Richmond were thoroughly outplayed.
Richmond were thoroughly outplayed.

Trouble at Tigerland: Have they been figured out?

Hours and hours were poured into previewing Thursday night's game between Hawthorn and Richmond and absolutely no-one said the Hawks would slaughter the reigning premier.

No one said the Tigers are vulnerable.

No one said the Tigers can't score and their system has been broken down.

No one said the Hawks once again would be a premiership fancy.

Footy is such a fluid, demanding and enthralling game, and here was more evidence it is influenced more by the mind than by the foot.

The Hawks had their instructions - apply pressure, strong work rate, don't give the Tigers space, be patient and be ready for the predictability of the Tigers, that is they like to kick long to Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch.

The Hawks seemingly read the playbook backwards.

Led by Ben McEvory in the air, the Hawks time and again shut down Tigers across halfback and launched from there.

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Damien Hardwick (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Damien Hardwick (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

 

In the middle, it was a different Hawks outfit from last week, when it was demolished by Geelong.

Energy was high via Jaeger O'Meara and Tom Mitchell, ruckman Jon Ceglar won back supporters, Issac Smith on a wing was rampant and when the Tigers did go forward, the Hawks defence was resolute and rebounding.

In that form, the golden oldies in need of elite draft picks, as they were dubbed on Thursday morning, suddenly have the experience, knowledge and fire power to threaten every team in the competition.

Footy mightn't turn on threepence, but it can on four quarters.

You've got to love it.

The score was 5.3 to 0.1 at quarter-time.

It was the second consecutive game the Tigers were held to a point in their first quarters.

It is a major concern for coach Damien Hardwick.

They've kicked 10 goals in eight quarters against two teams - Collingwood and Hawthorn - who defensively shut them down.

 

Ben McEvoy was a force in defence. Picture: AAP Image/Michael Dodge
Ben McEvoy was a force in defence. Picture: AAP Image/Michael Dodge

 

If you take away the first half against Carlton in Round 1, it's 15 goals in 10 quarters of football.

That's not the fearsome football Richmond has produced over the past three seasons.

Let's not be too brave and say the Tigers are under siege, because it's only Round 3, but clearly there are performance issues at Punt Rd, notwithstanding Dustin Martin did not play last night.

On Triple M, former Saint Leigh Montagna was braver: ''I'm starting to question whether Richmond can win the flag this year,'' he said as the carnage played out.

Mechanically, the Pies and now the Hawks have shut down Richmond's ball movement. Last night, they forced Richmond to play hack football, in that too often when they won the ball, they simply hacked it forward.

At halftime, the score was 7.3 to 2.1

Usually, the Tiger smalls devour such dirty footy. But not so last night. Jason Castagna was statless at halftime, Dan Rioli had one touch, Shai Bolton had four (one goal) and Jack Higgins had five. The talks were blitzed, too. Tom Lynch had three disposals and Jack Riewoldt had four and zero goals between them.

 

Damien Hardwick speaks to Jason Castagna at three-quarter-time. Picture: AAP Image/Michael Dodge
Damien Hardwick speaks to Jason Castagna at three-quarter-time. Picture: AAP Image/Michael Dodge

 

Hack football is an insult for the Tigers.

That they played hack football was a compliment to the Hawks.

They were energised and dominant in all areas of the ground, and super efficient in the first quarter.

Their first three goals came from only four entries and two of those goals came from one-on-one contests.

In contrast, the Tigers forwards were outnumbered in the air and ghosts on the ground.

The Hawks were slick across the first three quarters, before the Tigers rallied in the final quarter.

Overall, Isaac Smith carved up the opposition and was probably best afield, McEvoy temporarily ended discussion about this worth in the back half instead of the ruck, and just about every other player would get a huge tick from coach Alastair Clarkson.

The manner in which they played will be dissected.

 

Isaac Smith was arguably best on ground. Picture: Michael Klein
Isaac Smith was arguably best on ground. Picture: Michael Klein

 

It might mean nothing, but it was curious to note the Hawks in the first two rounds played on competition-high 39 per cent of the time. In the first quarter last night, it was 17 per cent. Seemingly, it was the Hawks of old - controlled, thinking and professional.

The Tigers not so. They laid just 10 tackles in the first half, their fewest tackles in a half since Round 20, 2015, and 27 overall. It might've been one of those games because the Hawks only recorded 34.

Still, Hawthorn's pressure - real and perceived - had the Tigers jumpy in the first half, which was an unfamiliar feel for arguably the best team in the competition.

The final quarter was Richmond's best - 17-2 insides 50s - yet they still couldn't dent the scoreboard.

Clearly, the Tigers are just going.

 

Originally published as Trouble at Tigerland: Have they been figured out?



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