Winning a Flag naturally comes with the consequence of a shorter off-season, and Richmond’s unparalleled success over the last half a decade has meant they’ve developed a reputation as slow starters. After all, Premierships are not won in March or April. 2020 was unique in the global pandemic sense, but it was the same old story for the Tigers who cruised in second gear (drawing with the Pies and dropping games to Hawthorn and St Kilda in the first 4 rounds) before finally turning up the heat in August.
Win/loss-wise, the Tigers were 4-3-1 after Round 8 but lost only two games amongst 11 wins from that point on. Sound familiar? That’s because Richmond’s road to 2019’s Premiership was remarkably similar sitting at 7-6 leading into their bye, only to return undefeated for the rest of the year. Mid-year is when the status quo returns; Dusty does Dusty things, and Richmond’s gameplan once again proves unsolvable – or at least, unbeatable over 4 quarters. You’d be brave to suggest that 2021 will play out any different.
Because that’s what we should expect moving forward – you simply don’t change a winning formula. Richmond don’t have a new coach, they don’t need a new gameplan and they haven’t brought in any new players (with only the bare minimum delisted and drafted). The course is predetermined and telegraphed to the entire competition and everyone else watching – Richmond are coming for that fabled threepeat.
Which makes my job of figuring out what this means for fantasy and DFS quite easy: it means that we can keep expecting the Tigers to be the exception to the unwritten rule that states “being an elite football team means you’re also an elite fantasy team”. They’ve ranked 17th, 11th and 13th for fantasy points generated in their recent Premiership years, punctuated by a 16th in the lost season which ended with Collingwood shellshocking them in the 2018 Preliminary Final.
So beware. If you’re expecting a rampaging Richmond to pile on the fantasy points in 2021 and building your DFS line-ups accordingly, you’re going to walk away with lighter pockets.
Higgins, Markov [trades, free agency]
Turner, English [delisted]
Why try and fix what ain’t broke? Richmond have proven to have very few list holes over the past few years, so they’ve pulled off the ultimate “run it back” list management manoeuvre with just the 5 changes from last season. One of those departures, Rance, was already long retired before 2020 wound down, so it’s even less change than advertised for the Tigers.
The one downside to Richmond’s reign is that the players sitting in the 23rd-25th bracket on their list were squeezed out once again. Higgins took the opportunity to play for the club he supported during childhood, and the potential for more midfield time there has already materialised with a huge AAMI performance; meanwhile, Markov ticks all the career advancement boxes with more opportunity, salary and job security at the Suns.
They join success stories in Dan Butler, Brandon Ellis and Sam Lloyd in finding new homes, while role players like Stengle and Miles have also moved on for more opportunity in the past. So far, Richmond shows no signs of slowing despite the persistent list squeeze, although we probably won’t see the full consequence of this constantly trickling talent leak until their Premiership window finally creaks shut.
#40 Samson Ryan – R – 38 avg from 5 games in NEAFL
But with the Tigers clearly still in their win-now mode, they opted to shore up a current and future list need by adding the 207cm Ryan to their ruck stocks. Like most young ruckmen, Samson comes with a couple of the more expected areas of improvement in his consistency and the endurance to run out a full game in the ruck. However, the Tigers are reportedly pleasantly surprised with his foundation they’ve been given to work with once they got him inside the four walls, with Hardwick was quoted as being “blown away” by Ryan’s development in his short time at Punt Road. Expect him to challenge the more experienced Coleman-Jones for back-up duties in 2021 if his current rate of development continues.
#50 Maurice Rioli Jnr – F – 59 avg from 3 games in 2019 NAB League
Maurice Junior is exactly the player you’d imagine given his famous name and DNA; a speedy, creative and fiercely competitive footballer who loves a goal. Rioli Jnr’s draft rights were murky with early eligibility to three clubs in Fremantle, Essendon and Richmond; but he chose the Tigers as his preferred destination and the Tigers chose him right back. Rioli Jnr played significant minutes in the midfield as a junior but a dedicated small forward role is how he’ll earn his AFL start.
Richmond are, without a doubt, the most stylistically unique side in the competition. They don’t care what you do in the back half, or how much you share it around in your midfield. You still need to kick goals to win, and to do that you have to penetrate their elite half-court zone defense, or isolate one-on-ones against their elite individual defenders. And the Tigers will back in both systems every time.
The second sentence above accounts for Richmond allowing the 2nd-most to General DEF’s and Elite MID’s because, you know – accumulators gon’ accumulate. On the flip side, the third sentence explains the 3rd-toughest DvP rating for Key FWD’s, with the likes of Grimes, Vlastuin and Astbury assuring that there’s no such thing as a favourable match-up in the forward 50.
When opposition teams inevitably fail on their forward thrust, Richmond carve them up on the counterattack by running forward in waves and linking up through handball chains. For this reason, you can usually overlook Richmond midfielders on multi-game slates because the ball is hardly ever between the arcs, at least when the Tigers are in possession of the ball. They simply move too quick for their opponents to catch up.
Then, at the end of those handball chains, are two of the best handful of key forwards in the comp, surrounded by a fleet of crafty small forwards and dilligent role players. You never know who’s going to bob up in that forward line because they’re so opportunistic and generally on goals to build their scores, so all of Riewoldt, Lynch, Castagna, Rioli, Aarts (and so on) need to be in your player pools for the random upswing.
Taking a break from stroking Richmond’s ego for a second – one area of DFS weakness is definitely in their ruck/clearance departments. They averaged the 4th-least hitouts per game, and it follows that they had the 3rd-lowest clearance win %… which is a crazy thing to say about the best football side in the land.
Not only were the Tigers ranked as the easiest team to score RUC points against last year, but those numbers were even more concentrated in the 7 games without Soldo at the helm. I’m talking an extra 23 AF per game by opposition ruckmen against a solo Nankervis, which is just obscene. With Soldo out for all of 2021, I’ll be attacking this trend hard and often.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Toby Nankervis
As deplorable as Nank is defensively, he still has plenty of fantasy chops in the offensive half of the game. Which we already knew, of course; he averaged 87 and 89 in the 2017-18 seasons as a solo battler for the Tigers, before injury and the ascension of Soldo muddied his past two campaigns. But when you sift out the sands of his 2020 season you’ll find that he averaged an adjusted 94 AF without Soldo alongside him – making Nankervis a genuine DFS threat this year.
2. Dustin Martin
Martin usually takes the term “Premiership hangover” and his own nickname “Dusty” quite literally, meandering into the new season with an air of malaise. The numbers are clear; 2018 Dusty managed an 88-point average pre-bye, followed by 100 AF post-bye. In 2019, it was 95-pre and 101-post. Then in 2020 he committed ever harder to the Jekyll & Hyde schtick, averaging an adjusted 82 in the first six games before storming home with a standard 100 AF thereafter.
So like an old, classic car on a winter’s morning, we usually give Dusty plenty of time to warm up before taking him for a spin in DFS. And I say “usually” because Hardwick and the Tigers can not stop talking about how fit Dusty has come back from the break this year, joking about how they’ve had to “hold him out” of sessions this pre-season.
This is not the narrative we’re used to – he’s usually (finally) picking up his car from the MCG car park around this time of the year – so it’s a scary omen that Richmond are talking up their star player whose reputation already far precedes him.
The Tigers play non-contenders in Carlton, Hawthorn and Sydney in the opening rounds this year, so things could get messy early for Martin’s victims – especially if he plays a majority inside midfield role to start the season. Dusty featured at 58% of CBA’s in his 65% TOG in the AAMI Community Series game against the Pies.
3. Shai Bolton
Bolton is tough to get a read on. Dumped from the midfield rotation to finish 2020 (he averaged 81% CBA presence between rounds 7 and the loss in Richmond’s first final, then barely saw a centre bounce thereafter) Shai was back in the midfield mix with a massive 24 (92%) CBA’s against the Pies this pre-season.
Prestia was the obvious midfielder missing and will be right for Round 1, while Cotchin only played the 35% TOG himself. When those two veterans (who averaged 66% and 56% CBA presence last year, respectively) are maximising their output in the real stuff, what happens to poor old Bolton?
It’s a tricky riddle that needs solving because Bolton is infinitely more DFS relevant as a midfielder than as a small forward – we saw that in 2019 with those massive back-to-back scores of 116 and 115 when the Tigers were short-handed.
4. Jayden Short
In one of the most outrageous pre-season performances in AFL history, Short collected 43 touches and reeled in 12 marks amongst his massive 171-point belter that is almost single-handedly causing the fantasy industry to rethink how we value half-back distributors. “Single-handedly” is probably a little disingenuous of me, because we also saw a range of players like Houston (154), Bonner (120), Hughes (133), Daniel (108), Sinclair (112), Jordan Clark (135) and May (102) take the piss following the wide-reaching rule changes by the AFL this pre-season. But Short started it, and he remained atop that list by the week’s end.
There’s a couple of things to unpack here.
Firstly, do we think that this trend of easy footy off half-back will continue in the season proper? I’m somewhere in the middle; I think it’s highly unlikely that opposition coaches will allow that kind of fuckery to continue unchecked for long, but I also think it’s highly unlikely that they’ll figure out the solution by the time Round 1 rolls around. Forward tags? Altered zones? Natural adjustments and improvements taking us all back to a more contested brand of footy? These things take time to evolve, from conception to effective implementation, and Short can certainly capitalise on that in the short term.
Secondly, there was no Houli to dilute Short’s supply last weekend. He only increased his average from 89 to 95 AF last season without Bachar, but where his presence was really felt was in the basement. Short posted a lowest adjusted score of 80AF from 8 games without his veteran teammate, compared to going under that figure 4 times from the 13 games they featured alongside each other. It looks like Bachar will miss Round 1 with that calf issue, but I don’t like Short’s chances of racking up 43 touches with Houli in his back pocket long-term.
5. Kamdyn McIntosh
One of the most disrespected DFS players in the gig, McIntosh is Richmond’s primary patient suffering from the Priddis Effect. With no brand name value and very little sex appeal as a footballer, McIntosh slips under the radar in DFS and provides value a ridiculous amount of time in the $9k-$11k range. He was a favourite of mine to end last season, scoring an adjusted 70+ in 7 of his last 12 games (and 5 of those were over 85).
If the slingshot footy continues in the wake of these massive man-on-the-mark rule changes, then McIntosh is immediately underpriced as a pure wingman. He amassed 20 touches and 10 marks amongst his 100 AF against Collingwood in their pre-season hitout, highlighting his ceiling against opposition that leaks to outside types.
- Grimes, Vlastuin and Astbury form Richmond’s defensive spine and often rotate roles depending on match-ups. Vlastuin is the main interceptor but Grimes (as we saw in the AAMI game) and Astbury float in and out of that mindset week-to-week as required. You should always have a small exposure to these guys, especially in single-game slates, and feel free to go harder on one of them if you think you’ve isolated that attacking role.
- Balta is the remaining lockdown defender and you can almost chuck him in the same group, but he might have to chop out Nankervis in the ruck again this season.
- We’ve talked about Short in detail above, but Baker was the other rebounder who was really busy without Houli in the AAMI Community Series hitout. Collingwood always leaks to backmen so it’s easy to get carried away, but Baker has been singled out in the best players in all their match sims and scratch matches consistently this pre-season. It might be time for Houli to wind back his priority off half-back this year and Baker is ready to pick up the slack.
- Caddy sat opposite to McIntosh’s wing against the Pies and did all the same things, finishing with 27 touches, 11 marks and 125 AF. He lost his role in the second half of last year but has had a really strong pre-season, so I expect he’ll rotate heavily through the wings again this season with some downtime forward.
- It might be a slow burn with Prestia, who can’t seem to put together a full pre-season to save his life. He averaged 108 in the second-half of 2019 – the only time he’s played 22 games at Richmond – and I’m optimistic that Prestia could start to accumulate like that again once he builds match fitness.
- Graham is Richmond’s bridesmaid, always having to smile and accept whatever midfield scraps he’s given. Ideally we would all love him to be an inside midfielder, but he actually adjusted well to his outside role in the end, producing scores of 94, 89, 95 and 103 on some of his pure wing days.
- Lambert was phased out of the inside midfield core last year and settled into a wing/HFF rotation. Modified pre-season so don’t be surprised if he’s a typically slow-starting Tiger.
- Richmond’s ideal ruck back-up is far from settled, with Coleman-Jones and Chol both offering different structural positives once Coleman-Jones serves his suspension. They’d be able to copy-paste last year’s 50-50 ruck rotation Nankervis ran with Soldo by having Coleman-Jones in the mix, whereas Chol could play as a key forward and simply chop out Nank when he starts puffing. It probably goes without saying, but the latter is much more attractive for Nank’s output.
- Pickett found himself on the fringe after an inconsistent 2020 and responded by developing his half-back craft this pre-season. Saw flashes in the AAMI game but it was mostly his defensive work rather than his offensive (and fantasy-friendly) stuff.
- The Tigers have a few cubs they’ll want to keep blooding this year. Ralphsmith and Naish are next cabs off the half-back rank, while Ross and Dow will have their eyes on midfield time when they get their chance.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.