The rise and rise of the Tigers – for 21 rounds last season Richmond looked like they were merely just above average again. They’ve torn the league apart ever since.
It’s pretty clear to every AFL follower that Richmond has improved since the end of 2016.
But for most of 2017 the Tigers were just a ‘good’ side again. Indeed they were performing at about the same level as 2015, in which they finished fifth after the home and away season, before losing their first final.
In 2016 Richmond lost some of the production it had got in 2015 – either through injury or loss of form – from ruckman Ivan Maric, defender Bachar Houli, midfielder Anthony Miles, and midfielder/forward Brett Deledio. In 2017 they were able to replace that lost production with the recruitment of ruckman Toby Nankervis, a fit Houli, the improvement of players like Kane Lambert and Nick Vlastuin, and the leap to super-stardom of midfielder/forward Dustin Martin.
But up to Round 21 of last season the Tigers just looked like a good finals side that had won a couple more matches with an easy draw. Their average adjusted net margin for 2017 matches up to that point was +7, only slightly above average. Then they went over to Western Australia and whooped Fremantle by over 100 points. Famously the Tigers then proceeded to roll through the finals, convincingly beating top sides Geelong, GWS, and Adelaide to win their first premiership in 37 years.
This year Richmond took a few weeks to get going, with comfortable but not dominant wins against Carlton and Hawthorn, and a loss to a fired-up Adelaide Crows side. But they’ve beaten the heck out of the league since – even after accounting for the relative weakness in their opposition they have an average adjusted net margin of 50 points over their past four matches, which would be 2000 Essendon and 2007 Geelong territory.
Whether Richmond can sustain that level of performance for the rest of the season remains to be seen. Josh Caddy, Jason Castagna, and Dustin Martin have been hitting the scoreboard significantly harder, and veterans Jack Riewoldt and Shane Edwards have been getting the ball inside 50 more than they ever have. Richmond rank low in disposals and clearances but at times get the ball forward seemingly through sheer pressure, pace, and momentum.
The Tigers will probably come back a bit, but that would still put them in a great position by finals time. Last year it looked like they were a pretty good team that timed their run just right. Now it looks like that may have just been the start of it.