At half-time in Richmond's Anzac Day eve clash against Melbourne, it looked for all money as though the Tigers were about to get their 2023 AFL season back on track. With just one win and a draw from their first five games, fans were optimistic about their 14-point margin at the break.
Unfortunately for the Tigers it was all but one-way traffic after that, with the Demons enjoying a second half surge to end up banking their fourth win of the year and entrench themselves in the top four. Nine goals to three in favour of the Demons consigned the Tigers to their worst start to a season since 2014.
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Not since round 14 of the 2014 season have the Tigers found themselves as low on the ladder as they are now - sitting 16th ahead of only West Coast and Hawthorn, each with just one victory so far. Only the two points from the Tigers' round one draw with Carlton are separating them from the bottom of the table.
Four of the last six premierships were won by either the Tigers of Demons - but Monday's clash offered perhaps the most compelling evidence yet that some re-tooling is required at Punt Road before the Tigers can compete at the pointy end again. Richmond were without key forward Tom Lynch due to injury, but benefited from three first quarter goals to Noah Cumberland, while Jack Riewoldt slotted two of his four in the second quarter to see the Tigers leading by as much as 25 points at one stage.
But the Demons were able to find another gear, with Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy controlling the ruck it allowed the likes of Jack Viney and Clayton Oliver to dominate the midfield in the second half. Viney was awarded the Frank ‘Checker’ Hughes medal after the game.
The Tigers will regain the suspended Nathan Broad for next weekend's clash with the Gold Coast Suns, which is now a must-win in order to keep their finals hopes alive. Head coach Damien Hardwick said the likes of Cumberland needed to improve their output across four quarters, after flashing his potential once again with his three-goal burst in the first quarter.
"He can rip open a game in five minutes, this kid, and that's what we love about him," Hardwick said. "We sort of changed our structure a little bit to get him in and he's just got to continue to play the game and realise the game will challenge him at various stages.
"His body language will get better but we just love what he brings (with) his energy. We've got to make sure that's used in all the right places because he can be a difference-maker for our side. We're excited about the prospect of that but we sort of want to get there a little bit faster."
Demons almost sub off match-winner against Tigers
Meanwhile, the Demons came within one rotation of subbing off game-breaker Jacob van Rooyen, after the rookie forward had a negligible impact on the game through three quarters. After taking just one mark up until the fourth quarter, the 20-year-old hauled in three massive contested marks and kicked three goals.
"He took one mark," Demons coach Simon Goodwin explained. "He was pretty much coming off at his next rotation - we were about to sub him out.
"Then he took a couple of clunks and we said, 'Keep going, son. You're away now.'"
Van Rooyen's subsequent goal and another four minutes later gave Melbourne a 16-point lead after they had trailed Tigers by 25 during the second term. The rising star held his nerve with three of his four set shots in the last quarter and capped his match-winning cameo with the Demons' sealer.
"We've been working with Jacob about staying in the now," Goodwin said. "It might not be your moment right now but you'll have one later on, and he had a really good last quarter."
The No.19 draft pick in 2021, van Rooyen had to bide his time in Melbourne's reserves side last year as he developed. He kicked three goals on his AFL debut in round three this season and has now kicked nine in four appearances.
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