After 93-years Richmond and Hawthorn finally meet in a final and on face value it appears a contest worth the wait. After claiming their breakthrough Premiership last year, the Tigers have been even more impressive in 2018. The Hawks are back in the finals with a vengeance after their disappointing 2017 campaign and, on the back of a six game winning streak, will give themselves every chance of qualifying for their fourth Prelim Final in six seasons.
In the unlikely event that the Tigers were lacking confidence, their recent record against Hawthorn would fill them with belief. Richmond have dominated the recent head to head with wins in three of the last five and five of the last eight. The usual suspects have been prominent with Dustin Martin having two big days out in the last three games and Tom Mitchell collecting 77 disposals in the last two.
Operation Engage Rance
The five-time All-Australian defender is without question one of the most influential players in the Richmond team. As a result you can be certain that Hawthorn will have spent much of their planning on developing options to limit Rance’s impact. Expect the Hawks to manufacture a structure that ensures that the Tiger defender has an opponent worthy of his attention to limit his opportunities to hurt them with his intercept marking.
Can the Tigers reach 24 in a row?
Having already completed a ground record 21 wins in a row at the MCG, three more will give the Tigers the second longest winning streak at any ground, behind only Geelong’s 29 at Kardinia Park between 2008-2011, and more importantly – back to back flags. While the Hawks MCG record of recent times lacks the historical significance of the Tigers it is impressive in its own right. Having won seven of their nine games at headquarters in 2018 they will be quietly confident of halting Richmond’s record breaking charge.
It will be a hard night for defenders on Thursday night, with the defensive prowess of both forward lines highlighted in the fact that Richmond are ranked second and Hawthorn third for time spent in their forward half. Both teams set up camp in their front end and fight maniacally to keep the ball in there. It pays dividends too, with the Tigers the AFL leaders for scores from forward 50 turnovers and the Hawks third.
Richmond and Hawthorn are among the top third of the competition for scoring, not surprising given their top four finish. Two of the better second half teams in the competition, Hawthorn’s best quarter was the third and the the Tigers were the competition’s leading fourth quarter team. Their last meeting didn’t play out this way though with the Tigers breaking the game open in the third quarter to lead by 33-points at the last change before a Hawk surge in the last, including five of the last six goals, reduced the final margin to 13.
The Richmond skipper is a star in his own right but he may well have double duty on Thursday night. When the sides last met Damien Hardwick was happy to let Tom Mitchell run free as a result of the damage Cotchin was able to do going the other way. Mitchell ended up with 42 possession but Cotchin will likely pocket the three Brownlow votes and more importantly, the Tigers ran off with the four premiership points.
Big Boy McEvoy hasn’t missed a beat since coming back from a fractured cheekbone against the Saints in Round 22. Named in Hawthorn’s best in both games, and with Richmond slipping to 13th for goals from centre bounces in the last month, he looms as a possible game breaker for the Hawks. With his contested mark and goal kicking abilities, when not contesting the ruck, could he be the forward option to keep Rance honest?
Herald Sun: Richmond 27, Hawthorn 3.
The Pinch Hitters: Richmond 5, Hawthorn 3.
Betting: Richmond, Hawthorn.
While there was a lot of noise about this fixture being scheduled for a Thursday night but what a game to start the finals series! The best team in the competition up against one of the most in form. In front of a full house at the MCG this looks set to be an absolute belter. Difficult to pick a winner but when in doubt you can do worse than tip the defending premiers. Richmond will win by 17 points.