Richmond coach Damien Hardwick was smiling after his side outlasted West Coast at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.
It was a performance won more through grit than polish, ably led by his side’s four best players – Alex Rance, Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin all outstanding – but with solid performances from his second tier.
“I thought our first half was a bit untidy, we looked a little bit flat,” he said. “We challenged our boys a little bit at half-time, and I thought all of our leaders stood tall – Trent, Jack, Alex, and then Dusty came to the fore as well.”
It wasn’t just about the leaders. Reece Conca continued his fine start to the season, and at the fall of the ball, the Tigers’ small forwards were dangerous. Daniel Rioli had nine touches, but his impact was undeniable, his agility and balance sublime, his third-quarter goal brilliant.
But it was the Tigers’ determination to hunt the ball inside the contest that outworked the Eagles.
“I thought we got our mix right of our inside and then guarding the outside,” Hardwick said.
“They hurt us a little bit on the outside early. I thought Lambert did a terrific job on Mitchell from about halfway through the second quarter, which probably stifled them a little bit, but I was really pleased that our guys, when challenged, lifted the bar.”
Adam Simpson acknowledged that his side had been beaten for intensity around the ball.
“Our poor intent in the third really cost us. We probably should have been hurt by that a bit more, but hard-ball gets – your ability to stick our head over the ball when it really mattered – went away from us in that third quarter in particular. Having said that, the game was still on the line right up until the last five minutes.”
The Eagles have just a five-day break before they take on Sydney, who are in the unfamiliar position of being without a win after three rounds, but Simpson said he expected no more from the Swans’ renowned hardness than any other side.
“I think every team wants pressure and intensity in the contest and to win the contested ball,” he said.
“That’s coming every week. The Saints were the same last week; North the same round one. So that’s just a given now, I don’t think it’s any team’s particular style, just some teams are better than others. We’ve got to move on pretty quick. On Monday we’ll start working on the opposition with our players.
“We’ll take some positives out of today, but we’ll also take some big areas of improvement and like I said, Richmond were consistent all day in that area of the game, and in the end it’s hurt us.”
Richmond, by contrast, are three and zip. Next week, they take on an improving Brisbane on the road: win that, and you have to go back to 1995 for the last time the Tigers opened a season with four straight. “Brisbane are actually playing some pretty good footy at the moment, have taken it up to a couple of sides,” Hardwick said.
“It’s always tough going interstate, but we travel pretty well, so we look forward to that challenge up on their hostile deck.”