Back on the prowl, like the Tiger of old


You could see from the opening bounce he had a desire that had not been apparent in earlier games. Maybe it’s appearances more than reality, but he certainly appeared to have a thirst for the ball that was hard to ignore.

He kicked a goal at the quarter siren after running virtually the full length of the ground to be in a position to mark. He then kicked a goal on the siren for half-time after outmarking two Hawks.

When he plays like that he draws the ball to him and disrupts the opposition’s best plans.

The question of Martin’s form this year was more pertinent when other stars were out. As Rance and Riewoldt and Cotchin dropped away by the week more was expected of the last member of their fab four. As a solo act he was proving no John Lennon. Yesterday he penned Imagine.

It was a big difference in Martin’s game, and he was one of the differences in Richmond’s approach to Hawthorn. Josh Caddy was good, Dion Prestia looked as good as he has since he came to Richmond, Shane Edwards – as ever – was superb and Nick Vlastuin was again excellent on ball after having established himself as an elite player playing behind the ball.

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Tom Lynch also did well as a presence and kicked three. (He was also robbed a goal when Kamdyn Mcintosh got the free at the top of the goal square for a hold just before Lynch took a strong pack mark, and then late in the game his arms were held but the ball spilt to Caddy for a goal). He gave away two 50s for responding to James Sicily’s constant irritation.

On numbers the honours could fall to Sicily, but Lynch could and should have had four goals and brought others into the game. He was important and Martin knew it. When Lynch kicked his third goal Martin waved his teammates in to get around their star recruit.

Dusty knew the forward had been wearing the pressure and criticism of his form, and thus how important kicking a few means to him. That’s a little underappreciated side to Martin.

But the difference in the contest was in one sense as much about style as personnel.

Richmond won the contest of getting the game played the way they wanted it. Hawthorn had the better of that early on but Richmond stuck to their high-energy game of surging the ball forward and running in numbers.

Up and about: Richmond’s Tom Lynch in action against Hawthorn.Credit:AAP

Hawthorn’s style is like a sewing game (pick a hole, thread the needle and stitch it together). It’s effective if they are allowed to take repeated uncontested marks which they were able to do early on and move the ball by stealth forward. They took Richmond’s game away from them when they weren’t in possession of the ball by pushing up at Richmond hard on the mark and holding them from playing on.

But in the end they couldn’t outlast Richmond as the weight of pressure shifted. Yes, Hawthorn lost Ben McEvoy and Mitch Lewis to injury (McEvoy came back on but was not the same), but it was about the pressure on the ball that Hawthorn was unable to resist.

For Richmond this was another critical victory, because it’s all about banking wins through this period when they have so many injuries. It creates the hope that they keep themselves in contention to strike when Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin and Toby Nankervis come back. In the meantime the most heartening thing was Dusty once more playing like a tiger of old.

Steele is the new Sam

Steele Sidebottom might be the new Sam Mitchell. Mitchell survived in the game for longer than others because he had an uncanny ability to habitually wrong-foot opponents.

Sidebottom does that.

Man of Steele: Mercurial Magpie celebrates with fans after the round 9 win over the Saints.

Man of Steele: Mercurial Magpie celebrates with fans after the round 9 win over the Saints.Credit:AAP

Sidebottom, like the former Hawthorn champion, is so strong and comfortable kicking on both sides of his body that he turns as often counter-intuitively onto his left foot.

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It means that opponents in pursuit of him routinely go to his right hand side – as they did with Mitchell – and he turns the other way. It isn’t always because of his left foot; Sidebottom has a Mitchell-like awareness of space and the movement of other players, and then moves against that movement. On Saturday against the Saints his last-quarter goal that started to prise the game open was a classic moment of just such a movement.

Mitchell wasn’t quick, neither is Sidebottom. What keeps slow players in the game for this long and at the top level is that they have something beyond pace. Sidebottom has elite endurance, so he covers more ground than others, and then he has the cleanl handling and vision, and the Mitchell-like capacity to turn in an unexpected direction.

Lethal bonus point theory

When Leigh Matthews speaks, you listen.

The four-time premiership coach raised a point about premiership points on the weekend. He is an open thinker about the game. He does not have a reactionary ‘‘leave the rules alone’’ approach so he is open to lateral thinking.

AFL legend Leigh Matthews.

AFL legend Leigh Matthews.Credit:omnisport

The rule changes this year have been broadly embraced (the 6-6-6, that is, not the ridiculous double 50m penalty rule) for opening the game and making for more attractive contests. But the changes have not delivered higher scoring, which was one of the motivations.

Matthews suggests giving an extra premiership point to any side – winner or loser – that kicks more than 100 points as an incentive to score highly.

It’s worth considering, but would obviously favour teams that play under the roof or in dry conditions, rather than in a Tasmanian gale or torrential rain in Cairns.

Equally worthy of consideration is a point The Age’s chief football writer Jake Niall has raised – remove percentage from the ladder and include only ‘‘points for’’, so teams would be rewarded for kicking higher scores, not for containing their opponents to low scores.

Barrels of fun to be had

Last week amid the brouhaha of Dane Rampe’s post-climbing shake and (get a) bake, the question of whether Essendon’s David Myers should have kicked a  torpedo instead of a drop punt when he was so far out was overshadowed.

It turns out Myers has a hand issue so torps are hard for him to kick, but it did prompt some observers, including the legendary Malcolm Blight, to ask why players don’t routinely practise them and use them more often in games.

The immediate response this week? Collingwood’s Jaidyn Stephenson from outside 50 took a set shot at goal and roosted a torpedo.

He nailed it.

Then, on Sunday in slippery conditions in Adelaide, twice in a quarter the Suns players kicked torpedoes. Plainly Stuart Dew had told his players to play a territory game, so first Lachie Weller unloaded one 60 metres out of defence then Jack Bose – on the run, no less – kicked one from the exact centre wing that went more than 65 metres deep inside 50.

Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.

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