2018 AFL Finals Preview – Richmond v Hawthorn
In what is set to be the best clash of the first week of finals, Richmond’s premiership defence faces its first real test when they face Hawthorn in the opening game of the 2018 finals series.
Both the Tigers and Hawks enter in scintillating form, each having six-game win streaks; the minor premiers beating Collingwood and Geelong in their past six while Hawthorn downed the Cats and Sydney in their win streak.
There is no doubting the talent both clubs possess; each having multiple All-Australians in the 2018 squad. Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt, Alex Rance and Shane Edwards feature for the Tigers with the Hawks having Tom Mitchell, Jack Gunston and Luke Breust.
Richmond’s high pressure and tackling game has rarely been foiled since the end of the 2017 season but if any side can find a weakness it will be a Hawthorn squad led by one of the greatest coaches ever in Alastair Clarkson.
The week off between the end of the regular season and start of the finals campaign should do wonders for both, allowing key players to get rest or have an extra week to recover from injuries.
Dynamic half back James Sicily should play his first game since Round 17 for the Hawks and will be a much welcome addition. However, defender Grant Birchall will miss after suffering an adductor strain, which could prove costly given the Tiger’s ability to score quickly both in the air and on the ground.
The Tigers rested several key players over the last two games of the regular season and an extra week’s break should see them enter at almost full fitness. Dan Butler will miss, having not played since Round 16, failing to overcome an ankle injury, but Kane Lambert will return despite ankle surgery just four weeks ago.
Richmond enter as favourites but the Hawks should never be counted out, particularly with the inclusion of Sicily.
Hawthorn will need to be clinical with its disposal efficiency, particularly going forward. Richmond averaged the sixth-fewest possessions per game and if the Hawks can make the most of their opportunities with the ball they will go a long way to winning the match.
Tom Mitchell should rack up touches at will and the underrated Ben Stratton will be vital in shutting down Jack Riewoldt. The Tigers forward game is as successful on the ground as it is through the air and if Stratton can negate Richmond’s small forwards getting the ball and kicking goals then the 2013, 2014 and 2015 premiers will have a great opportunity at knocking off the top team in the league.
Richmond’s game is predicated on inspired running and ferocious pressure and tackling, something that will continue against Hawthorn.
The Tigers have a multitude of offensive weapons who can kick goals; Coleman Medallist Jack Riewoldt and Josh Caddy lead the line as the two forwards kicked 109 goals combined, while Dustin Martin and Jason Castagna averaged over a goal a game each.
The back three of Alex Rance, David Astbury and Dylan Grimes is arguably the best in the league and they have a knack of taking uncontested marks from opposition turnovers. If they are close to their best they will be hard to crack and should help Richmond going forward, knowing that the defenders will get them out of sticky situations.
As they showed last year and continued into 2018, this current iteration of the Tigers doesn’t get beaten at the MCG and their ability to raise their game to match what is needed for a Qualifying Final should get them over the line.
Richmond win by 10 points.