Why you can’t count Tigers out of flag race
THIS was the 2017 model Dustin Martin.
For 30 white-hot minutes in the first term, the Richmond superstar rediscovered the spark and energy that made him clearly the No. 1 player in the game two years ago.
The Tigers held off an injury-hit Hawthorn by 36 points at the MCG on Sunday in a strangely uncontested game to re-enter the top-four.
A lot of people may have written off the Tigers when they lost superstars Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin to injury.
But Damien Hardwick's men have met the early challenge and loom large behind Geelong and Collingwood as the teams to beat in the premiership race.
The Hawks lost gun ruckman Ben McEvoy (ankle) and young key forward Mitch Lewis (concussion) early and Luke Breust to a leg complaint in the last, adding to their own shocking injury toll.
But vintage Dusty was the headline act in this one, as Martin ignited the Tigers with a 13-possession first term, blowing off opponents in the forward half with his signature power.
They're three pretty safe Brownlow Medal votes.
Martin finished with a season-high 37 possessions and 10 clearances, as Josh Caddy dobbed three goals, Bachar Houli drove Richmond from half back with 35 disposals and Dion Prestia racked up 29.
So strong in the contest, Sydney Stack was excellent again and will surely earn this week's Rising Star nomination ahead of the Dreamtime Game at the MCG on Saturday night.
It was one of the most engrossing one-one-one match-ups we've seen this season.
James Sicily had the job on Richmond spearhead Tom Lynch and the pair went at each other as part of a niggly push-and-shove all day.
Lynch finished with three goals and gave Sicily a whack to the guts in the third term, giving away a downfield free kick and goal.
Overall, Lynch competed hard and was strong in the contest, helping set up a pair of Josh Caddy goals in the second and third terms.
Clearly, that's exactly what Damien Hardwick will be wanting from the former Gold Coast co-captain after he was dubbed a "liability" by Essendon great Matthew Lloyd.
But Sicily ensured Lynch never got off the chain and played an important defensive role without James Frawley in the team.
But the negating responsibility meant the Hawks missed some of Sicily's creative playmaking and normal rebound game off half back.
Lynch was straight in his face, of course, when Sicily dropped a late easy mark.
Jarman Impey has been an underrated pick-up for the Hawks.
The former Port Adelaide speedster had his best game of the season helping marshal a Hawthorn back line missing full back Frawley.
He took a flying mark in the second term and went on a blinding run down the wing in the third term, showing some of the excitement Wayne Carey said the club lacks.
And he was polished.
Impey ran at 100 per cent efficiency over his first 15 disposals midway through the third term.
BIG 'CEGSY' FIRES
It was inspired aerial performance from big Jon Ceglar early.
The back-up ruckman was the dominant big man on the ground, making the most of Toby Nankervis' absence, with three huge first-term grabs.
He showed his athleticism after the second pluck, quickly bolting off the footy to help set up a Luke Breust goal.
Ceglar was stepping up for McEvoy who went down with a right ankle injury in the first term and did not play in the second half.
DIMMA'S 'REALLY POOR' COACHING ERROR
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick has admitted he focused too much on Brandon Ellis's flaws as a footballer rather than his strengths.
Ellis was one of Richmond's best players in the win over the Hawks.
It lifts the Tigers to 6-3 before Saturday night's Dreamtime at the 'G clash against Essendon.
Hardwick lauded the emergence and growth of some of his youngsters and second-tier players - including Ellis, who has fought back from being dropped to the VFL.
Hardwick said he made a "really poor" error as coach putting unfair emphasis on the backman's weaknesses.
"I was probably looking at areas of his game that, once again, they're not poor, but they're probably below (par) in some areas," Hardwick said.
"But what I forgot as a coach, and it was really poor on my behalf, is that he's great in a lot of areas. I have got to remind myself to look at those areas, and now we are seeing the dividends of our coaching group backing him in."
Hardwick said the continued development of Nick Vlastuin in an increased midfield role, and the growth of some of the club's lesser lights, was a great sign for when the Tigers regained stars such as Trent Cotchin in a fortnight and spearhead Jack Riewoldt.
Danel Rioli will also be in the mix after playing VFL yesterday.
"We have really grown and evolved, which is really exciting for us," Hardwick said.
CLARKO GIVES THE POINTS SO 'SIS'
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson commended James Sicily for winning most of his fiery battles with Tom Lynch.
The Hawks lost Ben McEvoy (ankle), Luke Breust (corked leg), and young forward Mitch Lewis (concussion).
The run of injuries opens the door for veteran Jarryd Roughead to return against Port Adelaide in Launceston on Saturday.
The Hawks will also hope defender James Frawley, a late withdrawal with more hamstring tightness, forward Chad Wingard (hamstring), and wingman Isaac Smith (foot) are available.
Clarkson lamented a lack of polish and in particular some missed shots on goal, but said Sicily deserved praise for his role in keeping Lynch to three goals.
"It was a big task. To lose Frawley before the game didn't really help, so we had to see what we could do in terms of our back end," Clarkson said.
"Lynch has seven touches, kicks three goals and gets an easy soda late in the game, but I thought 'Sis' battled pretty manfully in that position. And outside the fact Lynch has kicked three goals, you would say in the contest Sis was pretty competitive, if not won his fair share of those contests."
The duo engaged in a constant push-and-shove that threatened to erupt several times as they traded verbal barbs.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said it was an enthralling battle and urged the umpires to be more lenient when there was some niggle.
"He is an incredible talent, that kid (Sicily)," Hardwick said.