Whatever Richmond's failings in behaviour this year, they remain the competition's topweight on the field and, barring an extraordinary mishap, will finish in the necessary top-four position at the end of next week and well placed for a reprise of 2019 and 2017.
In a year defined by restrictions on movement and shutdowns, the Tigers closed down hitherto freewheeling Geelong, holding the Cats to one goal in three quarters to win by 26 points, in a display that was redolent of Richmond's late-season surge of last year when they stormed to the premiership.
Jack Riewoldt celebrates a goal for the Tigers in their win over Geelong on Friday night.Credit:Getty Images
Geelong rallied in the final quarter and cut the margin of more than five goals to 16 points at the mid-point of the final term, raising the prospect of a ridiculous comeback, as the Cats belatedly discovered some fluency.
The Cats, having taken only two marks inside forward 50 in three quarters, managed three in four minutes, as Esava Ratugolea marked high twice and converted and Tom Hawkins nailed another.
But the result was sealed when Hawkins missed a Steve Johnson-style hook shot from an angle and then Jason Castagna, often profligate, kicked accurately to put the margin beyond three goals.
But the Richmond victory, essential to their top-four prospects, came at significant cost – ruckman Ivan Soldo hobbled off with a knee injury just before half-time, while key forward Tom Lynch was forced off and had an ice pack on his left hamstring in the third term.
Soldo's injury appeared significant, Lynch's less so, but the finals bye might be important to Richmond.
Geelong's poor performance against a fellow contender will re-heat the concerns about the Cats' ability to perform in finals, or finals-like games, although they will regain significant players, including skipper Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett and Gary Rohan.
Patrick Dangerfield, so often the catalyst for the Cats, was not overly effective. There was, admittedly, more at stake for Richmond than the Cats, who will still make the top four with a final-round victory over Sydney.
Geelong’s Esava Ratugolea, who kicked two goals, breaks free of a tackle by Shai Bolton. Credit:Getty Images
Richmond's defensive mastery was led by their premier backman Dylan Grimes, who was outstanding behind the ball, cutting off the sporadic Geelong attacks with timely intercepts and lending a hand to teammate Noah Balta in his successful negation of Geelong's powerhouse key forward Hawkins.
The Tigers were wasteful with opportunities, but created far more of them than Geelong. Jack Riewoldt booted four goals in an impressive display, while Dustin Martin asserted his class in the third quarter when Richmond built that decisive lead – sufficient against a constipated Geelong.
The pattern of the match was decidedly on Tiger terms for the bulk of the four quarters, as the Cats struggled with Richmond's frenetic pressure and were largely impotent in attack, where Hawkins was held, not so much by Balta, but by Richmond's team defence and Geelong's shoddy delivery.
It is a measure of Richmond's defensive capability that the Tigers held Geelong, the best scoring team in the competition this year, to one goal in three quarters.
While both sides defended stoutly, the difference to this point was that Richmond moved the ball with far greater speed and fluency. Geelong's more careful ball movement – so effective in 2020 – allowed the Tigers to out-number Hawkins in Geelong's scoring territory, which lacked a secondary threat.
Dylan Grimes flies for a mark for the Tigers.Credit:Getty Images
Richmond's advantage was established in the first quarter, when the Tigers once again defied their weakness in the clearances to have control of both territory and the scoreboard.
Beaten in the clearances 13-6 in that first term, the Tigers still had the match on their terms. Their trademark pressure and territory game were evident.
Perhaps the most ominous sign, however, was the crowding of Hawkins by the Richmond defence.
The Cats had lost Rohan before the game, replacing him with a debutant Ben Jarvis. The absence of Rohan, who had been Hawkins' best foil in attack and made the opposition reluctant to double-team the leviathan forward, seemed to allow Grimes and Nick Vlastuin to leave their less potent opponents.
The Cats settled in the second quarter, as their field position improved and Hawkins had some presence – his handball setting up their first major to Brad Close – but scoring remained an issue.
A goal to Lynch late in the second quarter meant the Tigers still maintained a handy lead in a first half that was more notable for pressure than highlights.
At the end, the difference between the sides was in both method and cohesion. The Richmond game – and players – stood up. Geelong's didn't. If they meet again, the Cats will need to find their best selves, not this version.
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