Richmond.Former Essendon great Matthew Lloyd predicted a “world of pain” for the Lions this year. It didn’t take long to manifest itself, with serious injuries to key players Daniel Rich, Matthew Leuenberger, Pearce Hanley, as well as a suspension to Daniel Merrett, exposing the club’s lack of depth.
At least it gives first-year coach Justin Leppitsch a genuine alibi. Richmond’s Damien Hardwick is in his fifth season, and has no such luxury after one win from the first four rounds in a year when Tigers fans are desperate for at least one finals win to build on last year’s first final-eight finish since 2001.
To say the pressure was on the Tigers was an understatement. They started brightly enough – Jack Riewoldt was on the board within a minute – then managed another three goals in a half of football, along with 10 behinds. They had 19 inside-50s to five in the first quarter alone. The game should have been over.
Not just over, but stuffed in a box, nailed shut and buried at sea. Perhaps Stadiums Queensland could look at taking out the first few rows – that would have at least helped both sides keep the ball in play. Not Jordan Lisle, though, who picked up the ball in the back pocket, all alone, then put it into the next tier of seating.
Dustin Martin, one of the few players to show any class in this abysmal exhibition, took a look up at the goals and coolly hooked it through from the resulting free kick. If only some of his peers had punished the missed targets, dropped marks and inept decisions so ruthlessly. Instead, at half-time, the Lions were within 14 points.
Until that second term, the Lions hadn’t won so much as a quarter all year. It only took them three goals to do it. Jonathan Brown’s first major in his 250th game gave the home crowd a sniff. A second early in the third quarter, along with majors to Lewis Taylor and Ryan Lester, gave the home side the sniff of an improbable victory.
Maybe it’s best left to your imagination to decide what that says about where the Tigers are at right now. It took them until the 21st minute of the third quarter for Riewoldt to kick their fifth goal, and regain the lead. Riewoldt then added his fourth, Trent Cotchin scrounged another, then Matt Arnot from a set shot.
The Lions retreated meekly after that, but it was anything but convincing for Richmond – forget the blowout final margin. The night before Good Friday has been one of the Lions’ few regular television showcases in recent times; they’ll be hard pressed to hang onto it.
Good players were hard to find on both sides. Cotchin hit back with a solid performance after his mauling at the hands of Collingwood’s Brent Macaffer last week, standing up when his side needed leadership. Riewoldt, who the Tigers sought out constantly, was a constant threat.
For the Lions, Brown showed some of his old authority, and received a rare, and deserved guard of honour from both teams after the game. Tom Rockliff and Dayne Zorko were serviceable, and not much more. Given the inexperience on display, the decision to make Brent Moloney the substitute was baffling.
Hardwick, of course, will take the victory; any win at this stage of the year, no matter how ugly, is welcome, and gives them something to build on. Justin Leppitsch, for his part, will be wondering where his first four premiership points are coming from.
As for the spectators, this game was a world of pain.