Autopsy AFL news: Richmond dynasty under coach Damien Hardwick over after 2021 season

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THE THIN MAN

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Jan 7, 2010
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Richmond’s empire is crumbling.

“What could go wrong did go wrong this year,” coach Damien Hardwick lamented last week.

“Three out of the last four years have been long, deep into September. I’m not going to lie, this year has been as hard as it’s ever been.”

He wasn’t exaggerating. The list of excuses for this year’s exponential decline runs as long as Dustin Martin’s CV.

Form, injuries, hunger, off-field distractions and the AFL’s new rule were just some of the reasons which conspired against the Tigers’ quest to win their first premiership three-peat in VFL-AFL history.

On day one of pre-season Hardwick stood in front of the players and addressed his marriage split, which had created headlines over the festive period.

The Tigers screamed black and blue that Hardwick’s personal life was no distraction, but perhaps the early external talk foreshadowed what a challenging season was to come.

Even the fixture was unfavourable, with Richmond given nine six-day breaks, which often requires a valuable training session to be sacrificed.

Suddenly, Bachar Houli and David Astbury are gone and several more of the club’s flag heroes are going backwards.

Diminished returns should now be expected from Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin, Shane Edwards, Dustin Martin, Dylan Grimes and Marlion Pickett, given they will all start next season the wrong side of 30.

More pertinently, there are fears Hardwick’s game plan also requires a reboot.

The Tigers’ blueprint for success was hardly a secret. Their premiership DNA was to play chaos football.

They would create contests, force turnovers and then score heavily from turnovers.

But former AFL football boss Steve Hocking’s new ‘stand’ rule blunted that trademark style.

Hocking’s man-on-the-mark rule bypassed the AFL Competition Committee and was introduced without being road tested.

Uncontested marks rose as players chipped the ball 15m, or sometimes as little as half that distance, to be paid a mark and freeze out an opponent.

Some at Punt Rd believe it proved diabolical. Hardwick hinted at that last week.

“The dynamics of the game have certainly changed,” he said.

“The chaos ball movement that we’ve enjoyed is not as prevalent in today’s games – it’s more controlled through foot.

“We’ve seen some uncontested marks and the ability of the ball to move a little bit more controlled.

“Obviously the man on the mark and the stand rule has brought about that part of the equation.”

The small forwards – a hallmark of Richmond’s premierships – have also lost their buzz.

Jason Castagna and Jake Aarts have been dropped and Daniel Rioli has been slid to halfback after losing some of his speed.

STOPPAGE SCARS

Richmond’s turnover game is still markedly strong, despite the changing face of football.

Since round 8 they rank No. 3 in the AFL for points from turnovers (54.4) and No. 1 for points from forward-half intercepts (32.4).

Experts say about 60-70 per cent of their game is still in good shape although the 30-40 per cent of stoppage and contest work requires addressing.

They have been destroyed at stoppages this season.

Since round 8 the Tigers have conceded 37 points from stoppages (ranked 18th) and scored only 20.4pts themselves (also ranked 18th).

The issue has been exasperated at centre bounce, where the 6-6-6 rule has left the backline with little support.

Much of that has been due to hobbled ruckman Toby Nankervis, who has barely been able to jump.

The battering ram has toiled away with a wounded knee and his immobility has left the Tigers deeply exposed at stoppages.

Hardwick said the Tigers had started trialling new methods in recent weeks and would launch into next pre-season with “good data” to rectify the mess.

“I actually think the game has changed,” Hardwick said.

“Instead of sides pressing up forward they’re collapsing back with a lot of the rule changes, so we’re seeing a lot more density inside forward 50s.”

Now it is Hardwick, the longest-serving coach in Richmond’s history (274 games), who has to change to keep up.

What a challenge for the man who is now the AFL’s most experienced and most successful coach, after good mate Alastair Clarkson’s departure from Hawthorn.

INJURY CRISIS

Shane Edwards walked into Hardwick’s office in July for a late-season review.

Edwards was banged-up. The underrated weapon who makes other stars shine brighter told Hardwick he had not entered a single game feeling healthy this season.

The veteran badly damaged ligaments at the back of his ankle against Geelong in round 8 and returned with an impingement.

Edwards has been booked for an arthroscope clean-out.

The Tigers lost their entire midfield almost in one hit and then had the guts of their backline ripped out.

Trent Cotchin, Tom Lynch, Dustin Martin, Toby Nankervis, David Astbury, Nathan Broad, Noah Balta, Kane Lambert, Nick Vlastuin, Dion Prestia, Bachar Houli and Edwards all missed more than five games.

That is 11 rolled, gold A-graders who spent significant chunks of the season injured when the loss of Martin alone was catastrophic.

Astbury is set for the 15th surgery of his career and part of his decision to retire was because he was sick of swallowing anti-inflammatory tablets almost as if they were Tic Tacs.

Compounding matters, they came in clumps.

Martin (lacerated kidney) returned to Punt Rd last week embodying the fall of the Tigers.

Usually a hulking beast at this stage of the season, he was noticeably weaker.

The megastar has lost a lot of weight due to his frightening injury although it is hoped his next pre-season won’t be badly interrupted.

Those who know Martin best say he is a competitive beast who hates getting beaten, which reads ominously for next year.

Cotchin hurt his PCL last week and had knee surgery on Thursday while Nankervis finished the season with a fractured finger and ligament injury, bung knee and dodgy foot.

Broad was in career-best form before his ankle went bust, rated elite for intercept marks, intercept possessions and spoils. Jordan Rildey (Essendon) and Nick Haynes (GWS) were the only other players with that record.

VFL MESS

With half of their best team unavailable, the Tigers handed seven cubs their AFL debut in 2021 – Rhyan Mansell, Will Martyn, Riley Collier-Dawkins, Hugo Ralphsmith, Samson Ryan, Maurice Rioli Jr and Ben Miller.

But assessing who was in or out of form was difficult due to another fraudulent VFL season destroyed by Covid.

“It’s pretty hard with the VFL competition because you play one week and then the next three weeks they’re kind of mixed teams,” Nick Vlastuin said.

“We had North Melbourne and Geelong players playing for our VFL side last weekend.

“The game plan and the structures and everything are thrown out the window when you’re mixing between three teams.

“It’s hard for them to build up consistent form and force their way into the side.”

While this wasn’t a problem unique to Richmond, it was magnified at Punt Rd given its reliance on depth players to field a side.

The kids called upon weren’t exactly blessed with regular match practice where they could practice playing the Richmond way.

HOLES IN HARDWICK’S BOX

A powerful VFL program had been integral to Richmond’s success.

The Tigers made the VFL grand final in 2017 and won the flag in 2019, when Craig McRae was coach.

Last year McRae was promoted to AFL forwards coach while Justin Leppitsch steered the backline.

But when Richmond’s season ended at the MCG on Saturday, Leppitsch sat in the media box and McRae sat in Hawthorn’s box.

The loss of Leppitsch has been well-documented. But fellow Brisbane Lions champion McRae also left a huge hole in Hardwick’s box.

The low-profile assistant is highly rated and it is little surprise he is on the shortlist to coach Collingwood in 2022, where he worked as head of development from 2011-15.

“Something we still speak about now in the AFL team is our connection with staff and players and (McRae) really drove the connection,” Tigers forward Jake Aarts said of McRae earlier this year.

“It’s probably the biggest reason why we were so successful, both at AFL and VFL level through Fly’s (McRae) connection.”

Richmond’s loss was Hawthorn’s gain and some suspect Gold Coast should one day take a look at the man who knows Queensland’s market better than most.

That is, if McRae is not in charge of the Magpies next season.

AIR OF INVINCIBILITY

Hawthorn’s heroes used to strut on to the MCG thinking they were five goals in front, such was the confidence that had been instilled by their greatness.

But Richmond’s intimidation factor faded early this season.

It was round 3 Sydney’s ‘Young Bloods’ stormed the Tigers’ MCG fortress with a 45-point win that foreshadowed a season of change for both clubs.

Eight Swans had played less than 15 games and teenagers Logan McDonald, Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell had never set foot on the ‘G before.

These kids didn’t seem to care that Cotchin was the greatest captain in Richmond history or that Martin was the megastar who could leave his car parked underground at the ‘G for many months.

Rivals knew if they fumbled against Richmond it was all over because the Tiger swarm would gobble you up.

But some clumsy moments against Geelong in the round 8 grand final rematch, where steady heads such as Dylan Grimes and Vlastuin started to drop simple marks in a 63-point pantsing, further eroded that aura.

Leppitsch looked at last week’s heavy loss to Greater Western Sydney and noticed a group that was down on energy marred by experienced players giving away dumb free kicks, which is basically football’s definition of frustration.

LONG WAY FROM COMPETITIVE

Hardwick stared down the barrel of Fox Footy’s TV cameras and declared enough was enough.

“I’m giving a little bit away – but we have spoken about this being the most important week of our season,” he said from the Marvel Stadium boundary line.

“The conversations that we have had have been really important in getting a really good understanding of what our DNA is.”

Richmond supporters watching at home – less than 10,000 made the 3.4km trek from the MCG – must’ve felt a rush of blood before the Round 16 clash against Gold Coast.

It was short-lived. The embattled Suns held sway against the sloppy Tigers to record a 10-point win that felt more like 40 points.

Next it was vice-captain Jack Riewoldt’s turn to talk the talk.

“Good luck if you’re playing against us in the last seven weeks, wherever we sit on the ladder,” Riewoldt told AFL360.

But actions once again spoke louder than words that week as Collingwood slammed on seven quick goals to convert a 29-point deficit into a 16-point victory at the MCG.

The hollow war cries were nothing against Hardwick or Riewoldt, who had every right to slap down the critics in search of some artificial energy.

But on most metrics this is a team that has been a long way off contending for some time

If this team didn’t play under the banner of ‘Richmond’ it would’ve been dismissed months ago.

Since round 13 they sit 17th on the form ladder at 2-7. They are only ahead of Adelaide, and only by percentage.

If the Crows defeat North Melbourne on Sunday then it will be a wooden spoon-esque back half to the season for the best team of the past four years.

SALARY CAP AND THE FORGOTTEN MAN

Does anyone remember Ivan Soldo?

The 2019 premiership ruckman was in hot form before suffering a knee injury late last season, but has barely been mentioned in 2021.

Soldo, 25, returned to main training last week and shapes as a significant recruit for 2022.

It makes you wonder whether unsigned big boys Callum Coleman-Jones and Mabior Chol see a future at Punt Rd.

‘CJ’ knows how to take a contested grab and his ruck work is OK.

But where would he fit in next year? Would the South Australian be a better chance of playing 22 games at Gold Coast?

Richmond’s senior footy advisor Neil Balme, who has been a loveable grandfather figure at Tigerland, hinted that some players might walk.

“You’ve only got a certain salary cap and you can’t be silly with someone because then everyone will expect you to be silly with them,” Balme said.

“It’s very hard to manage.”

The Tigers rarely lose players they want to keep and have just re-signed Jason Castagna, Kamdyn McIntosh and the electrifying Thomson Dow until 2023.

COMBATIVE COACH

Hardwick has once again picked plenty of fights. The AFL, Marvel Stadium and Jonathan Brown have all been in his sights this year.

But Hardwick’s honesty should be lauded. In round 7 he took little credit for the second-half resurgence against Western Bulldogs after admitting he cocked up his speech, which ended with a laugh and players simply taking care of business.

In Round 21 it was his shrewd move to put experienced players Shane Edwards and Liam Baker to half-forward which stalled North Melbourne’s uncontested mark game.

In 2020 football boss Tim Livingstone gave Hardwick a “very stern talking to” when the coaching great struggled to comprehend the pandemic.

We know that because Hardwick told us himself.

“We’re hearing all this, what I thought was propaganda, about the virus coming,” Hardwick said after coaching his third premiership in four seasons.

“And I’ve gone, ‘But I can’t see it?’ I’m not seeing zombies walk down the street.

“I struggled with it, I was probably the worst. The reality is if I’m struggling the players are certainly going to feed off that energy. I think I was at my very, very worst early days.

“I spoke to a number of other organisations (and NFL clubs) and the fact of the matter is I thought I made a crucial mistake at the start of it, and I thought our form reflected it.

“I was just in a challenging view point and it was detrimental to both me and my coaching and certainly the club.

“It started with a couple of Zoom calls and I wasn’t in a great place and I spoke to Tim and (chief executive) Brendon Gale, who were very forthcoming in providing me some feedback on that.

“That’s what good leaders do, they don’t care who you are, they’ll give you the sledgehammer at some stage to make sure you get your act together.”

This year Hardwick was slapped down for praising Shai Bolton’s nightclub fisticuffs in defence of Daniel Rioli and his girlfriend, which left Bolton with a fractured wrist and $20,000 fine from the AFL.

Veteran journalist Caroline Wilson said Hardwick sometimes behaved as though “he’s bigger than the club”.

But Vlastuin said players appreciated Hardwick’s unwavering support, something top target Tom Lynch has accessed frequently.

“Personally, I like it,” Vlastuin said.

“You know your head coach has your back. He always says it internally and when you cop heaps of heat externally it can get you down.”

By his own admission, Hardwick was far from perfect this year.

“I’ll sit back I’ll reflect I’ll take stock and look at areas I can improve this year,” he said.

“There’s been challenges, no doubt. There’s things that I wished I could’ve done better at various stages.”

CULTURE SHIFT

The holes left by retired champions Houli and Astbury will transcend their places in the backline.

Houli was like a moral compass at Punt Rd while Astbury was this salt-of-the-earth boy from Tatyoon who was impossible to dislike.

Teammates say Astbury’s legacy will be unforgettable and up there with former captain Chris Newman.

Footy empires crumble through a variety of different reasons, and the Tigers seem to have had a bit of everything in 2021.

The shock retirement of Alex Rance was like losing two players and Astbury said the defenders felt naked playing without him.

It required him and Dylan Grimes to produce career-best seasons in 2019.

But Astbury entered this season fulfilled as a player and then had moments in games where he felt like a liability.

“I’ve actually just got off the phone with a good mate of mine, Truck (Ben) Rutten,” Astbury said on SEN on Friday.

“He said to me quite a while ago when you feel yourself starting to avoid situations in games where you might get exposed or feel vulnerable I reckon it’s a good time (to retire).

“I’ve done that a couple of times this year and actually had a laugh to myself.”

Footy empires crumble for several reasons, but injuries and age seem to be the common denominator.

Jason Akermanis said bulk retirements equalled the end of Brisbane Lions’ rein in 2005 … and then they were showed no mercy.

“Everyone in the comp had been waiting four and a half years to make us pay,” Akermanis said.

“I’m sure they said in their huddle, ‘They’ve been flogging us for how long? Now it’s our turn, don’t ease up – put the foot on the throat’.

“We did the same to teams coming off their peak.”

THE DRAFT HAND

Hardwick has long had a golden rule for his recruiters.

Players chosen in the first round of the draft should be ready to play AFL in round 1 unless they are key-position.

Well, the Tigers entered round 23 with picks 8, 17, 26, 27, 41 and 45.

To remain a premiership force the Tigers need to replace their big boys – Martin, Riewoldt, Cotchin and Edwards.

Shai Bolton has the talent to become a player of that ilk. Who will join him?

In 2018 Port Adelaide reloaded with Connor Rozee (pick No. 5), Zak Butters (12) and Xavier Duursma (18). The one-two-three punch turbocharged its premiership push.

The Tigers have cooled on Adam Cerra and appear likely to invest most of their draft hand in teenage talent.

It’s not the hottest draft this year and development has been impacted by Covid.

But the Tigers should be able to find some nice players with their picks.

CAPTAIN COTCH?

The captain’s form spike in his last five games doused growing concerns over his playing future.

But Cotchin will spend the summer deciding whether he wants to lead the Tigers for a 10th season.

“Trent’s very much a selfless leader so he’ll probably determine himself whether he’s the best man to take us forward,” Hardwick said.

“What he brings off field can’t be really seen or measured by people outside our club and the way he operates and brings our group together is really important.

“That’s generally a position we’ll leave up to Trent and how he thinks it’ll operate moving forward.”

There’s no dearth of leadership despite the club’s old-school set up of only appointing a vice-captain (Riewoldt).

Jack Graham, Nick Vlastuin and Dylan Grimes would all make fine captains.

CAN THEY WIN IT IN 2022?

Leppitsch says the Tigers will enter next season genuinely unsure where they fit in.

Are they a top-four team? Top eight? Or was this season an accurate reflection?

There have been plenty of positives. Liam Baker the Firestarter has become Mr Fix It and a fresh halfback line of Sydney Stack, Daniel Rioli and Rhyan Mansell only scratch the surface.

The Tigers have found that Rioli was built with plenty of defensive bones in his body and so Bachar Houli has actually been teaching the natural goalkicker to bring a sharper offensive edge to the backline.

Jack Graham’s evolution as a damaging midfielder was another tick for 2021.

Every word coming out of Richmond indicates that obituaries should be written in pencil.

Astbury: “I’m not jumping off the gravy train because I think it’s dried up. I really think we can rebound really strongly, really quickly”.

Riewoldt: “We look at this year as a step back unfortunately, but we know we certainly can take two or three steps forward in the very near future”.

Hardwick: “Without season 2016 we don’t get 2017. Without season 2018 we don’t get 2019 and 2020. Without this year, well, who knows what we get next year. A lot of people will write us off and say we’re over – but the fact of the matter is people have written those stories before. The challenge is firmly set, we accept that, but it’s one we look forward to. If our guys do refresh, regenerate a couple of things, get some young talent in and invest in the talent we’ve already got I think we’ll be reasonably placed to have another crack.”

Club great Matthew Richardson was singing the same tune.

“I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom,” Richardson said.

“They’ve got a good hand at the draft. I think they can easily bounce back and play finals – and once you’re there, who knows?

“I don’t see any great emerging team that’s going to win two or three flags in a row.”

The empire might be crumbling, but the Tigers are adamant it has not yet crumbled

Can the empire strike back?


 

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Apr 27, 2014
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The Funny Farm Lakes Entrance
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The Fanboi Farters
As long as we don't try and paper over the cracks. The real concern in the article is listed below. We had a relatively easy run home and still only managed two wins. Assistant coaches , trades and draft picks are going to be crucial on what direction we go. Looks like KDH may need to do an online PR course at Harvard this Summer as he was too brash this year with the media, but sometimes when you get imbeciles like Carey and Brown you couldn't entirely blame him.


"Since round 13 they sit 17th on the form ladder at 2-7. They are only ahead of Adelaide, and only by percentage.

If the Crows defeat North Melbourne on Sunday then it will be a wooden spoon-esque back half to the season for the best team of the past four years. "
 

Antzzz

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Sep 26, 2018
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What needs to be addressed is … a sporting organisation introduced 2 rules to curb a dominate team … the Ridiculous STAND Rule and allowing the fullback to stroll out to 30 metres and clear the area …all under the narrative that it will produce more goals … and didn’t it work so well🙄🙄🙄…..I’ve heard the powers that be quote” the game has never been better and the new rules add to the spectacle “ utter horse sh*t …. Make no mistake the changes were designed to curd the RFC manic pressure game plan …..I’d hate to think that corruption has crept into the game … but when gambling gets involved in sport .. corruption is one step behind …. Make your own mind up but this is my opinion ….The game is changed forever and is now a shadow of its former self ….
 

Tassie27

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Jan 13, 2003
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The stupid thing is that Richmond most likely would have started the slide anyway even without those stupid rule changes to curb our style of play. Many of our players are getting older with soft tissue injuries becoming more common. Why couldn't Hocking just let natural attrition take place rather than trying to force it artificially through changing the rules? I was thinking at the beginning of this year that the players are now 4 years older than 2017 and that to win another is going to have to take a lot of things to go right . Even last year, despite winning the flag our journey was not as dominate.

Sad thing is we will never know now how we would have stood up this if we could have continued our chaos style of play without the rule changes. I hope the AFL reverse the stand rule as it was a real blight on the game.
 

Tigerandy63

Club Legend
Oct 20, 2007
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The stupid thing is that Richmond most likely would have started the slide anyway even without those stupid rule changes to curb our style of play. Many of our players are getting older with soft tissue injuries becoming more common. Why couldn't Hocking just let natural attrition take place rather than trying to force it artificially through changing the rules? I was thinking at the beginning of this year that the players are now 4 years older than 2017 and that to win another is going to have to take a lot of things to go right . Even last year, despite winning the flag our journey was not as dominate.

Sad thing is we will never know now how we would have stood up this if we could have continued our chaos style of play without the rule changes. I hope the AFL reverse the stand rule as it was a real blight on the game.
There is only one way the AFL are gonna reverse the stand rule. That's if Benny becomes CEO, knowing full well why it was brought in, in the first place.
 

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McTiger

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Sep 24, 2018
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The stupid thing is that Richmond most likely would have started the slide anyway even without those stupid rule changes to curb our style of play. Many of our players are getting older with soft tissue injuries becoming more common. Why couldn't Hocking just let natural attrition take place rather than trying to force it artificially through changing the rules? I was thinking at the beginning of this year that the players are now 4 years older than 2017 and that to win another is going to have to take a lot of things to go right . Even last year, despite winning the flag our journey was not as dominate.

Sad thing is we will never know now how we would have stood up this if we could have continued our chaos style of play without the rule changes. I hope the AFL reverse the stand rule as it was a real blight on the game.
If the AFL thinks that the stand rule brought about better footy, it should think again. Oxymoron - AFL and thinking.
 

RJK Tiger

Club Legend
Oct 29, 2020
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the untested rule changes will be remembered as one of the most obvious times of corruption by a major sporting body - changing rules to try and manipulate a change of team dominance. It will go alongside the NBA's "Ewing draft" fix & The "Lakers Vs Kings" 2001 conference finals umpiring fix. Every now and then a governing sporting body crosses the line between "encouraging. change" & "Manipulating sportsmanship".

Give it 10 or 20 years and it will be one of those "I can't believe they just let that happen without anyone getting angry!".

One of the biggest faults I have on the club is - where was their strong public argument and disagreement with these rule changes when they first came in? We are the biggest club in the country, we need to swing that big dick around occassionally
 

JAKLAUGHING

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Nov 20, 2008
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the untested rule changes will be remembered as one of the most obvious times of corruption by a major sporting body - changing rules to try and manipulate a change of team dominance. It will go alongside the NBA's "Ewing draft" fix & The "Lakers Vs Kings" 2001 conference finals umpiring fix. Every now and then a governing sporting body crosses the line between "encouraging. change" & "Manipulating sportsmanship".

Give it 10 or 20 years and it will be one of those "I can't believe they just let that happen without anyone getting angry!".

One of the biggest faults I have on the club is - where was their strong public argument and disagreement with these rule changes when they first came in? We are the biggest club in the country, we need to swing that big dick around occassionally
Love him or hate him...hard to see TripleChins being quiet about these rule changes if it was done to the Wobbles...
 

Disco_Stu

Club Legend
Dec 4, 2004
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Richmond’s empire is crumbling.

What a great, well-written article. Thanks for posting it here.

I've said it elsewhere, we should be looking to get Chris Newman back from the Hawks.
 

Antzzz

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Sep 26, 2018
790
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the untested rule changes will be remembered as one of the most obvious times of corruption by a major sporting body - changing rules to try and manipulate a change of team dominance. It will go alongside the NBA's "Ewing draft" fix & The "Lakers Vs Kings" 2001 conference finals umpiring fix. Every now and then a governing sporting body crosses the line between "encouraging. change" & "Manipulating sportsmanship".

Give it 10 or 20 years and it will be one of those "I can't believe they just let that happen without anyone getting angry!".

One of the biggest faults I have on the club is - where was their strong public argument and disagreement with these rule changes when they first came in? We are the biggest club in the country, we need to swing that big dick around occassionally
Well said and right on the money
 

Dr Tigris

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Aug 19, 2009
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Good article. We've got a lot of loss of quality players from our dominant side + major rule changes that have screwed up where we are still the best in the league( :oops: ).

If we can fix the inside mid thing then I reckon we'll be there or thereabouts in 2022. Plus if the coaching group can work out the new game style from the new rules then we will be in a good spot. Plus we can trade/FA to fill holes and pick up quality kids to build the future.
 

Grrr

Norm Smith Medallist
Aug 16, 2009
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mildura
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The rules have changed so there is no point complaining about it, every side plays the same rules. And I detest most of the changed rules.

The talk is about how we will realistically rebound. I think it a little delusional to suggest that we will be there at the pointy end of the season next year. It takes a few seasons of a side playing together to work as one enough to win a Premiership.

The main reason is because our guns, Cotchin, Edwards, Riewoldt, etc will be a year oldr and will have little realistic impact next year. They will play cameo roles and their places need to be taken by younger players. Not many right now are A grade, some will get there but A grade is playing every week at that level. We will have injuries also.

If we make the 8 next year it will be a good result. We are on a rebuild, not total like Essendon or Hawthorn for example, maybe more like the Doggies or Port who have gone up and down and only now are starting to play at the required level each week.

Stack, Balta, Bolton, Dow, RCD, Ross, Cumberland, Martyn, CCJ, Hugo, Miller, MRJ all look good prospects or already have shown they are. Many of them will have to cement themselves as best 22 next year for us to come good. No reason why they can't so it may happen sooner than later, but it will probably take a couple of season even then.
 

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