OPINION

Richmond Tigers have come roaring back once again

BEST ON GROUND: All that Dustin Martin touched during the match against Brisbane turned to gold. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
BEST ON GROUND: All that Dustin Martin touched during the match against Brisbane turned to gold. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Given just how extraordinary and unprecedented are the circumstances surrounding this AFL season, it's hard to believe anyone could have a sense of déjà vu.

But that's exactly what many of us must be feeling about Richmond right now.

Once again, the Tigers have struggled through a patch of poor form.

Once again, they've lost a heap of important players either through injury or, this time, unavailability.

And yes, once again, they've come out the other side of those problems looking more ominous than ever.

Tuesday night's emphatic dismissal of a supposed serious challenger to their throne in Brisbane was the Tigers at their imperious best.

It was the Lions who started better with most of the early play and the first two goals. Brisbane looked very much "on".

But within just a half of football, they'd been summarily turned off by a team which turned on its own more intense heat.

Richmond would kick 11 of the next 12 goals of the game and a dozen of the last 14 come the final siren, which heralded a 41-point win and at the conclusion of round 10 on Sunday, a spot in the top four.

And that is a spot from which surely very few people now would expect them to shift.

Last year, the Tigers lost a whole clutch of key players seemingly at once, most of whom were either still missing or desperately trying to recapture match fitness and form by the time they dropped three games in a row between rounds 11 and 13, the narrowest of those losses by a considerable 33 points.

After being defeated by the Crows in Adelaide, they were clinging tenuously to a spot just inside the top eight.

But that would prove Richmond's final loss of the season, rattling off 12 straight victories on its way to a second flag in three years.

In this abbreviated season, the trouble came earlier, the Tigers with just one win and an uninspiring draw from their first four games.

Since then, they've rattled off five wins and a 12-point loss from six, the last three victories by 41, 41 and 54 points.

Again, key men have been absent, Shane Edwards and Bachar Houli staying home from hub life for family reasons, Dion Prestia, David Astbury, Toby Nankervis and Josh Caddy all among the injured "outs".

And again, the Tigers have been able to seamlessly replace them.

Last season, it was the likes of Sydney Stack, Jack Higgins, Liam Baker and Jack Ross who filled the breach in fine style, Richmond confident enough in its depth to even, incredibly, unleash a debutant in Marlion Pickett on grand final day.

This year, it's been Noah Balta slipping effortlessly into the role of the retired Alex Rance in defence, Shai Bolton latching on to a midfield spot so well he has to be close to the most improved player in the competition.

Mabior Chol looks better and more confident with each passing game as ruck support for Ivan Soldo and as a dangerous forward target.

Derek Eggmolesse-Smith has slotted like a hand into a glove in Houli's spot as a rebound defender. And Jake Aarts is yet another in a production line of small pressure forwards who can kick goals.

Of course, that's all been topped off by the return of Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin to his best.

Against the Western Bulldogs and again on Tuesday night against Brisbane, "Dusty" was in rare touch, his kicking not only penetrating but pinpoint, his strength and power in any contest, either at ground level or in the air, unbeatable.

Every single time he touched the ball against the Lions, you knew the result would be advantage Richmond.

He was a clear best-on-ground for a second game in a row, and while he may not have kicked a goal, he finished with 24 disposals, three goal assists, no fewer than nine score involvements and the most metres gained of any player on the ground.

And if you needed a moment to accentuate the gap in class between he and virtually any other player in the AFL, try his outside-of-the-right- boot pass to teammate Jack Higgins in the third term.

That was simply football artistry.

Most of all, though, Richmond has its famed pressure game back. It had been palpably lacking over the first month of this season.

But over the past month, and particularly in the past fortnight, the Tigers have been at their ferocious best, hunting and harassing opposition defences, locking the ball inside their forward 50, and scoring far more swiftly and efficiently once they cause those inevitable turnovers.

The leviathan of the AFL in recent times is back. And as that missing cast of players returns, now in just as good a position as any of the past three seasons, regardless of where or when the end of this extraordinary year will play out.

Who's game enough to tip against the Tigers making it three flags during this golden period for the club? Not me, that's for sure.

This story A fighting fury rises again from Tigerland first appeared on The Canberra Times.