It was the battle of the speedsters but only one man could come out on top.
By the end of the night, Daniel Rioli was celebrating for more reasons than one.
It was in the first quarter at the MCG on Friday night when Essendon were keeping close against Richmond and Adam Saad led the charge.
The pacey defender ran down Rioli on the centre wing to earn a free kick, but the Tigers premiership hero didn’t forget.
The Bombers hung around deep into the fourth quarter as they tried to keep their finals hopes alive.
With just over 30 seconds on the clock, Saad picked up the ball and took two running bounces to get out of Essendon’s defensive 50. He thought he was in the clear – only for Rioli to come out of nowhere and drop Saad to the turf for a match-sealing free kick.
Rioli gave it to his rival with a few choice words before taking a pot shot after the siren as Richmond all but secured top spot on the ladder for the first time in more than 30 years.
“It was good, wasn’t it, to ice the game? That’s why we love him in the side.” Tigers coach Damien Hardwick said.
Tigers roll towards finals
Richmond have dashed Essendon’s finals hopes and all but secured top spot on the AFL ladder with a hard-fought eight-point win at the MCG.
The Tigers were cruising at 33 points up in the final term, but had to hold off a late blitz by the Bombers to record the 12.9 (81) to 11.7 (73) in front of 76,424 fans on Friday night.
Dustin Martin (26 possessions) and Josh Caddy starred with four goals apiece in the victory that extended Richmond’s record-breaking run of wins at the ground to 20.
The Tigers led by a game-high 33 points when Martin kicked his fourth early in the final term, but Cale Hooker kicked three goals to set up a tense finale.
Zach Merrett missed a tough shot in the dying minutes for Essendon and Daniel Rioli sealed the win with a brilliant chase-down tackle of Bombers speedster Adam Saad.
Ominously for the rest of the competition, Damien Hardwick’s men secured the win without premiership skipper Trent Cotchin and grand final stars Dion Prestia, Kane Lambert and David Astbury, who were all out injured.
David Zaharakis (30 disposals), Devon Smith (28) and Dyson Heppell (25) were influential for the Bombers.
Essendon started brightly enough, but the Tigers kicked four goals straight to lead by nine points at quarter-time.
Smith suffered a moment of madness and can count himself lucky his wild left-arm swing missed Kamdyn McIntosh’s jaw by the barest of margins.
Hardwick’s men ramped up the pressure in the second term but couldn’t capitalise on a lopsided 18-8 inside 50 count for the quarter.
They scored six behinds before Caddy converted from a tight angle to restore an eight-point advantage at halftime.
Caddy goaled from two spectacular marks in the third term as the Tigers set up a 21-point lead at the last break
Hooker was well-held by Alex Rance, but he gave his side a faint hope with his three-goal burst in the last quarter before Ricmond steadied to see off the challenge.
Practising Muslim players Bachar Houli and Saad embraced at the coin toss before the game in a show of solidarity after divisive remarks made by Senator Fraser Anning in federal parliament this week.
The Tigers host the Western Bulldogs in round 23, while the Bombers will end the home-and-away season against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval.