Four goals from Jack Riewoldt paced Richmond to a 26-point win over Geelong at Metricon Stadium on Friday night, as a Cats’ final-term comeback fell short to add to their six-match winning streak.
The Tigers, in the 7.15 (57) to 4.7 (31) win that was their fifth in a row to leapfrog over Geelong into third spot on the AFL’s ladder, suffocated the Cats’ abilities to mount attacks for most of the match, holding Tom Hawkins to one goal and limiting their key on-ballers Patrick Dangerfield, Sam Menegola and Cam Guthrie to relatively fewer possessions.
“My favourite player is Liam Baker, and the job he did on ‘Tomahawk’ tonight was outstanding,” said Riewoldt, while his coach Damien Hardwick saluted contributions from all 22 players.
“I think the way we played at various stages… it was just a very even team performance. Jack [Riewoldt] had some big moments, obviously, and so did Trent [Cochin] in that last quarter, and it was just very pleasing,” said Hardwick.
“You’re not going to keep a good side like Geelong down all night. We defended our end of the goal very well throughout, and our guys down back did a great job of cutting off their passing lanes.
“Defensively, we did a stellar job,” added Hardwick.
If the match would ultimately bear very little suggestions about each teams’ quality for the upcoming finals series, then how they’d do with the ball would provide adequate explanations.
Both teams would have been disappointed with their attacking play, but for completely differently reasons. While Geelong were – save for too-brief portions of the second and fourth quarters – ineffective or non-existent in attack, Richmond’s inaccuracies in front of goal prevented them from putting the match away a lot sooner than they actually did.
“Early on in the season, we were getting a lot of inside 50’s but not a lot of scoring shots. So to see that tick over tonight was really good,” said Tigers defender Dylan Grimes, instrumental in limiting Geelong’s otherwise potent attack to one goal through the first three quarters.
“It’s no secret that they’re a very good contested footy club, but we could never allow them to get set up. That was a huge plus for us,” added Riewoldt.
Richmond took advantage with a slight edge in controlling the tempo of the opening term to lead by 14 points at the first break, as Daniel Rioli’s goal on the siren complemented Riewoldt’s earlier opening major.
In that opening quarter, the Tigers were at least the Cats’ equal for the battles of contested possessions, while disrupting their ability to create scoring chances.
One particular battle won was holding Hawkins to no possessions for the first term, and thereby no chances to pad his lead in the Coleman Medal race. Denying Hawkins the chance to isolate in one-on-one battles inside 50 and committing more defenders to the cause constituted reasons in keeping the Cats’ talisman off the scoresheet.
Hardwick said midweek that this match may come down to being a “control versus chaos” battle royale – and as Geelong controlled the opening portions of the second quarter, Richmond looked chaotic.
Hawkins would get more involved as the term started, as he had a hand in setting up Brad Close’s opening goal on a breakaway for the Cats.
However, as the Cats exercised a greater volume of running attack and possession, Richmond eventually recovered enough to find a way to set up off halfback to get their attacks going, through Bachar Houli and others, and Tom Lynch ultimately levelled out Close’s goal at the 14-minute mark.
As Richmond were set to take a 13-point lead to the changerooms at the main break, the Tigers suffered a double injury blow on either side of halftime.
Just before the siren, ruckman Ivan Soldo went off with a suspected serious knee injury, leaving Toby Nankervis with main ruck responsibilities against Esava Ratugolea and Mark Bliclavs, while Richmond later lost Lynch to a hamstring tweak shortly after play resumed.
But the Tigers would continue to canvas their forces to pull away in the third term, with former Brownlow Medalist Dustin Martin a vital factor.
Martin didn’t finish the match with very many possessions, but the ones he used in the third term were of great quality and influence inside attacking 50. If his teammates were inspired, several profligate misses at goal wouldn’t have verified that – yet two clutch goals from Riewoldt extended the Richmond lead to 32 points at three-quarter-time.
“Jack refused to get out-marked tonight,” said Hardwick in praise of Riewoldt’s match-winning efforts.
“He had a bit of a knee injury earlier in the year, but now we’re seeing him get back to his best form, when he jumps at the ball and uses the strengths in his game.
“He’s a dominant player, and has been for quite a long time,” added the Tigers coach.
Through three quarters, the Cats had dominated the key statistical areas – contested and uncontested possessions, as well as marks – but were generally unable to mount any sort of attack inside 50 to benefit Hawkins or anyone else.
However, when Ratugolea kicked the opening goal of the final term four minutes in, the Cats – who have engineered a number of second-half comebacks this season – were back in the match with a serious belief.
Hawkins would finally kick his first goal of the night a minute later, followed by Ratugolea’s second moments later. But moments after a Hawkins miss that would have reduced the arrears to ten points, Jason Castagna buried a kick on the run from inside 50 to redress the Tigers’ lead back to 21 points with five minutes to play.
Riewoldt kicked his fourth goal from a rolling mark at ground level to provide an insurance tally for the Tigers with inside three minutes to go – and with that, Richmond withstood a valiant Cats challenge.
“The marking is a strength of my game, and the goals were good – but most importantly, we won the game,” said Riewoldt.