McGuane: Underrated Tiger could be the difference
THE stage is set for the biggest game of the year.
But how will things play out when Richmond and Greater Western Sydney clash on Grand Final day?
Ahead of the massive game, read Mick McGuane's ultimate preview to see exactly where both sides sit.
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WHAT TO EXPECT - RICHMOND
Richmond loves chaos. It's all about a surge mentality, keeping the ball in motion and moving it forward by any means possible. A tap on here, a kick off the ground there. Gaining metres at all costs is at the core of the game plan. The Tigers' ball movement and ability to hurt teams off turnovers is also a strength and they are not afraid to use the corridor in transition. They try to get their forwards high up the ground and use speed from the likes of Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna, Kane Lambert and Dustin Martin to get back to goal. Plus, it helps your structure when you have a key target like Tom Lynch marking the ball like he was in the preliminary final.
IF I WERE RICHMOND …
Clearly I'd be maintaining the system that's been successful over a long period and has delivered another Grand Final berth. But I'd also reserve judgment about some of the opposition's best players if they do get off the chain. The big concern is who could be that run-with player given the injury cloud over Jack Graham? I'd be looking at Kane Lambert, who is very task-orientated, very disciplined and can run all day. The other key is the Jeremy Cameron match up, with the Coleman Medal winner in red-hot form. I think there will be a lot of mix-and-match there between Dylan Grimes, David Astbury and Nathan Broad. But I'd be starting Grimes on Cameron and sending David Astbury to Jeremy Finalayson.
One from left-field - Shai Bolton. He didn't have a great preliminary final, but he has had a pretty good year. He's got speed, breaks the lines, possesses great creativity with how he uses the ball and creates excitement. Bolton is averaging 1.4 score assists this season - second at the Tigers behind only Dustin Martin. He also averages 5.7 score involvements - the sixth-best at the club. That's because he picks the best option when kicking inside-50 almost every time. Bolton can also hit the scoreboard himself and brings high levels of forward-half pressure - a key aspect of the modern game.
Dustin Martin. But is he injured? The thing about Dusty is he's so predictable about where he plays. He's won just 15 disposals in defensive-50 this year - accounting for three per cent of his overall output. He is a player who does his damage between the arcs and when he floats forward inside-50. He starts the game and quarters at centre-bounces before Kane Lambert rolls up and Dusty is given the creative licence to drift forward. When he's a forward he still wins a lot of the ball and when he wins it through contested possession or ground ball, he hits the scoreboard.
Richmond's reluctance to tag. The Tigers never tag. GWS do. Jack Graham (shoulder) has been ruled out, and that becomes even more of a concern given he has been a player Damien Hardwick has tasked with carrying out some run-with roles in the past. Yes, Richmond is in the Grand Final because of its system. But Lachie Whitfield had a career-high 42 disposals and 10 score involvements against the Tigers in Round 3. If he, or others, do get off the chain again, wouldn't you want to lock them down?
Scoring from their inside-50 entries. The Giants have been the best team at defending their defensive 50 all year and have a formidable backline with the likes of Phil Davis, Nick Haynes, Heath Shaw, Zac Williams and Aidan Corr. Against Collingwood in the preliminary final, GWS conceded just seven goals from 53 entries while also holding the Magpies goalless for 67 minutes in the middle stages of the match. When Richmond played the Giants back in Round 3, there was a period during the third quarter where the Tigers had all the ascendancy in the territory battle and had 12 of 15 inside-50 entries yet kicked just two goals to one. The Giants can absorb numbers like the Sydney of old, so the Tigers simply have to be at their efficient best and ensure they choose the best options.
The Tigers' ability to stay in the contested game. They are coming up against a team that's very good around stoppage and that generally translates to contested ball win. In the first half against Geelong in the preliminary final, Richmond lost the contested possession count by 14. But the difference in the second half was just six as the Tigers got themselves back in the game. Richmond is a team that does not have to win contested ball numbers, but they can't allow GWS to dominate this facet of the game. They need to keep it close - a challenge given that across the season the Tigers are a bottom-two team for contested ball.
No regrets. The Tigers have been the best team for three years now. Coming away with only one premiership from that period of dominance won't sit well. After a turbulent year which included a 7-6 start and the loss of Alex Rance among a host of other injury concerns, the Tigers have still managed to pull through and get their opportunity. Now they have to take it with both hands. And having won their past 11 games on the trot - including eight at the MCG - there are no excuses.
Jack Graham (shoulder) test
Nathan Broad (concussion) test
GWS - WHAT TO EXPECT
For the Giants, it's all about their stoppage game. They rely on scoring from stoppages more than any other team in the competition. GWS led the AFL for clearances in the home-and-away season and have dominated that count in two of their three finals. They are a short-kicking side who is lethal by foot in transition from defence to attack and rank third in the competition for scoring once inside-50, hitting the scoreboard from 44.9 per cent of entries. The Giants are also a very good contested ball side and have won that count convincingly in two of their three finals, including against Collingwood in the preliminary final 164-148.
IF I WERE GWS …
I'd be tempted to send Matt De Boer to Dion Prestia. Everyone will think on the back of Round 3 - when De Boer shut down Martin and the Tiger was reported - that would be the logical match up again. But Prestia is a player who is in fantastic form, albeit largely flying under the radar given the focus on Martin, Shane Edwards and Trent Cotchin. Since the bye, Prestia has been the highest-rated player in the AFL, averaging 30 disposals and eight score involvements. If Dusty is sore or injured, it might be the perfect opportunity to give Prestia some close attention for the first time this year and something he probably wouldn't even be expecting. Martin will likely spend significant time forward, anyway, and that's where I'd be sending Sam Taylor to do a job on him.
Nick Haynes. We know he's a star, but his influence on this game will be critical if the Giants are to prevail. GWS has to find a way to win the battle of the air against Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt and Haynes is as good as anyone in the competition at leaving his man and creating two-on-ones on opposition key forwards. What I like about Haynes is he knows when to spoil and kill the ball and when to back himself to take the mark. And when he does mark, more often than not, he hurts you with his ability to quickly rebound it back.
Toby Greene. Back in the team after a one-week suspension, he had a nervous wait from the sidelines in the preliminary final but is sure to have plenty of adrenaline built up now and you can bet he will be ready to explode. Last week's media microscope won't phase him one bit. This is the stage Toby Greene is made for and his last eight games of footy have been sublime. He's a goalkicker, he's a score involvement player, he's physical and he makes those around him better. The Tigers will have to put plenty of work in to him.
Getting scored against behind the defence. We know the Tigers' forwards like to push high up the ground and use their leg-speed through Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna, Kane Lambert and Dustin Martin to get back to goal. The GWS defenders need to be conscious of that fast-break footy and ensure they are not leaving an open paddock for the Tigers to run into over the back. A goal-keeper needs to be retained, which is generally Phil Davis or Heath Shaw.
Win from stoppages. The Giants rely on scoring from stoppages more than any other team on record. They clearly outscored Collingwood 29-8 from stoppages in their preliminary final and have the best scoring differential from stoppages of any team this year. Let's not forget that the Magpies killed the Tigers from stoppages in last year's preliminary final. So, Shane Mumford versus Toby Nankervis and Ivan Soldo is going to be critically important to the outcome of this match.
Stopping Tom Lynch. We all witnessed the show he put on against Geelong in the preliminary final against a very measly defence. The spearhead had a season-high 19 disposals and 10 marks and his bag of five goals was his second-best of the year. GWS are a very good intercept team, with Phil Davis and Nick Haynes ranking No. 1 and No. 3 in the competition for intercept marks. And Davis, who generally takes the opposition's best forward, is a logical match-up for Lynch. But is he fit, after struggling with back and calf issues on the weekend? It's a big job if he's not 100 per cent.
Accuracy. The Giants need to continue to take their chances. They have won their past two finals with fewer scoring shots. Making the most of your chances is clearly huge in September and there is no pressure like scoreboard pressure. Conversion is one of the unheralded discussion points when it comes to the modern-day statistician, but it is still high on the agenda if you want to win premierships.
Stephen Coniglio (knee) test
Lachie Whitfield (appendix) test
Phil Davis (calf) test