2022 Trade Period Analysis: Tim Taranto & Jacob Hopper, Richmond

Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.

Initially the plan was to dedicate separate posts to Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper.

Then, the more you analyse it, you realise for all intents and purposes it’s really a package deal.

Richmond have bet on the Giants duo as their midfield centrepieces for most of the decade, banking on them to transform the weakest line of their team.

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In 2022, Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin were the Tigers’ two* most prominent inside midfielders. Looking forward to 2023, the former turns 30 on Wednesday with a long history of soft tissue injuries, and it projects as likely Cotchin’s last season.

(*It ended with Shai Bolton nearly at their level in terms of midfield minutes, but due to injuries elsewhere rather than well-laid plans)

Throughout the year, there was a key difference between prime Richmond and let’s call it, ‘post-prime’ Richmond. As detailed in the North Melbourne match analysis after Round 18:

Richmond’s turnover game is still very good, which is to be expected given it was their bread and butter during their glory days. However, there is one asterisk to it. When the Tigers were taking all before them, it didn’t matter too much if they lost contested ball heavily. Opponents were still forced into all manner of turnovers as they were swarmed. In 2022, the key difference is Richmond’s turnover game only works to elite levels if they’re winning contests as well. The turnover game still works well from their forward half, but not as much around the ground.

In this case, contests = stoppages, and Richmond were below average in this area. Although the Tigers were able to score well when winning clearances, they were also scored on heavily after losing them, making for a net negative.

Combine that with ranking 15th for clearance differential and it’s not a recipe for success. For a team with designs on contending, the personnel had to be upgraded significantly with two-way players.

Hopper and Taranto, 25 and 24 years old respectively, fit the bill perfectly.

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If you’ve missed any of the Free Agency & Trade Analysis posts, here’s where to catch up:

Friday 30th
Karl Amon, Hawthorn

Monday 3rd
Jayden Hunt, West Coast | Bobby Hill, Collingwood

Tuesday 4th
Blake Acres, Carlton | Liam Jones, Western Bulldogs | Daniel McStay, Collingwood

Wednesday 5th
Ben Long, Gold Coast | Zaine Cordy, St Kilda | Griffin Logue & Darcy Tucker, North Melbourne | Tom Berry, Gold Coast

Thursday 6th
Josh Corbett, Fremantle

Friday 7th
Tanner Bruhn, Geelong

Monday 10th
Will Setterfield, Essendon | Izak Rankine, Adelaide | Toby Bedford, GWS | Jason Horne-Francis & Willie Rioli, Port Adelaide

Tuesday 11th
Billy Frampton, Collingwood | Jack Gunston, Brisbane | Jack Bowes, Geelong | Brodie Grundy, Melbourne

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Let’s start with the obvious. Unless something out of the ordinary happens, Taranto and Hopper will be the two prime movers in the engine room, allowing Prestia to take on a normal workload and Cotchin to not be overstretched.

The domino effect will be felt all over the ground:

– It allows Bolton and Martin to rotate in and out whenever it suits (aka when they feel like it), and likely means one of them will be forward at all times
– It probably means Short returns to the half back line, pairing up with Rioli to form a one-two rebounding punch

Two midfield inclusions = a benefit on all three lines.

The benefit of Taranto and Hopper is that because they come as known commodities in their prime with a ‘finished’ game, so to speak, it’s simple to visualise how they fit.

Hopper will be a pure inside midfielder at all times. He becomes Richmond’s prime first-possession, contested, clearance winning target. The remaining midfielders slot one rung down the depth chart for priority level around stoppages.

Richmond can get funky with that as well, running actions with decoys, blocks, and screens, adding a whole lot of versatility which wasn’t there in previous seasons.

Meanwhile, though Taranto has spent large chunks of the last couple seasons playing in the forward half, that was more a function of the Giants’ lopsided list and way-too-deep midfield depth chart. Given all the options to run through there, it was inevitable a couple players would turn into secondary options, and one of those was Taranto. Especially with all the experimenting GWS did this year.

Richmond have an opening for a defined role in the place Taranto plays his best football, which is on-ball. In previous years (when the rotation wasn’t thin and/or injury-enforced), Richmond liked to run three to four main midfielders, and ration the remaining minutes across another two or three.

Taranto as a second option, working as a complementary target to Hopper – with Prestia* narrowly behind both in terms of inside priority – looks to be the way to go.

(*At this point some are probably wondering why I’m trying to downgrade Prestia at every chance. It’s not meant like that, but as management to lessen the chance of injury given history. If it was up to me he’d be a prime candidate to rest three or four times a year)  

Because Taranto provides more between contests than Hopper, it makes sense to slot him as the secondary option and a jack of all trades – his pressure in-tight without the ball a key as well.

Everything on paper fits nearly ideally. The two question marks are things that it’s near impossible to know immediately, for various reasons:

a) How much room is left in the cap to either add complementary pieces, or offer market value for those coming out of contract. Balta and Bolton’s current deals end next year, and teams are going to offer the world to prise them loose.
b) The progress of the rest of the midfield rotation, and whether Hopper and Taranto have enough support in a couple of years. With the draft capital given up securing the duo, it’s (largely) relying on Richmond’s 2021 crop to develop and provide that by the mid-point of this decade. Early signs are promising, but time will provide the ultimate answer.

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In case you missed it, the Look Back/Look Ahead series recently wrapped.

Every team’s list was analysed in depth, with a key question picked out for 2023. In some ways the posts work hand-in-hand with these individual analyses, understanding needs and priorities.

Here are all the links to catch up on:

North MelbourneReadWest CoastRead
GWSReadEssendonRead
AdelaideReadHawthornRead
Gold CoastReadPort AdelaideRead
St KildaReadCarltonRead
RichmondReadWestern BulldogsRead
MelbourneReadFremantleRead
BrisbaneReadCollingwoodRead
SydneyReadGeelongRead

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