From The Notebook: Round 15

As the fixture looks set for another Covid-related overhaul, it’s a two-topic Notebook this week.

First up it’s all about Brisbane’s forward spacing and why it makes them so dangerous, and then a dive into what’s changed at Richmond over the last month.

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For those reading via email who see a blank space where there are supposed to be clips, there’ll be a link to click so you can watch and not miss out on anything.

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Brisbane’s forward spacing

This is essentially a Part 2 from the Round 7 Notebook, where the entry was all about why Brisbane match up so well with Port Adelaide.

Since ironing out early season teething pains stemming from Joe Daniher’s introduction and the injury enforced absence of Dan McStay, Brisbane’s forward line has been firing on all cylinders from the sheer quantity of threats they provide.

Daniher, McStay and Eric Hipwood all provide marking targets but don’t turn into a liability when the ball hits the ground. Then there’s Charlie Cameron and Lincoln McCarthy who are nominally ‘smalls’ but obviously more than useful in the air as well.

Wrap everything up in a neat little package and you have five threats that opposition defenders are either unable to peel off, or do so at a much higher risk than normal. This is crucial because team defences are set up to work as a group, avoiding one-on-one contests as often as possible (unless you’re Carlton, in which case it’s a feature).

In this screenshot we can see all the movement opening space up and not letting Geelong defenders settle into comfortable areas:

Or the ability to isolate Cameron, which then allows Daniel Rich to do Daniel Rich things with a bullet:

If you can’t see the video, click here to watch

And then there’s this passage of play. Daniher’s the target at half back, which draws Lachie Henderson out. Then Hipwood is next at half forward, taking Jack Henry outside defensive 50.

The end result is Cameron in a one-on-one against Tom Stewart. As good as Stewart is, Cameron with only his direct opponent to beat is a scenario Brisbane will take all of the time.

If you can’t see the video, click here to watch

Each of these five forwards are averaging more than a goal a game, with Zac Bailey (18 goals in 14), Hugh McCluggage (25 scoring shots in 14) and Dayne Zorko all goal threats as well. It’s a high functioning setup.

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If you’ve missed any of the previous editions of Monday’s Notebook, you can catch up by clicking here and scrolling through the season so far:

2021’s From The Notebook

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Figuring out the cause of Richmond’s last month

Just to get the obvious out of the way first, this isn’t the place for ‘Tigers can’t win the premiership!’ and ‘the era is over!!’ discussion.

Something has clearly changed for Richmond in their last month of football. What we’ve watched for four and a half years, the surge mentality and controlled chaos, has been replaced nearly overnight by a style, dare I say it, closer to the Tigers’ pre-2017 method.

Look at the drastic increase in these numbers:

Average Per GameRound 1-10Round 11-15
Kicks199.2232.5
Marks84.4113.3
Kick-Handball Ratio1.291.57
Uncontested Possessions213250

Deciding when a sample size is big enough to conclusively run with is tricky. One game, obviously not. Two games, there might be something developing. Three games, things are becoming clearer…

The final tick was against St Kilda. Richmond, after a bye, chose to bring in an extra tall in conditions which can only be described as the complete opposite of what suits a 207-centimetre human – for his debut.

Maybe it was just a simple selection mistake and I’m giving Richmond too much credit, but the combination of those two things crosses the line into a conscious effort to play a different style compared to recent memory. For me at least.

Somewhere tucked away behind Champion Data’s lock and key, there’ll be stats confirming the eye test that these Richmond disposals aren’t taking as much ground as usual, looking sideways more often than forward, conservative rather than challenging.

Figuring out what has changed and confirming it – higher kick-mark, less risk – is straight forward. The why it’s changed is what can send you down a rabbit hole.

Without a confirmation straight from Damien Hardwick’s mouth, we can only speculate as to the reasons. Without further ado, here are my three guesses:

1. It’s one year too many to play the same way

Some teams are happy to stick to their method – their ‘brand’ if I can channel David King for a second – until it fails and then start to change. When it’s worked for so long why change a successful formula unless you absolutely have to?

Other teams are proactive in trying to change either before or as teams catch up, potentially sacrificing the last drops of one successful reign to get a head start on the next.

If guess number one is correct, Richmond have opted for the latter approach, essentially retooling on the fly in mid-season no less. It’s a novel approach, but that fits in with much of what they’ve done while on top.

2. The short pre-season, time on top, injuries, and slightly older list is starting to bite

Four and a half years of manic, high-octane football is a long time to stay up and about.

Add the whirlwind that was 2020 into the mix, sprinkle a shorter pre-season on top and cap it off with injuries and it seems like a logical reason why there’s been a change in style.

Think of Richmond’s best moments this year and what comes to mind are bursts, rather than the signature of wearing teams down before exploding once resistance is broken. The best periods have been shorter, and the worse periods have been longer.

Because this blog is called The Shinboner and a North Melbourne link is always just around the corner, there are similarities between Tigers 2021 and Kangaroos 2000: reigning premiers, a long time on top heading into the following season and a shorter than normal preparation to defend the premiership.

North may have finished top four in 2000 but they clearly weren’t the same team. The season ended with Denis Pagan admitting the players’ bodies were ‘screaming out for a break’. It wouldn’t surprise at all if there was a similar quote from Hardwick or a key Tiger at the end of 2021.

3. Looking to 2022

Callum Coleman-Jones’ future has been the subject of much speculation. Obviously Richmond want to keep him, and it appears they see him as a key forward with sporadic ruck minutes rather than the other way round.

Barring anything catastrophic like a long-term injury or performance levels falling off a cliff, Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch aren’t being displaced this year or next.

So, by process of elimination, to keep Coleman-Jones they still have to play him somewhere and the last remaining option is to play three tall forwards.

To consistently play three genuine talls plus a ruckman – as we witnessed on Friday night against St Kilda, something has to give elsewhere. With one less rotation at ground level, asking fewer players to carry out the same weight of work isn’t sustainable – especially as the Tigers list continues to age.

In allowing three talls to co-exist, the ball movement and tempo naturally has to slow a touch, for two reasons:

1. The fewer players capable of ground level work need a little more time to set up structurally
2. Super rapid ball movement doesn’t always play to the strengths of tall players, who can find themselves out of position easier than others

And one extra point of evidence to file under the 2022 theory: Jack Ross and Daniel Rioli playing half-back in the VFL. Potentially auditioning as Bachar Houli’s replacement?

Of course, there’s probably also a fourth guess: none of the above, and I’ve missed the obvious. Either way, it’s always been fun to watch Richmond because you knew what you were going to get. Now it’s fun in a completely different way because you don’t know what’s coming.

3 thoughts on “From The Notebook: Round 15

    1. I keep a handful of stats manually round by round in a dirty Excel spreadsheet. Helps when I want to look at trends over a certain period because then I can compare and contrast

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