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Brook Kilpatrick reporting for AFANA from Australia

Sydney arrived at the MCG for the last game of Round 21 expecting to strengthen their Finals claims with a victory over Richmond. The Tigers have had a disappointing second half to the season and, while looking to regain some respect from the football public on the back of a six game losing streak, were not given any chance against the Swans.

Sydney had added the consistent Jarrad McVeigh and youngster Brett Meredith for the clash, while the Tigers welcomed back key position prospect Jayden Post and impressive first year defender Jake Batchelor to bolster an inexperienced defense that has been under siege in recent games.

Perfect weather greeted the teams as they ran on to the hallowed MCG turf and as proceedings got underway, it was Richmond who looked the hungrier of the combatants, dominating possession in the first ten minutes of the game. The Tigers entered their forward 50 consistently early but failed to make the most of their opportunities with poor disposal marring what could have been a sensational start. Diminutive Robin Nahas did manage the opening goal for Richmond but the Swans worked their way back into the play and kicked their first goal through the in-form Adam Goodes. Dustin Martin had the chance to put the Tigers further ahead but inexplicably dropped a perfect pass from Jack Riewoldt just 20 meters out from the Tiger goals. The frustration for the Tigers was compounded when Josh Kennedy snapped a goal for the Swans after some nifty work from Goodes. As the quarter time siren sounded the Swans led by eight points after a quarter in which Richmond dominated possession.

The second quarter started off as a scrappy affair, but the Tigers worked hard with Martin picking up a lot of the football. Trent Cotchin was relishing his role as stand-in Captain and racked up numerous contested possessions at the ruck stoppages. Full forward Riewoldt was pushed up the ground in an attempt to gain some touch, while Sydney’s Goodes had his influence quelled up forward by the much improved Alex Rance. Ex-Essendon midfield battler Bachar Houli once again made the Tigers’ recruiting staff look good with some blitzing runs out of half-back, waltzing through the centre at one stage and slotting a sensational goal from outside the 50 meter arc. Coach Damien Hardwick had clearly instructed his players to take the game on and despite some costly errors they gained the ascendancy over a somewhat flat Sydney outfit. At half time the Tigers held a tenuous 11 point lead, enough to have Swans fans concerned that their Finals tickets may not be stamped just yet.

After the long break, it was Brett Deledio who joined the red hot Houli in keeping Richmond’s running game going. Sydney’s Kennedy looked ready to fire up the Swans with some solid marking and fine finishing. While on the ball Goodes was being controlled by the tag team of Shane Tuck and Daniel Jackson and this match up proving crucial in reducing the influence of the Swans’ number one game breaker. With the game in the balance, young Matt Dea received a free kick right on the 50 meter arc for the Tigers. Sydney coach John Longmire would have been mortified when Richmond’s best long distance goal kicker Deledio was allowed to waltz alongside Dea, receive a casual handball and launch a perfect drop punt through the sticks to restore the Tigers’ two goal buffer. A pinpoint pass from Mitch Farmer on to the chest of the lively Nahas, running back towards goal, set up a snap goal to stretch the lead to 19 points and the Tiger Army was roaring in approval at the thought of a potential upset.

As the final quarter commenced the scoreboard showed Richmond leading 8.12 to 5.11. The Swans had the hard work ahead of them with Richmond not only having the momentum but a boisterous home crowd behind them. Sydney was desperate to score the first goal and increased their pressure on Richmond. As Goodes ran towards goal it looked like a sure six points. Enter the best on ground Houli who lunged and brought Goodes down for a holding the ball decision that relieved the pressure and showed the desperation the Tigers had been lacking for weeks. When the Tigers brought the ball into their own forward line where Riewoldt was starting to have an influence, a howler of a mistake by Sydney defender Heath Grundy allowed Brad Miller to tackle him for another holding the ball decision in favour of the home team. Miller lined up and calmly slotted a goal to extend the Tigers’ lead to 26 points and the game looked gone for Sydney. Martin, Riewoldt and substitute Mitch Morton joined the celebrations and slotted through majors. While the Swans managed a couple of goals through the solid Ryan O’Keefe and Sean Bird, Richmond had the game well and truly wrapped up. When the final siren sounded, Richmond had comprehensively dented the Swans' Finals hopes with a 43 point demolition.

Sydney now has to hold off Fremantle and North Melbourne for a Finals berth and fans must be wondering where the fire was from their team as it was the Tigers, not the Swans, who looked like the team looking for September action. The Swans now have their Finals aspirations on the line as they face St Kilda in Round 22 and the Geelong juggernaut at Skilled Stadium in Round 23 before a more winnable Round 24 match against Brisbane.

Richmond on the other hand had many positives to come out of the win. Cotchin, Houli and Deledio were nothing short of sensational for their club. The continued development of Rance as a key back man and some nice cameos from Martin and Batchelor (the latter unfortunately sustaining a shoulder injury late in the game) are giving Tiger fans something to hang on to going into the last three rounds of the season.

Richmond: 1.4 5.8 8.12 14.15 (99)
Sydney:   2.6 3.9 5.11  7.14 (56)

Best Players
Richmond: Houli, Cotchin, Deledio, Rance, Martin, Nahas
Sydney:   Kennedy, Hannebery, O’Keefe, Mumford, Goodes

Article last changed on Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 6:06 AM EDT

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