Richmond faces some serious leadership challenges. Picture: Getty Images
Richmond faces some serious leadership challenges. Picture: Getty Images

Malthouse: ‘Ordinary’ Tigers a shadow of flag champions

WHAT has happened to Richmond? It's a question without a straight answer.

Perhaps by comparing it to another struggling club, Hawthorn, we may get a clearer picture.

The Tigers are ninth with four wins heading into round eight. The Hawks are 13th with three wins. But right now there is more upside to Hawthorn's season than Richmond's.

Cracks have appeared in each club's armour and it is what the cracks are exposing that could make all the difference by season's end.

It all comes down to leadership.

Richmond is without captain Trent Cotchin, who knits the midfield together; heart-and-soul leader Alex Rance, who holds up the backline; and experienced goalkicker Jack Riewoldt, who guides his younger forwards.

Without these three players there seems to be a lack of on-field direction. And if no one is leading, no one is following, with very few contributing.

Leadership is about consistency. Leadership is about direction. It's about bravery, and not accepting the result when you are down.

What has happened to Richmond’s leaders? Picture: AAP
What has happened to Richmond’s leaders? Picture: AAP

Aside from Toby Nankervis, with a heart as big as Phar Lap, and Nick Vlastuin, who has tried to replace Rance but has had his own injury worries, no one has really stood up and taken on this role at the Tigers in the absence of the "Big Three".

Dustin Martin is getting marked each week and he isn't handling it. He is responding to the tagger instead of focusing on the game. His greatness was his work ethic, but that is now lacking. He is being out run, out worked and out positioned. He is no longer a real threat out of the goalsquare, nor is he getting 30-plus possessions and hitting the target every time in the midfield.

Boom recruit Tom Lynch will get better, but he isn't getting the supply on his terms. He will need to adjust soon.

Where are Jack Higgins, Dan Butler, Shai Bolton, Jason Castagna and Daniel Rioli? None of them are standing up and hitting the scoreboard often enough.

Vlastuin's absence through injury will place even greater pressure on the yellow and black.

Richmond is a shadow of its former self. Without the standard and attitude of greatness being set by the missing leaders, the Tigers suddenly seem ordinary.

Teammates are no longer getting the best out of each other and we are suddenly wondering if they are as good as we thought they were, because back to basics, their structure and strategies aren't holding up.

Hawthorn is also having a patchy season, but the fundamental difference between these two clubs is that Hawks captain Ben Stratton and spiritual leader Jarryd Roughead can't be faulted for effort or guidance.

The Hawks dropped Roughead for Sunday's game in what was the shock selection move of the round. They must have confidence in others to take his place.

Losing Tom Mitchell has left a massive hole for Hawthorn to fill, but the Hawks don't complain about injuries. Liam Shiels, James Worpel, Jaeger O'Meara and Jarman Impey have all been a silver lining in Mitchell's absence.

Ben McEvoy, like Nankervis, doesn't stop trying.

That effort has a follow-on affect throughout the team, with many contributors willing to put themselves through pain in the pursuit of victory.

Jarryd Roughead deserves credit for his leadership. Picture: Getty Images
Jarryd Roughead deserves credit for his leadership. Picture: Getty Images

There is a price to pay in winning and it goes hand in hand with hunger and work ethic - all attributes which Richmond seems to be lacking in big games.

Hawthorn's biggest issue is that it is getting bogged down in its game structure, leaking like a sieve at times with teams scoring quickly against it, as the Bulldogs and Demons have proven.

The Hawks are persisting with a game plan that won them a three-peat of premierships. But with some of the same key players who made that work in 2013-15, the game plan is ageing like the players on their list, and they can't control the ball the way they used to.

Chad Wingard offers so much, but has delivered little. And those who thought he could take Cyril Rioli's place have been misguided, to date.

Jack Gunston, Luke Breust and Paul Puopolo are no longer producing consistently with this model. When they fire, Hawthorn has good movement and reward, but when they are held, it can't score.

On Sunday, both clubs play important games for their season.

Richmond takes on a defensively reinvigorated Fremantle. The Tigers will need to score 12 or more goals to win this game, but the Dockers know how to let down the anchor on their opposition. This will be tough for the Tiges.

Hawthorn faces Greater Western Sydney at the MCG, which is the best place to get the Giants. But GWS is a running team, and it scores quickly, which will make life difficult for the Hawks.

Both teams will need to fight. They'll need to rediscover the invincibility of their game structure and desire to win.

And most importantly, they'll need leaders to contribute and set the standard. For this reason alone, Hawthorn is racing ahead. If the Tigers want to resurrect their season, they need to catch up. Now!