As Richmond look to surge up the ladder this year and beyond, there are three unheralded players who hold the key to their resurgence.
The rise to stardom from the likes of Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin is almost inevitable but from other young Tiger talents, it’s not so obvious and clear cut.
Tyrone Vickery, Ben Griffiths and David Astbury’s development as key position players may be the difference between the Tigers becoming premiership contenders or pretenders down the track.
All three have shown ability and all three have endured setbacks in their short but promising careers.
Vickery, the eldest of the three, enjoyed a breakout season last year as a foil to Jack Riewoldt. Unfortunately for the Tiger Army, season 2012 resembles more of 2010 where he looked lost and incapable of imposing himself on a game.
While Damian Hardwick has publicly complemented Vickery’s unnoticed hard work off the ball, the point remains that he must become more than just a decoy lead up forward.
Perhaps, a reason for Vickery’s struggles this season can be linked to the more sophisticated ball movement by the team. In Hardwick’s first two seasons, the ball movement patterns were highly predictable and easy for the forwards to read and react. Led by the rebounding defenders of Chris Newman, Brett Delidio and Bachar Houli, the Tigers would generally move the ball into the forward line with a very direct and long kicking game. If one compares Richmond’s ball movement to Ross Lyon’s St Kilda in the previous two years, you would notice how the Saints’ offensive patterns took the form of zig-zags, meanwhile, the Tigers’ ball movement was very much direct and simple with long forward entry kicking once the ball was 60 to 70 metres out from goal.
Vickery thrived off simple ball movement last season. However, if the Tigers hoped to become a better side and not so easy to defend, Hardwick had to further develop his game plan. Which he did.
Season 2012, we see the Tigers’ aggressive spread from the packs and their use of the width of the ground. Richmond like to use lateral handball until they find space to use their kicking skills. Hence, the Tiger forwards have to be able to read the play and know when to make their leads.
In Vickery’s case, he seems to have struggled to do this. Contrary to what some might think, Vickery has good agility and a strong pair of hands. What he must rediscover is an “edge” to his game, more willingness to compete and a clearer grasp of his role in the forward line.
If Vickery can find his 2011 form and add a few more tricks to his bow such as being a reliable second ruck, than the Tigers will become a more daunting side.
The other two “big” players are a slightly different story.
Griffiths has the physical attributes to be an elite centre-half-forward or back. Standing at 200cm, Griffiths has the size and athletic ability to worry any opponent. Add a booming kick and strong hands, his upside is huge. The key for him is his durability and game understanding. Since, his primary school days, he has endured shoulder problems in particular. Already, in his first two seasons, Griffiths has had surgery and his form fluctuated due to a lack of continuity.
Astbury enjoyed a promising debut season in 2010. He showed a coolness in the defensive end that had Richmond so excited that he received the number 12 before season 2011. Despite a good pre-season campaign in 2011, his form declined once the season started and then suffered a season ending injury midway through the season against the Sydney Swans.
At the moment Astbury is returning to football via the VFL and by all reports his progression has been slow.
All three young key position players all have enduring football qualities, yet, at the moment we can only speak of them as promising talent. They have teased but if the Tigers want to be a respected side, these big three must stand up in the coming years or Richmond will still have significant holes in the most important positions on the ground.