Tigers get better of tough Cats
GEELONG gave everything they had out of the midfield on Sunday. For almost 120 minutes the Cats' star-studded midfield dominated the ball out of the middle in a valiant attempt to win the territory battle against Richmond.
But even with Geelong's extraordinary win in the centre square - 18 centre clearances to six - the Tigers were still too good in defence and cleaner on the rebound, chalking up their 16th consecutive victory at the MCG.
Geelong had the individual brilliance and Gary Ablett's sizzling first half and Joel Selwood's two incredible clutch set shot goals ensured they fought right to the end of this absorbing contest.
If we didn't work it out already last year, these Tigers showed in the 18-point triumph that they just might be the ultimate team.
We lauded Martin for playing almost the perfect season last year, but the reality is there is no guarantee Martin would even be in the top-three players in the Tigers' best and fairest count so far this season.
There is so much evenness through this Richmond group and Jack Riewoldt is playing as selflessly as ever as the sole key forward target.
There was one of the plays of the year from Daniel Rioli in his first game back since hurting his foot in last year's stunning grand final win.
Rioli tracked the ball cleverly along the wing, laid a desperate tackle inside 50m and then goaled in the pressure-cooker last term.
He had 12 disposals and a personal-best eight tackles, all in his first game back for Richmond's fourth amigo small forward. What a big tick.
Second-year foot soldier Jack Graham laid a career-high 13 tackles.
We keep saying how even this season is and that anyone can win it, but as Richmond heads into its bye this weekend it is clear the yellow and black are still, surely, the team to beat.
They have the thirst for winning, which is perhaps unsurprising for a club which has been down so long.
Especially when you consider the decider will be played here, at the 'G, where they are one win away from the longest winning streak of all-time at the home of football.
They own the MGG, and haven't lost here for one year exactly.
Perhaps it's a glowing endorsement of senior coach Damien Hardwick and his merry band of assistants.
Because at the end of the day, it was their selflessness and system, and their pressure and speed at ground level on a wet day at the MCG which was the difference against Geelong.
Ablett lined up on Dustin Martin in the first term and the Tigers' superstar opened the superstar match-up with some physical fireworks, thundering the tip of his elbow into Ablett's chest at the starting bounce.
But while Ablett took the points before half time, Martin kicked the sealer with another clever snap after a trademark desperate effort from Trent Cotchin at the bounce.
Geelong had been ranked last in the competition for centre clearances this year but they produced arguably their best effort of the season to win the ball out of the middle.
But they lacked polish, producing a season-worst 43 per cent efficiency. That was the big knock.
However, somewhat remarkably, even without gun defender David Astbury, Dylan Grimes, Nick Vlastuin and Alex Rance ensured the Tiger defence absorbed the blows like a heavyweight boxer, who came off the ropes and counterattacked with more precision and speed than the Cats.
Vlastuin's third term was outstanding as the Cats kept throwing the punches with 20 entries inside forward 50m for the term.
Grimes has conceded only five goals from the first 11 games and for all the talk about Tom Stewart being All-Australian, Grimes is another who probably doesn't get as much recognition as he has deserved.
And Shane Edwards, whose reputation is deservedly growing this season, was so clean in tough conditions.
If last year was about Martin, the premiership defence is about Richmond's lesser lights.