Richmond passes a difficult Carlton test at the MCG, but the opener shows the hunt is on to bring down the Tigers
Jack Riewoldt kicked four goals for Richmond as the Tigers earned a 26-point win over Carlton. (AAP: Julian Smith)
If Richmond had any illusions that the campaign to win a second flag in as many years would be harder to win than the first, it took less than a dozen minutes of football to wake the Tigers up to reality.
In front of a packed MCG for the much-anticipated traditional season-opener, Carlton kicked five goals without reply to leave fans of the yellow and black stunned.
That Damien Hardwick’s men regathered themselves and fought back to hit the front in the second half and go on to win was impressive, but their 26-point margin, 17.19 (121) to 15.5 (95) perhaps covered a few — if not a multitude — of sins.
The Richmond coach had said during the week that his side wanted to remain the hunters rather than the hunted despite being the defending premiers.
That idea lasted less than 120 seconds, by which time the Blues had brought that hunting pressure, forced errors from the Tigers, kicked two goals and reminded everyone there were two teams out there going for the win.
By the 11-minute mark, Matthew Wright was booting Carlton’s fifth of the night, and AFL tipsters around the country were shaking their heads.
The Blues were swarming over the Tigers, out-tackling them and putting some indecision in the yellow and black.
The correction was always likely, and by quarter-time the gap was back to nine points.
Richmond’s game style last season was built around pressure and tackling, but early on the Tigers seemed surprised by the Blues’ intensity.
With Carlton serving up some of the Tigers’ play at them, the response eventually came, with the likes of Jack Graham (13 tackles), Reece Conca and Dan Butler (seven each) driving Richmond to a 70-49 win in that stat.
Richmond took the lead early in the second half, but when the Blues surged again to take the lead with two minutes gone in the final term, the Tigers belatedly hit top gear, with four goals in five minutes to put the contest away.
By the end of the game, Richmond had racked up 71 inside 50s to 47 for Carlton and the Tigers had imposed their attacking style on the tiring Blues.
The Tigers’ ball movement was solid and their disposal good enough when it counted to set up 19 marks inside 50.
Against sides that have stronger defences than the Blues, that figure will likely drop, and Richmond will have to lift for games against rivals for the flag — such as next week’s trip to Adelaide Oval to face the Crows.
Martin delivers, but Cripps leads the way for Carlton
How did Dusty go? Well, he has set a very high bar but the Brownlow Medallist finished with a juicy set of stats.
He had 32 disposals, six clearances, six inside 50s and 13 score involvements including a great goal in the final quarter where he shrugged off a Carlton tackle and bent a banana kick through the posts.
He was clearly Richmond’s best — at the other end, Alex Rance was strong after a dirty start to the game.
Jack Riewoldt booted four — including the most important of the night, his first to stop the rot in the 13th minute of the first term.
Patrick Cripps (2L) ended up on the losing side for Carlton, but his brilliant performance gave Richmond plenty to think about. (AAP: Julian Smith)
For Carlton, it was another three “C”s who gave most encouragement.
Patrick Cripps gave clear signals last year that he was the next big star for the Blues.
In round one, in front of a big audience, he removed any doubt with a brilliant best-on-ground performance. Cripps had 36 disposals — including a huge 25 contested possessions — he had nine clearances, laid seven tackles and five inside 50s.
As good as he was, the Blues might have been even more excited with Rising Star Charlie Curnow, who had a real breakout game — the athletic number 30 for Carlton booted five goals despite copping a knock to his ankle in the second half.
And Caleb Marchbank was excellent in defence for Carlton, with a string of spoils and three important intercept marks to keep his side in the contest once Richmond began to get on a roll.
Hardwick would have been furious with the number of 50-metre penalties the Tigers gave away amid some hot umpiring of the 10m protected zone around players with free kicks.
Carlton converted several goals thanks to the Tigers getting caught too close.
If the signal has gone out to umpires for round one, then players in the other eight games in round one will have to watch this very carefully.
Entertaining opener sets things up perfectly
The takeaways from the first game of the season are that the Blues are better than expected, the Tigers have the ability to turn it on when they need to — and that 2018 promises to be just as hard to pick as 2017, if not more so.
The good news for AFL fans is that if this four quarters of football is reflective of what the season has in store, everyone will have plenty to get excited about.
The two sides kicked 32 goals between them, there was strong contested footy, neither side taking a backward step, and 90,151 souls in the stands invested in every minute of it.
Bring on the remaining 197 games of the home-and-away season.