Just like that, VFL footy’s back.
The Tigers welcomed Werribee to Punt Road Oval on a tranquil Saturday morning in Autumn, their main goal, to re-establishing the “Richmond Brand”.
After the resounding Club-wide success of 2019, new VFL coach, Xavier Clarke felt it was imperative that the Tigers re-cement the values that have made Richmond, Richmond.
For Richmond, the values of connection, celebration and playing to your strengths are not personnel or scoreboard dependent, but part of the Tigers’ mantra.
Staying true to those values allowed Richmond to overrun Werribee in the second half, finishing 52 points the better, the scoreboard reading 14.9 (93) to 6.5 (41) as the final siren sounded.
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From the outset, you wouldn’t have guessed that this was a game in early March, not being played for premiership points.
Both sides cracked in as the intensity rose as the seconds ticked by.
The sight of Toby Nankervis bounding across the Punt Rd turf, sticking big tackles, clutching intercept marks, piercing left-foot passes into the corridor and setting up goals would have warmed the hearts of the Tiger Army.
Nankervis had a direct hand in Richmond’s opening major after outpointing his opponent at half forward, the returning ruckman wheeled onto his trusty left, scrubbed a kick forward which found Oleg Markov streaming into space.
Markov then unselfishly handed off to Jack Higgins, who trotted into the open goal.
The goal may have been finished by Higgins, but it was started by Mabior Chol who shared the ruck/forward duties with “Nank”.
Higgins finished the game with an equal game-high four majors and was at his effervescent best, using his football guile to constantly put teammates in better positions.
With Werribee attacking ferociously, Chol cruised into the defensive 50 to stymie their foray forward, he tracked the ball to the boundary line, gathered, handballed the ball back into play, then carved a pass to find Jake Aarts on the wing.
The tools were there for all to see, Chol’s supreme marking ability and springy leap, his effortless and economical running gait that allows him to glide across the turf as well as his slicing left boot.
Chol was also deadly in attack, bagging four majors.
After a successful stint at AFL level last year, “Marbs” has an added air of confidence about his standing in 2020 and looks set to further add to his game tally at senior level.
Jack Graham was another who stood out and didn’t miss a beat in his first game back after his heroics in the 2019 preliminary final win over Geelong.
Graham picked up exactly where he left off, using his body as a battering ram, covering nearly every inch of grass as he willed himself from contest to contest.
The bullocking midfielder played the first three quarters and was rested for the last.
Kamdyn McIntosh was another who suited up on his return from a syndesmosis injury sustained on the Club's pre-season camp on the Gold Coast.
McIntosh sidled up next to Ryan Garthwaite, Ben Miller and Noah Balta, assuming a role at half-back and enjoyed some time on a wing, he too played three out of four quarters.
McIntosh guided budding wingers Fraser Turner and Hugo Ralphsmith, with the latter duo also plying their trade in the back half, providing grunt and courage, coupled with drive and dash.
From a midfield perspective a svelte looking Jack Ross led the charge along with young brute, Riley Collier-Dawkins, who spilt his time between midfield and forward.
Collier-Dawkins' strength forward of centre is his contested marking and that was on show against Werribee.
Ross shot to prominence last year on the back of his unwavering courage and work rate, along with his ruthless aggression and decision making in traffic.
Those traits are further enhanced 12 months on as he constantly won the ball in the clinches, feeding it out to the likes of Patrick Naish, Higgins and Ralphsmith.
Another year in the system has seen him up his defensive running intent as he consistently dropped back into defensive 50 cutting off Werribee’s thrusts forward.
Will Martyn plays in a similar way to Ross, as the first-year onballer showed a thirst for the contest, gritty work rate and serene decision making.
Down back, Balta, Garthwaite and Miller showed that the Tigers are well stocked in the defensive key posts as the trio repeatedly thwarted Werribee's attacking chains.
A little rusty in the opening quarter, Garthwaite and Balta especially lifted their rating, spoiling and intercepting in the air and tackling anyone in their vicinity once the ball hit the deck.
For a practice match, “X’s Men” would have taken solace in the fact that their blitz pressure, celebration and connection shone brightest and will be used as the bedrock for how they’ll play in 2020.