarter. For a few minutes it looked as though St Kilda might go the way of Fremantle a week earlier – but the Saints were able to stem the tide and keep the difference under fifty points at half time.


The third quarter saw the Saints finally start to challenge Richmond, kicking four goals to one – but even this challenge was unconvincing. The scoreboard improvement was mostly down to St Kilda taking more chances than they had before, but even so, the Tigers were still maintaining pressure. The fact that Tigers fans rarely move towards the edge of their seats anymore when the ball flies into their defensive fifty is probably as high as praise for the Rance/Houli duumvirate can get.


Ultimately, however, the fourth quarter simply saw the Tigers find their second wind and they were able to push the margin back out to forty points. It is these fourth quarter performances which are the difference between a team that is struggling for 8th position and one that locks away a finals position – and, as it turns out, the difference between the Tigers of 2017 and the Saints of 2017 or the Tigers of 2016.


Perhaps surprisingly, the loudest cheers (from my vantage point high above the Punt Road end) during the final quarter weren’t for the retiring Riewoldt – instead, they were for Dustin Martin. It didn’t really matter what he did – jog off the ground, jog onto the ground, provide a score assist or get close to touching the ball – the yellow and black fans are certainly doing everything they can to convince him not to move a few kilometres north west.


Finishing third will be blessing for Richmond. Their past three finals appearances saw them play impressively in the second half of the season, only to implode in the first week of the finals. Their last top four finish, and double chance, came sixteen years ago – and saw the Tigers lose to the reigning premiers in week one, beat Carlton to make it to a prelim, and subsequently lose to the eventual premiers in Brisbane.


As for St Kilda, the retirement of Riewoldt makes it clear – if it wasn’t already – that their next finals team will be built around players who didn’t play a big role in the 2009/2010 heydays. And perhaps encouragingly for St Kilda, there are clearly players who will form an integral part of such a team: Carlisle, Bruce, Dunstan, Gresham and Steele, to name a few. Only a couple of better games next year will see the Saints back in September.


RICHMOND      4.1    11.5   12.7   19.8 (122)
ST KILDA         1.2    4.3     9.9      12.9 (81)


Richmond: Townsend 5, Riewoldt 3, Grigg 3, Prestia 2, Martin 2, Butler 2, Graham, Cotchin
St Kilda: Gresham 5, Billings 2, Membrey 2, Bruce, Riewoldt, Longer 

Richmond: Martin, Grigg, Prestia, Cotchin, Townsend, Vlastuin, Nankervis, Houli
St Kilda: Steele, Gresham, Billings, Sinclair, Ross, Dunstan

St Kilda: Geary (concussion) 

Martin (Richmond) 3, Grigg (Richmond) 2, Townsend (Richmond) 1.

Umpires: Donlon, Nicholls, Hosking 

Official crowd: 69,104 at the MCG

About Thomas Foster

Journalism/Politics/Linguistics student at Monash University and prematurely retired number three batsmen, fill-in fullback and hockey goal sneak.

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