During the Richmond-Collingwood game the Channel Seven cameras showed a frustrated Damien Hardwick. One of the commentators, said that the Tiges could well do with a player of his mold at that moment. The implication was that someone needed to stand up, ruffle a few Magpie feathers and get in the face of those who were getting in the face of Richmond’s captain and clean skin, Trent Cotchin. The problem with such a comment, however, is that the Tiges already apparently have a few players who were recruited to fit the Damien Hardwick style. Upon being interviewed by the Club’s website players such as Brandon Ellis and Steve Morris both invoked the hardness of the coach as an example to follow. It is not hard to imagine that Matthew Thomas and Matt Arnott were also awarded their places in the team based on their reputed hardness.
So, on the one hand we have Richmond and the captain himself mentioning the illegality of Macaffer’s tactics and at the same time wishing to have a player of Macaffer’s and Hardwick’s gall in testing the limits of fairness, sportsmanship and of course the so-called rules. This is, to a degree, hypocritical, but, it also sounds like the commentary coming from a team on the wrong side of the win/loss ledger. It also suggests the team were unable to be proactive in immediately responding to the hard-tag placed on Cotchin on the Friday night game. Collingwood played an easy game: they knew that if they nullified Cotchin they could win the game. Deledio wasn’t playing and they believed that Martin couldn’t win the game for the Tiges by himself. They were right. They backed their players; the primary condition of the win was set up through nullifying Cotchin. Collingwood too needed to win to maintain an equilibrium in their season and to delay a panic and forecasts about the season being over. Playing pretty can wait.
Richmond doesn’t need a team of violent players to assert their physical presence. Daniel Jackson has retired from the tribunal and doing so was part of him being Richmond’s most consistent player of 2013. Jake King has a big reputation and looks like an angry tough but his rudimentary football skills aren’t enough. Richmond doesn’t have a Scott Selwood or Luke Hodge who can be where the ball is, and through their balance, poise and positioning – born of fearlessness – can prevent players from occupying the necessary space to take possession of the football.These players are not violent and rarely get suspended. They simply know where to position themselves in order to make a decisive move.
In the game against Collingwood, I saw Richmond players attempting to ‘take the ball out of the air’ and spin out of a tackle. More often than not, they span into trouble or never took full possession of the ball as it was easily knocked out by a player in the Black and the White. Martin, whose body language comes the closest to that of Selwood or Hodge, was messy with his skills and perhaps over-rates his ability to break tackles whether it be with a straight arm or a puffed out chest. At the moment, few of the players are leading by example. Morris is desperate in his tackles and dives: but, often times these come after the fact or from being out of position in the first place. Thomas has shown his determination, but free-kicks amount against him.
During last year’s grand final, Fremantle’s Ryan Crowley held Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell well. No Hawthorn players attempted to take out Crowley or got mixed up with him. The difference with the Macaffer-Cotchin match up of Friday night, was that Mitchell’s teammates held their positions and maintained their toughness. The Richmond players didn’t get in Macaffer’s face and didn’t assert their presence in the game. The players let the game happen; they let Collingwood determine the game’s fate, without adequate intervention, aggression or interest.
A long way behind.