In the lead-up to the start of the 2017 season, richmondfc.com.au has been assessing how the Tigers will shape up this year across all playing lines. We conclude this week with the midfield and, today, Tony Greenberg examines the Club’s growing group of on-ballers.
Richmond’s recruiting strategy going into last year’s trade period will ensure the team’s midfield for season 2017 takes on a distinctly different look.
The Tigers prioritised bolstering their midfield stocks – and duly did so – securing the talented services of mature-age on-ballers Dion Prestia (from Gold Coast) and Josh Caddy (from Geelong).
They also initiated a trade for promising young ruckman Toby Nankervis (from Sydney), to further enhance their on-ball brigade.
Prestia and Caddy’s arrival at Punt Road is a blessing for Richmond’s two main midfielders, captain Trent Cotchin and reigning Jack Dyer Medallist Dustin Martin.
Cotchin and Martin have shouldered a mighty big responsibility in the Tigers’ midfield for the past few seasons. They’ve both done it extremely well, but the time is right for them to receive the type of top-class support that Prestia and Caddy will provide.
Prestia, 24, is an elite, powerful runner and a ‘ball-magnet’, with consistently high contested- possession numbers.
He averaged 23.6 disposals per match throughout his 95-game league career with the Gold Coast Suns, was their vice-captain from 2014-16, and finished runner-up in their 2013 Best and Fairest (and third in 2014).
A knee injury restricted Prestia to just 14 games last season, but he continued to exert a considerable influence when he was out on the field of battle, averaging an impressive 25.9 disposals per match.
Caddy, also 24, is a big-bodied midfielder, who averages 17.3 disposals in his 95-game AFL career.
He, too, prides himself on his capacity to win contested ball, and he’s shown he can kick goals as well.
In season 2016, Caddy finished with an AFL career-high 21 goals from his 18 appearances at senior level with Geelong.
The opportunity for him to take on a more permanent midfield role with the Tigers is something that he’ll relish.
Likewise, Toby Nankervis seems set to thrive with greater opportunity at Tigerland, after being behind Sam Naismith, Kurt Tippett and Callum Sinclair in the Sydney Swans’ rucking pecking order.
Nankervis has been an impressive performer throughout the pre-season so far, showcasing his aggression, determination, mobility and skills set. He’s pressing strongly for Richmond’s No. 1 ruck berth.
Another Tiger newcomer, who shapes as a potential midfield inclusion this season, is the Club’s second selection in last year’s National Draft, Jack Graham.
The powerfully-built teenager (he turns 19 later this month) fully utilises his physical attributes. He is relentless with his attack on the football, has a strong presence around the stoppages, and a fierce desire to succeed.
Graham also possesses a big tank, which enables him to run hard both ways, and that’s a significant quality for a young midfielder to possess.
A further boost to Richmond’s midfield in 2017 appears likely to come from within . . .
Nick Vlastuin was a star midfielder at junior level, before carving a niche for himself in the AFL competition with the Tigers as a reliable small defender.
Vlastuin has spent the pre-season preparing with the Club’s midfield group, and was one of the best players afield in last Saturday’s intra-club practice match at Punt Road.
He clearly has the capability to become a valuable midfielder in the Richmond line-up.
Hard-running Shaun Grigg is an under-rated member of the Tigers’ midfield.
Last season, Grigg averaged 24.3 disposals and 5.3 marks per game and finished fifth in the Jack Dyer Medal.
Anthony Miles, with his ball-winning ability on the inside, offers a fair bit to the midfield as well.
In 2016, Miles averaged 22.7 disposals and 4.5 tackles per game and a sixth placing in the Best and Fairest.
Classy, young, left-footer Corey Ellis appears poised to spend more time in the midfield this season, while the likes of Shane Edwards, Kane Lambert, Brandon Ellis, Kamdyn McIntosh, Connor Menadue, Sam Lloyd and Daniel Rioli are all expected to rotate through there at various stages.
It’s Cotchin and Martin, however, who remain the most crucial cogs in the Richmond midfield machine.
Cotchin averaged 27.0 disposals per game in the 2016 season, racking up a career-high 39 touches in the Round 9 victory over Fremantle at Domain Stadium.
He was ranked No. 1 at Tigerland for clearances, No. 2 for total disposals, No. 3 for inside-50s, equal No. 3 for rebound-50s and fourth for uncontested possessions.
The triple Jack Dyer Medallist finished third in the Club’s Best and Fairest, and then was retrospectively awarded the 2012 Brownlow Medal at the end of the year.
With the extra support coming Cotchin’s way this season, it wouldn’t surprise in the slightest to see him regain that outstanding 2012 form.
Martin took his game to an even higher level in 2016, averaging 31.1 disposals per match, with a career-high 43 touches against Essendon in Round 17 at the MCG.
He had 30 disposals or more on 14 occasions, including 12 times in the final 14 games of the season.
At the completion of the home-and-away rounds, Martin was ranked fourth in the competition for total disposals and fifth for inside-50s.
Among the Richmond players, he was ranked No. 1 for total disposals, No. 1 for contested possessions, No. 1 for uncontested possessions, No. 1 for inside-50s, No. 2 for clearances, No. 2 for centre clearances and No. 2 for rebound-50s.
Martin was rewarded for his excellent efforts over the course of the 2016 season with an inaugural Jack Dyer Medal and selection in the All-Australian team for the first time.
But he, too, could be even more productive for the Tigers in 2017, now that their midfield depth has been substantially bolstered.