Another hopeful season dawns upon the tiger tribe at Punt Road. Historically, the tiger army are out in force with refreshing optimism at this time of year, buoyed by the expression- “it’s a new year”. However, by the end of round one, the pain-strickened tiger army is silenced with despair and another familiar phrase- “same old, same old”.
So what can we expect from the boys at Punt Road this year?
Finals on the agenda? The word won’t even be mentioned by the players or even the most optimistic supporters.
Noticable improvement? Most definitely. While this season’s aspirations don’t seem too bright, the future certainly does. This year the Tigers will welcome back the forgotten man, Nathan Foley, back in the midfield. A fit and in form Foley will provide Cotchin with a much needed chop out in the middle- which I’m sure Cotchin would greatly appreciate. Hardwick said Foley is like a first round draft pick this year- nearly two injury riddled years for the little hard man- a fair enough point from Dimma. Furthermore, the AFL may just see the best from Trent Cotchin for the first time, as he enjoyed an injury free pre-season for the first time. Cotchin’s combination of slick ball use, hardness around the packs and Ablett Jr-like evasive skills, he looks set for a genuine break out year.
While the Tiges midfield depth and class is developing nicely, their key position posts will be their achilles heel this year. Many Tiger people will tell you that their key position stocks are rather exciting. While this is true, the players who are holding down these posts are lacking hardened experience and are still physically raw. Youngsters like Astbury, Griffiths, Gourdis, Post and Vickery provide the tiger faithful hope, yet the expectation of instant reward from these youngsters is too hasty. Hence, the burden will fall on Jack Riewoldt to carry the sides fortunes. Yes, the Tigers need a spread of goal kickers, but Riewoldt is the only proven Tiger forward. The other potential foils for Jack are simply just that- “potential”. There are too many “ifs” and “buts” for Richmond’s forward line.
The same glaring problems are faced in the back-half. Young talent but still unproven. Dave Astbury shows composure beyond his years, and Dimma will hope he fulfills the “general” role at center-half back. But in his second year, some growing pains should be expected. And then finally, there is the tiger trio who have teased too often over the last 3 years. The stopper Will Thurstfield, the aggressor Luke McGuane and the athlete Dave Gourdis. All three show sustainable AFL traits yet all have failed to nail down the full back position. Thurstfield possesses a solid “stopper” game yet lacks size and a creative offensive side. Furthermore, McGuane shows a burley endeavor but lets himself down with decision-making and below-par skills. Then finally there is Dave Gourdis. He is the modern-day footballer prototype- elite athleticism and impressive size. He looks the part. But can he deliver? The coaching staff have placed great faith and confidence in Gourdis by elevating him off the rookie list. His deficiency, like his other two mates, is his wonky and unreliable kick. Yet, unlike the other two back-man, he has the physical attributes to hold down the full back position.
The year promises excitement but of a different kind for Tiger supporters. Collingwood’ supporters will anticipate back to back flags, Hawks’ supporters will hope for another flag tilt and Melbourne supporters will dream of a rare finals birth this year. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ faithful will sit back and try to relax (never expect that to happen) as they enjoy the ups and down of a team that is certainly on the up, led by the ambitious Brendan Gale and the driven Damien Hardwick. A more consistent effort and natural improvement from the most inexperienced side in the competition (besides the Gold Coast) should see the Tigers’ achieve a higher percentage and a healthier win mark of 7 to 8 wins.
On some poetic level, Richmond’s round one clash with Carlton will once again tell another tiger tail of woe or hope.