In arctic conditions, the VFL Tigers have held off a gallant Sandringham Zebras outfit to record a gritty 15-point win on Saturday afternoon.
Richmond asserted its authority with a six-goal-to-nil opening term before Sandringham rattled the ladder leaders in the third term. The Tigers held their nerve in the final term to edge clear and bank a 10.8 (68) to 7.11 (53) win.
Blake Grewar’s sure right-foot sealed the win late in the final term, with the nuggety midfield/forward easing through his set-shot from an acute angle, much to the delight of the drenched Tiger Army.
Jacob Townsend set the tone with a scintillating opening term, which netted him three goals.
The premiership Tiger worked his teeth to the bone, finishing the game with 19 disposals, 12 tackles and a game-high three goals.
While the Tigers had the game on their terms in the first quarter, Sandringham dug in and slowly pegged back the margin to 23 points at half-time.
The Zebras then upped the ante in the third term, pressuring nearly every Richmond possession and disrupting its structure forward of centre.
However, as good teams do, Richmond remained calm in the chaotic final term.
The match-winning play was dripping with class, poise and hard-nosed determination.
With Sandringham slicing the margin to 10 points in time on of the last quarter, Derek Eggmolesse-Smith took it upon himself to stem the tide.
As he’d done for most of the day, Eggmolesse-Smith pounded the ball from his defensive 50 where Tom Silvestro hugged the soapy Sherrin to his chest.
The Tigers then methodically surged the ball forward via Dan Butler and Jack Higgins, with Higgins lobbing the ball inside 50 to find Grewar free in the pocket.
Grewar missed a similar shot from the opposite pocket moments earlier but was hell-bent on not letting history repeat itself and victory slip from the Tigers’ grasp.
He goaled and Richmond rejoiced.
A host of AFL talent returned to the Tigers’ line-up along with inspirational skipper, Steve Morris.
After sparkling in the 2018 VFL practice match series, the effervescent Jack Higgins made his official VFL debut charged with the task of “bringing the fun back into his game”.
Under the watchful eye of the Tiger hierarchy, Higgins, much like his teammates, was unfazed by the blustery and damp conditions, his smile lighting up a gloomy Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval.
It took all of five seconds for Higgins to be in the thick of the action, as the livewire cleared the ball from the opening centre bounce and slotted the opening goal of the game.
The man that put the ball on a platter for Higgins, Jacob Townsend, had an opening term to savour.
After Steve Morris blasted the ball out of the Tigers’ defensive 50, Townsend trapped the ball as it was sliding towards the boundary line, he looked inside and speared the ball onto the chest of Higgins, and the livewire popped through the set-shot.
Splitting his time between key forward and inside midfielder, the hulking Tiger kicked three goals of his own after setting up Higgins’ goal.
Townsend commands the respect of his teammates and peers with his tigerish attack on the ball and man, be it in the air or on the deck.
Higgins took to the conditions like a duck to water, with his nous, guile and cleanliness allowing him to slot two first-quarter goals as he too split his time between on-ball and forward.
The only thing more ferocious than the howling Northerly was the Tigers’ attack on the ball and any Zebra that was in the vicinity.
Richmond’s connection and celebration have been the bedrock for its culture, and both were on show in the first quarter. The beaming Higgins was especially mobbed after jagging his goal.
The Tigers cashed in on its territory dominance, snagging six-goals-to-nil in the first term and looking deadly when either hunting the ball or the man.
This was highlighted none more so when budding midfielder Riley Collier-Dawkins stalked and hunted a Sandringham defender, much like a lion hunting an unsuspecting zebra.
As Jack Newnes trotted out of his defensive 50, Collier-Dawkins launched and clung to the backman, dragging him to the ground and was justly rewarded for his efforts.
Townsend seized on the opportunity, scooped up the loose ball and drilled the ball to the teeth of goal from outside 50, nailing his second major.
The scene had been set for another Tiger mauling.
Young thoroughbred, Noah Balta plied his trade down at VFL level in 2018, showcasing the traits that have been on show for all to see at AFL level in 2019.
Balta has been a “Jack of all trades” in 2019, with the coaching staff deciding to settle him down in a key defensive post against the Zebras.
Ryan Garthwaite resumed his post as one of the premier defenders at the level, accompanying Balta, Hugh Beasley and Dan Coffield in the back half.
The Tigers were also dealt a healthy injection of speed with Liam Baker, Connor Menadue and Patrick Naish coming back to the side after showing their wares at AFL level.
The trio’s speed and willingness to blitz Sandringham at will were very handy in telling conditions.
Butler’s coolness under pressure led to the match-winning goal as the speedy Tiger looked forever ominous when presented with green grass in front of him.
Mav Weller’s performance oozed leadership, as the flint-hard midfielder led from the front, finishing with 25 disposals, five tackles and a classy goal.
Richmond now heads west to face a fellow top-four side in Footscray at VU Whitten Oval at 1:00pm on Saturday, July 6.