On an unusually steamy Autumn day in Melbourne, Richmond and Essendon sweated it out in the afternoon sun in the first VFL practice match of 2021.
At this time of year, winning isn’t always front of mind, however the Tigers stemmed the flow of the fast-starting Bombers and then romped home to win by 39 points, 9.11 (65) to 4.2 (26).
What would have please senior coach, Xavier Clarke was the defensive intent that his young chargers played with from siren-to-siren.
Richmond stalked and hunted the Bombers from the outset in what was a fast-paced and physical practice match.
The Tigers boasted a strong line-up brimming with young talent and the form of the athletically gifted, Hugo Ralphsmith delighted the handful of the Richmond faithful in attendance.
Burgeoning bull, Jack Ross was another who showed the benefit of a strong and uninterrupted pre-season with a commanding midfield performance.
Heading into his third year, Ross’ increasing endurance is enhancing his game and allowing him to be both tenacious and willing on the inside, and expansive and damaging on the outside.
It may be a tough midfield to break into at AFL level, but you get the sense that Ross will edge his way in there early in the season.
The Hangar’s MCG-size oval offered plenty of space for the likes of Marlion Pickett, Patrick Naish, Derek Eggmolesse-Smith and Ralphsmith to use their enviable blend of speed and endurance to full effect both defensively and offensively.
Ralphsmith’s ability to close space, spoil aggressively and effectively thwart the Bomber’s ball movement and then send the ball Richmond’s way stood out most, along with his hair.
Pickett played like an dual AFL premiership player and VFL Norm Goss Medallist, be it on a wing or down back.
No matter what level, Pickett plays the same way - hard in the contest, cat-like with his movement in and out of traffic, and calm and creative with ball in hand.
One tackle garnered a collective groan from the Richmond bench, coaching staff and spectators as Pickett hit an unsuspecting Bomber like an anvil.
The clap of skin-on-skin echoed around the Hangar and the neighbouring houses on Melrose Dve.
Naish, in his fourth season in the AFL system looks clear-minded in the traits he needs to bring to each game and his role within the team both on and off the field.
He teamed extremely well with Pickett on the wing or at half-back and continually looked to drive the ball forward with his penetrating right boot.
His ability to defend, be it one-on-one or in transition, looks to have improved again and he looks strong and seasoned in the contest.
After being rewarded with a new contract this week, Eggmolesse-Smith played with the freedom and flow of a man that’s had some weight lifted off his shoulders.
By his own admission, endurance and aerobic capacity were areas of improvement, and Eggmolesse-Smith was constantly applauded by his teammates and the Richmond hierarchy watching on for his repeat efforts and perfectly timed defensive acts.
Much like Pickett, Eggmolesse-Smith has an uncanny knack of timing his lunging spoils to perfection and then bounding down the field with ball in hand to set up and foray forward.
Samson Ryan, the Club’s first selection (No. 40 overall) in the 2020 national draft, set up Richmond’s first two goals by being strong and assertive in the contest, both in the air and at ground level.
Ryan also showed his ability at the centre bounce to get his hand to the ball whilst his body was contorted at obtuse angles.
The budding 20-year-old set up well behind the ball and was not afraid to get in involved whilst the ball was in transition.
Ryan Garthwaite has been reorientated into a key forward in 2021 and looked right at home.
More known for being a stiff and sturdy key back, Garthwaite showed forward craft far beyond his limited exposure would suggest.
His leading patterns and connection with players up the field shown brightest, along with his lion-hearted work rate.
With Garthwaite shifting forward, the lynchpin role down back was assumed by Ben Miller, with the fourth-year Tiger showcasing his evolving leadership and direction.
Miller’s voice bellowed across the oval for most of the night, directing his teammates further afield, drumming up support when needed, filling gaps and encouraging his younger cadets.
From a VFL-list perspective, Sam Tucker showed his wares up forward with a game-high three goals.
Tucker generally stayed as the deepest forward with Garthwaite acting as the conduit between defence/midfield and attack.
Angus Hicks, luckless in 2019 after breaking his leg in the corresponding game, was electric as a small forward and constantly looked dangerous when the ball was in his area.