Richmond will face off against the Greater Western Sydney Giants this Saturday evening in its first preliminary finals appearance in 16 years in front of a packaged Tiger army. A ferocious atmosphere awaits GWS, playing in front of 90,000-plus Tigers fans as expectations hit their highest levels at Punt Rd in a generation.
One player who is expected to feel the wraith of it is former Tiger, now Giant Brett Deledio, who is going to be playing his 250th AFL match, with 243 of those for Richmond from 2005-2016. Of course, at the end of last season, Deledio infamously moved clubs – saying he wanted to be part of a successful finals side in GWS.
Deledio has said he doesn’t regret his decision one bit, even after the Tigers’ dramatic climb up the ladder this season. While his own form since returning from persistent calf and Achilles complaints that he has battled since his last season at Richmond has been average at best, there was a position switch last week to the half-back flank in order for him to find his groove, instead of his customary spot across half-forward.
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The Giants were able to find a new zest against West Coast constantly moving the ball quickly and playing more aggressively, even when the game was won just after halftime. Veteran Steve Johnson made sure everyone knew he was back by being part of the forward pressure, along with kicking six goals to confirm you can never count out a champion in September.
Last time these two played, it was the Tigers who came home strong in the rain after GWS kicked the opening three goals of the game. Rain isn’t forecast for Melbourne on Saturday evening – with a top of 26, the perfect weather should suit the Giants in running and kicking better this time.
Richmond will be looking to do what they did against Geelong in week one and block up the centre corridor. GWS were able to easily run through West Coast last week, so this will be priority number one for Tigers coach Damien Hardwick.
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Brandon Ellis would be looking to match up on Johnson, given his small stature and electric speed. This will be able to free up Nick Vlaustin, who came into his own against the Cats in the qualifying final, regularly intercepting in defence.
Giants small-forward Devon Smith would consider himself a chance of a recall, being cleared to play after recovering from a knee injury suffered in Round 23. Smith was one of the better Giants when these two last played and he is known for his tackling pressure.
Our first and only win at the MCG in round 21, 2014 was a coming of age.
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It appears the Tigers will stick with the same side that got the job done two weeks ago. First-year small-forward Shai Bolton could be considered as an outside chance after an impressive showing in the VFL finals and kicking goals. But it would be a risk to upset the combination that Daniel Rioli, Dan Butler, Jason Castagna and Jacob Townsend have formed.
This game will feature no tagging – so expect to see the likes of Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin up against Josh Kelly and Stephen Coniglio, in what will be a very entertaining midfield battle. Coniglio didn’t play against the Tigers last time and will be coming into this game off the back of 35 possessions last week.
This prelim promises to be a cracker with all of the expectation on the Tigers to finally give their long-starving fans some finals success in making the big one.