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Race to reach Richmond looking like a ‘reverse Bradbury’


Richmond is on top, cruising and about to regain more key players. It’s the Tigers’ rivals who all seem to be falling over in 2018.

Race to reach Richmond looking like a ‘reverse Bradbury’

Rohan Connolly    

Steven Bradbury, for those too young to remember, or more unlikely, who can’t recall, is a name which has become part of everyday language in this country.

Bradbury, a speed skater, famously won Olympic gold in 2002 when all four of his rivals in the short track 1000 metres event collided and fell over, leaving the Australian, who had been trailing in their wake, to cruise over the finish line for victory.

“Doing a Bradbury” has since been applied to any number of situations not just in sport, but life generally. But what do you call it when the favourite is out in front and the contenders behind fall in a heap? A “reverse Bradbury”?

Because that’s how this AFL season is beginning to look three rounds out from finals after a weekend which delivered a catalogue of thrillers, a couple of pastings, and one of the ugliest incidents we’ve seen for a long time.

Richmond, which needs to win only one of its remaining three games to seal a top two spot and with it the potential for three finals on its MCG home deck, is justifiable a red-hot flag favourite at $2.50, the next line of betting way back at $7.50.

It’s understandable. The Tigers continue to get the job done, even when not at their best. Their would-be challengers, meanwhile, are, literally, dropping like flies.

Immediately beneath Richmond on the ladder in the top four are West Coast and Greater Western Sydney, the premiership hopes of both having suffered even in victory on Sunday courtesy of injuries and Andrew Gaff’s already infamous blow to the jaw of Fremantle opponent Andrew Brayshaw.

Collingwood has looked as capable as any other team of at least pushing the Tigers. But the Magpies not only lost a thriller to Sydney to slip to seventh spot on the ladder, but suffered another injury to a key player in the process in what has become almost a weekly occurrence.

And even Melbourne, which jumped into fourth spot with a huge win over Gold Coast, is hardly free of concerns.

The Demons, having already lost key defender Jake Lever for the season, and All-Australian Michael Hibberd until the eve of the finals, lost a third defender on Sunday when Joel Smith broke his collarbone. Skipper Jack Viney, meanwhile, who has played just seven games all season and not for the past month because of a toe injury, also won’t be back until finals time.

West Coast has coped well to date with the loss of ruckman Nic Naitanui, Nathan Vardy ably supporting Scott Lycett in the hit-out business. Gaff’s impending suspension, however, could be even more costly.

If he receives a suspension of more than six games (which seems to be the most likely penalty according to good judges) at the AFL Tribunal, his season is already done. If it’s six, West Coast, now very likely to finish top two, would have to lose its first final and still reach the grand final for Gaff to be eligible.

What have they lost? Gaff has become clearly the king-pin of the Eagles’ midfield, averaging more than 30 disposals per game, ranked No.6 in the AFL. He’s miles ahead of West Coast’s next most prolific on-ballers Elliot Yeo and Jack Redden, both on 24.6 per game.

His importance to the Eagles’ run is even more profound, Gaff averaging 21.3 uncontested possessions per game, Redden next on that list at less than 15. Gaff ranks third at West Coast for metres gained, and third for score involvements. A flag without Nic Nat? Possible. Without he and Gaff? I think a bridge too far.

GWS might well be the form team of the AFL right now after eight wins from its past nine games. But the Giants suffered so many injuries in their belting of Carlton on Sunday that for a few minutes, they had just 16 players on the field.

Ruckman Dawson Simpson, who has quickly become an important part of the GWS mix, is now down with an ankle injury. The luckless Brett Deledio has another calf strain. All-Australian Toby Greene has hamstring concerns. That’s in addition to long-term casualties and pivotal parts of the best 22 Tom Scully, Zac Williams and Jonathon Patton.

Collingwood? Well, as brave as the Pies have been all season, they can’t take a trick when it comes to the medical room.

There are 14 players right now listed as injured, Darcy Moore just the latest, a week after the Pies lost key defensive pair Jeremy Howe and Matt Scharenberg, the latter of whom, along with Lynden Dunn and Daniel Wells and Tim Broomhead, is done for the season. Of those 14 casualties, 10 are most likely part of Collingwood’s best 22.

The Pies have already proved they have admirable depth. Do they have enough firepower to overcome Richmond when it matters most? Pretty unlikely.

Yes, there’s an old campaigner in Hawthorn lurking, the Hawks a much bigger chance still should they steal a top four spot. Port Adelaide and Sydney have their moments, too. And the Western Bulldogs’ triumph of two years ago taught us that anything’s possible in September given some momentum and the right football at the right time.

But Richmond looks less likely than most teams who’ve topped the ladder to suffer an off day or the unexpected emergence of a rival.

The Tigers have won 28 of 35 games since midway through last year. Of the seven losses, four have been by 14 points or less, and two of the other three against highly-rated teams interstate. Indeed, Richmond’s 67-point thumping at the hands of St Kilda in round 16 last season is its only genuine off day since April of 2017.

That’s pretty remarkable consistency which will take some toppling. The challengers will need to have all hands on deck to do so. And right now, with few exceptions, they don’t.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

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  1. If Tiges didn’t have such a strong MCG advantage, I’m sure the conversation would be different.

    They’re only one game clear of second, and only 3 games clear of 8th. And must be due a big injury or two soon. Although you can’t see them losing, the Cats and North earlier showed they’re vulnerable. If the Giants can in the four, I think that will be the Tiges biggest threat.

    BTW If the Tiges do make the GF, I hope they are allowed to wear their traditional strip. As much as it was great for their fans to win, I’m sure they would have preferred it in the yellow on black guernsey.

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