AFL TIGERS SWANS
Richmond have underscored their status as AFL premiership favourites, downing Sydney by 26 points in a spiteful and scintillating top-two showdown at Etihad Stadium.
In a Thursday night clash billed as a potential grand-final preview, the Tigers came out firing early and withstood a Lance Franklin-inspired Sydney comeback to run out 14.9 (93) to 11.1 (67) winners in front of a near-capacity crowd.
The win puts the reigning premiers a game clear atop the ladder with just two of their remaining eight opponents - Collingwood and Geelong - in the top eight and five of those games hosted at their MCG fortress.
The Tigers led at every break but looked vulnerable during the final quarter before goals to Kane Lambert and Shane Edwards put the victory beyond doubt.
Jack Riewoldt was best-afield with three goals and 16 marks while Lambert (three goals, 27 disposals) carried Richmond's midfield on a quiet night for Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin, who was hobbled after copping a hit to the knee.
The Tigers went a man down midway through the first quarter when 100-game milestone man Reece Conca suffered a gruesome ankle injury.
Conca screamed in agony after his left ankle was caught under the weight of a Franklin tackle.
"It was really disappointing for Reece ... he's a player who hasn't had an enormous amount of luck," Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said.
"We're not exactly sure of the extent of the injury at the moment. He'll miss some footy, there's no doubt about that."
The game was held up for several minutes before Conca was taken from the ground on a motorised stretcher but the Tigers came out roaring when play resumed, booting four straight goals to take an 18-point lead at quarter-time.
It was another ominous reminder of Richmond's ability to take games by the scruff of the neck and the Swans never managed to recover.
"Their pressure's enormous," Sydney coach John Longmire said of the Tigers.
"They're really hungry for the contest and you sense that."
Sydney superstar Franklin is one of several players certain to face match review scrutiny.
Clearly aggravated, he struck Alex Rance in the throat while pinned in a tackle by the Richmond fullback in an incident likely to result in his suspension.
Tigers backman Nick Vlastuin is a virtual certainty to join him on the sidelines after inexplicably elbowing Luke Parker flush in the face later in the third term.
The Rance-Franklin duel had been hotly anticipated and the pair were at the heart of the action when the game was on the line.
Franklin was gifted a simple shot on goal on the three-quarter time siren when Rance gave away a blocking free kick, then encroached on the Swans forward's set shot.
'Buddy' then outmarked Rance out of the opening bounce of the final term and kicked truly to cut the deficit to four points but it proved to be the final punch the Swans landed.