It's taken me a few days to get my head around the game and write it in some sort of rational fashion.
I'll get this out of the way first, we lost, and although it was only by 19 points, it was disappointing. I'll go into why later.
I seem to see a lot of Western Bulldogs games, I think that's because one of my friends was a Western Bulldogs supporter, he lived just down the road from Whitten Oval, and I used to go to the games with him. My Dad really should have barracked for the Dogs, he went to school with Teddy Whitten after all. Of course there's also a strong argument that he should have supported South Melbourne. Two of his friends played for them, one of them; Fred 'Cracker' Goldsmith, won the Brownlow Medal.
Because of my association with my friend Sam, I've seen a couple of very interesting games for various reasons. I was there the day Tony Liberatore king hit Matthew Knights at the start of the game and gave the media a reason to build up a rivalry (it's a fake one, nothing like the very real one between Richmond and Carlton or Collingwood). We lost the fight and the game, although we did win the return bout later that year, and proved our then coach Danny Frawley had been right after the match when he said 'every dog has it's day'. I was also there the day Richo kicked 10. I was in the crowd salaaming him and chanting 'we want ten!' when he lined up for double figures. I think I've probably seen more success than disappointment, but Saturday was the latter.
I think I need to isolate the round 1 results to explain my own feelings to an extent.
Richmond beat Carlton by 27 points, it's not a huge win and to be honest Carlton are crap. I'm not just saying that because of personal feelings, I'm saying that because this year, they are. They followed up the loss to us, by going over to WA and being hammered by in excess of 10 goals. The Eagles have developed a recent history of being flat track bullies on their own patch when it comes to playing poorly performed sides, but if we think beating Carlton by 27 points is covering ourselves in glory, then we need to have a good hard look at ourselves, because it isn't. However when I look at what worked against Carlton, I wondered why we didn't try to replicate that against the Dogs. In some cases because they didn't let us, but in most cases it was because we didn't try to do it.
The Dogs won their first round match as well. This was a bit of surprise to many. After all the club had two of it's premier midfielders, one of them the captain, walk during the off season. They sacked their coach and appointed a new one, who is in coaching terms, a neophyte. On the pluses they signed emerging forward and top draft pick Tom Boyd to a big money long term deal (personally I don't think he's worth it, and it will ultimately wind up being a very expensive mistake, but that's neither here nor there, really). However to balance that out, they also lost young midfielder Tom Liberatore (son of Tony, but nowhere near as dirty a player) to a season ending knee injury in the pre season. Interestingly enough that injury was incurred against Richmond in a pre season game.
The way the club were pumped up by the media during the week I had to actually check and see if they smashed reigning Premiers and hot Grand Final tip Hawthorn. That would have explained the hysteria around them. I did check and no, they didn't play or beat Hawthorn. They had a modest (10 points) victory against the Eagles in Victoria at the Dogs favoured ground of Etihad Stadium. This is a side hard hit by injury and who have not travelled well for a few years now, and even then they only won by 10 points. It's not dissimilar to Richmond's victory against Carlton, yet we weren't met with that sort of fanfare.
I thought the attention may have worked in our favour, but it didn't. I got a sinking feeling when I saw that Shane Edwards was out with injury. Not so much that Shane was joining Brett Deledio on the sidelines, if we can't cover two players, good as they are, then we're in trouble, but more who was chosen to replace him. Ricky Petterd. We picked up Ricky from Melbourne as a rookie a few years ago. He did okay, although if I'd been making list decisions I would have kept him on the rookie list, but no we elevated him into the team and gave him a two year contract. Ricky tries his guts out, but he's a limited footballer. Again if I had anything to do with it I would only play Ricky if the only other option was going in a man short, and even then I'd have to think about it hard. However he seems beloved by the selection committee and they pick him every chance they get. Neither myself, other supports or neutral media commentators, can actually see what Ricky brings to the table.
If you just went by the stats and didn't look at the scoreboard, you could think Richmond won the game. We either beat the Bulldogs or broke even on nearly every recorded stat. We had significant advantages in disposals and free kicks. They beat us convincingly on tackles (for some reason most of our players are tackle shy. I really don't know why) and of course on the scoreboard which gave them the victory by 19 points.
What really frustrated me was the silly turnovers, dumb play and latitude we gave them. I lost count of the amount of turnovers that were gifted to them and if they were really the world beaters they're being built up as then they would have beaten us by considerably more. I do have to admit that on the day they had a 19th player on the field by the name of Bounce. I can't ever remember seeing a game where bizarre bounces of the ball favoured one team over the other so much, other than that we lost the game by letting them win and playing into their hands.
A Dogs player doing it easy against his clueless Richmond opponent.
I have to question the coaching of Damien Hardwick. I don't want to, because what he's done by inheriting the list that Terry Wallace tried his level best to destroy and developing them into a competitive unit that has made consecutive finals series, is herculean, but he does react slowly on match day, and he seems locked into a game style that stifles his players creativity and weakens the natural game of many. Then there's the selection of players like Ricky Petterd, Chris Newman, Steve Morris, Shaun Grigg and others, when there are talented and mostly young, hungry players who are being starved of opportunity. The reluctance to select Anthony Miles last year when he was tearing it up week after week in the VFL is indicative of that. When Miles finally debuted he starred, and is now a lock for the 22. Why did it take so long?
Against Carlton Jack Riewoldt was fantastic. He played as a mobile forward, which enabled him to get rid of his opponent, confuse their defence and he kicked 4 goals. He spent all summer getting his body ready for that role. So when we play a game against the Bulldogs, when the same game could have netted a similar result, he was chained in the forward line, returned lesser numbers, and appeared to be frustrated. It also affected Ben Griffith's game because it crowded him and that did little for his confidence. So he won't stick with moves that work, yet persists with Steve Morris in the forward line, where he brings very little to the table, and has been most effective as a small defender. Morris was eventually moved from the forward line to defence in the last quarter, where he did more than he had up forward in the previous 3 quarters. Just because it worked with Jake King does not mean it will work with Steve Morris. They are completely different players.
The 'Trossman' in flight
I have to praise Alex Rance. His defensive work was extraordinary. He was All Australian last year, and he's stepped it up a notch this season. The most athletic attacking defender I have seen at Richmond in many a long year, possibly ever. If we can't get him to sign a new deal and lose him to free agency at the end of the season, we may as well consider shutting the doors, because that will be a clear sign that we're never ever going to succeed long term.
We'll probably beat Brisbane at the Gabba this week. They're our bunnies and they're not much chop. If we lose it will be catastrophic, but even if we win it doesn't prove much. I very much fear the game against the Bulldogs is the rule, not the exception. Many changes regarding on and off field personnel need to be made before we can even think of calling ourselves good.