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Sunday's Round 17 clash between the in-form North Melbourne Kangaroos and the struggling Richmond Tigers was touted as the Tigers' last chance to gain a Finals berth. Realistically, that chance probably passed the Tigers by a week earlier at the hands of the Gold Coast Suns, but there was no doubting the importance of this game to both teams. The Kangaroos could stake their claim to a Top Eight finish with a victory, while Richmond desperately needed to restore some lost credibility after an abysmal performance in Cairns. They welcomed back exiled young gun Dustin Martin while the Kangaroos would be missing one of their rising stars in Jack Ziebell, outed for four weeks by the increasingly confusing Match Review Panel.

Action at the MCG was fierce early with both teams clearly switched on to give their all in such an important clash. The game was over six minutes old before the first goal was registered, and it was Richmond key forward Jack Riewoldt who broke the ice for the Black and Gold. Another six minutes of tight play continued until Liam Anthony converted for the Kangaroos to tie the scores. With both teams keeping the game in close quarters, possession of the football was paramount. A defensive blunder by North Melbourne allowed Tiger goal sneak Robbie Nahas to put the Tigers back on top and, in a tight tussle, Richmond led by seven points at the 20 minute mark. Kieran Harper was next to goal for the Kangaroos as they started to gain the ascendancy over Richmond. With just one point separating the teams, Shane Tuck could have considered himself very unlucky when a wayward bounce from the umpire found its way into the arms of the plucky Tiger veteran. Instead of recalling the terrible bounce, the umpire allowed play to continue as Tuck was tackled. The umpire then called that Tuck had taken the ball out of the ruck contest and penalized him for holding the ball. North Melbourne’s Lachlan Hansen accepted the umpire’s gift and kicked a goal for the Kangaroos as Tiger Coach Damien Hardwick steamed like a Chinatown dumpling in the Richmond coaching box. The frustration spilled out around the ground and, as the siren sounded for quarter time, a melee broke out amongst the players, resulting in a few ripped jumpers and a few thousand extra dollars in the AFL coffers from the resulting fines.

Richmond’s Trent Cotchin threaded through the opening goal of the second quarter, followed by a rare six-pointer for Tiger back man Bachar Houli putting his team back in front at the seven minute mark. From this point on, it was all Kangaroos as goals to Harper, Harvey, Petrie and Anthony put them 22 points in front. Two of the goals resulted from 50 meter penalties against Tiger players and again Coach Hardwick would have been fuming as his boys totally lost control of the contest. To their credit, the Tigers worked hard and could have narrowed the margin significantly had poor goal shooting – a skill deficit that has plagued Richmond all season – cost them dearly with misses to Cotchin, Jackson and Martin. In the time on period, Shane Edwards finally got it right for the Tigers as he kicked a goal and reduced the half time margin to 12 points.

The third quarter commenced the same way as the second with the Tigers drawing first blood through Martin. A lace out pass from Daniel Jackson to the suddenly dominating Riewoldt resulted in another Tiger goal and scores were level at the 10 minute mark. Just when things were looking good for the Tigers, a brain fade by oft-injured Tiger defender Kelvin Moore saw him run down deep in defense, leading to a Drew Petrie free kick and goal. This could well have been the turning point of the game as Petrie was having little influence on the contest to this point. It was goal for goal as Nahas put the Tigers back on top before Jamie MacMillan replied for the Kangaroos. Next up was one of the highlights of the game as Martin belted a mammoth goal for the Tigers from 55 meters out. Richmond once again looked to have momentum as Riewoldt marked inside the last 30 seconds and converted the goal to give his team a handy seven point three quarter time lead.

The first five minutes of the final quarter would tell the tale of this contest. Relatively quiet so far after a mammoth seven goal haul the week before, Drew Petrie came alive for the Kangaroos tearing the game - and Richmond - apart. Three goals in six minutes saw Alex Rance shifted off Petrie as he completely dominated the Tiger defense. With a nine point lead and all the momentum the Tigers needed to bounce back quickly. Veteran Tiger Tuck stepped up with a solid pack mark and didn’t let his team down as he kicked a goal to stem the Kangaroo flow of goals. Thirteen minutes in and it was Tuck again, showing steely resolve as he dived into a contest with no concern for his own health. When he almost had his head removed from his body, Tuck earned the free kick which he coolly dispatched for another Tiger goal. Petrie now had a new opponent but the result was the same. An ugly spoiling attempt by Luke McGuane gifted Petrie a free kick and another goal to put the Kangaroos back in front. Not content with four final quarter goals, Petrie scored the next as well, as the Kangaroos went the length of the field where Petrie waited unattended to receive the footy. With a ten point deficit, the Tigers started to take chances, unfortunately resulting in some skill errors under pressure. A Cotchin turnover gave Kangaroo substitute Matt Campbell an easy goal and the game looked over. North Melbourne held a 17 point lead with less than five minutes left. Incredibly, the game found new life as the feisty Tigers refused to give up. Nahas launched a long goal before a goal square scramble saw Shane Edwards sneak one through on the line – the video review confirming that the Tigers, with just a couple of minutes left, were back within five points. The last roll of the dice came in the dying seconds in the Tiger forward line. A boundary throw in was scooped up out of the ruck contest by Richmond’s Shaun Grigg who launched a shot on an unattended goal. Tiger fans would live or die on the bounce of the ball as it headed goalwards – but there would be no redemption today as the ball bounced end on end, past the big white sticks and through for an agonizing point. The ball remained in dispute as the siren sounded, the Kangaroos running out winners by four points in a ripping contest.

Brad Scott’s Kangaroos are now in the box seat to play Finals football after winning five of their last six matches. They should continue to build momentum against the struggling Melbourne Demons in Round 18. For Richmond, it was yet again a case of the one that got away. While their endeavor could not be questioned, their lack of accuracy in front of goal combined with a plethora of defensive errors conspired to send them to yet another narrow loss. With their Finals chances all but over, Damien Hardwick’s men will face bogey team Carlton at the MCG next Saturday night. Tiger fans are left to lament another season without Finals action but there are enough signs to suggest that it may not be too much longer before their Finals drought is broken.

North Melbourne: 3.5  7.9   9.11  15.13 (103)
Richmond:        2.3  5.9  10.12  14.15  (99)

Best Players
North Melbourne: Petrie, Swallow, Bastinac, Grima, Harvey, Gibson
Richmond:        Tuck, Cotchin, Morris, Deledio, Rance.

Article last changed on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 7:18 AM EDT

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