Flashback to September 2018. Defending AFL premiers Richmond Tigers had finished the regular season two wins clear of the field, then swept into another prelim with a 31-point qualifying final win over Hawthorn.
Looking every bit as unstoppable as in 2017, when the club claimed its first title in 37 years, Richmond was red-hot betting favourite to dispose of plucky Collingwood and go on to clinch back-to-back flags for the first time since the halcyon era of 1973–74. The days when Richmond Tigers coach Tom Hafey and club greats Royce Hart, Francis Bourke and Kevin Bartlett ruled Punt Road.
But the Tigers slumped to a shock 39-point defeat at the hands of the Pies. A dominant season was wasted and the unflattering Richmond Tigers memes came out in force.
— Sportsbet.com.au (@sportsbetcomau) September 21, 2018
Richmond atoned in spectacular style in 2019, regaining top billing with a record-shattering 89-point massacre of GWS Giants in the AFL Grand Final. The Tigers are resounding premiership favourites once again and have been backed in very short for the top four ahead of the 2020 season’s restart this week.
If the requisite hunger is Richmond’s main obstacle, the memory of their 2018 prelim fade-out could shape as the club’s trump card.
RICHMOND TIGERS PLAYERS DON’T NEED TO CHANGE THEIR STRIPES
It’s tough to stay at the top in the AFL, but Richmond still boasts the best-balanced list in the league. It’s the ideal blend of wily experience and youthful spark, of game-breaking brilliance and gritty toughness – and has proven big-game class across the board.
And then there’s two-time Norm Smith Medallist and perennial Brownlow contender Dustin Martin, the fulcrum of everything the Tigers do, who’s at the peak of his considerable powers.
Richmond Tigers captain Trent Cotchin and prolific full-forward Jack Riewoldt are only a shade past their best and are still among the AFL’s best in their positions – as well as being part of a very small over-30s brigade at Punt Road. Tom Lynch had a strong campaign up front with Riewoldt in 2019, finishing with a team-high 63 goals in his first season with the Tigers.
Dion Prestia was the Tigers’ best and fairest in 2019, ensuring ‘Dusty’ doesn’t have to do it all himself in the midfield. The most positive Richmond Tigers news coming out of the season shutdown is that Bachar Houli is set to return from injury in AFL round 2 to lead a wonderful defensive contingent that includes Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin.
Jason Castagna, Daniel Rioli and Jack Graham headline the group of young Richmond Tigers players in 2020 that are coming through, primed to take the next step.
It was business as usual as the Tigers cruised to a 24-point season-opening win over Carlton Blues in AFL round 1.
EAGLES AND MAGPIES – THE TIGERS BIGGEST THREATS
Of course, there will be challenges and bumps in the road in Richmond’s quest for back-to-back glory.
West Coast Eagles are on the second line of AFL 2020 premiership betting, with Collingwood Magpies only just behind. Both clubs possess exciting rosters and have proven their ability to stand up at the business end of the season.
After the Magpies dumped the Tigers out of the 2018 prelim, the Eagles pipped them in one of the all-time great AFL Grand Finals. The Pies beat minor premiers Geelong in the qualifying final last year but lost the subsequent prelim to GWS by four points. The Eagles’ title defence came to an end via a semi-final defeat to the Cats.
The heavyweights will get an early chance to prove how they are placed in the AFL pecking order. Richmond and Collingwood get the season back underway on Thursday at the MCG – where the Tigers have a crazy 41–5 record over the past three years – while the champs of the past two seasons lock horns in AFL round 5 on the Gold Coast. The Tigers are favourites to win both matches but still look top value.
The Giants remain well-backed by punters to grab their first premiership, but the mental scars of last year’s Grand Final demolition will be difficult to overcome if they face the Tigers during the finals.
Brisbane, Geelong, Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs sit a fair way back in the next strata of contenders according to current AFL odds.
PREMIERSHIP HOPES FOR TIGERS COACH DAMIEN HARDWICK
Richmond Tigers are in their fourth season as the near-undisputed best team in the AFL. So far the club has two flags and a minor premiership to show for their supremacy – but anything less than a 2020 AFL Grand Final Day victory lap would rank as an abject failure for Richmond Tigers coach Damien Hardwick and his charges.
Premiership windows don’t stay open for long in the modern era and the Tigers know a second straight title this year is imperative to seal their place in the pantheon of the truly great teams of all time.
How the Tigers earnt their stripes, the full version thanks to @nibhealthfunds…
— Richmond FC 🐯🏆 (@Richmond_FC) June 9, 2020
The 17-round AFL regular season should play into the Tigers’ hands. It’s a formality they will be there when the whips are cracking – the shortened format should safeguard against complacency and mental fatigue, while lessening the chances of key injuries.
Whichever way you spin it, Richmond loom as close to a sure AFL bet as a punter can get five months out from the end of the season.
RICHMOND TIGERS FIXTURE 2020 – THE NEXT FOUR GAMES
AFL round 2 – v Collingwood Magpies, Thursday 11 June at MCG
AFL round 3 – v Hawthorn Hawks, Thursday 18 June at MCG
AFL round 4 – v St Kilda Saints, Saturday 27 June at MCG
AFL round 5 – v West Coast Eagles, Thursday 2 July at Metricon Stadium