Richmond and Williamstown battle it out for premiership glory in the 2019 Hard Yakka / Totally Workwear VFL ‘Love the Game’ Grand Final at Ikon Park on Sunday. We preview the action here.
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RICHMOND vs WILLIAMSTOWN – Saturday 2.15pm @ Ikon Park
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Richmond is aiming for its first VFL premiership since joining the competition as an AFL standalone club for the 2014 season. In recent seasons under current senior coach Craig McRae, the Tigers reached the 2017 VFL Grand Final from fifth position but fell to Port Melbourne by four points in a classic encounter and last year exited the finals in straight sets after winning the minor premiership – losing to Williamstown and then Essendon. The last Richmond premiership in the old VFA was in 1905.
Williamstown has won 16 VFL/VFA premierships since entering the competition in 1884, the most recent of which came in 2015 with a 54-point triumph over the Box Hill Hawks. The Seagulls have lost grand finals on 11 occasions though, with a 56-point defeat to Port Melbourne in 2011 their most recent failure in the big dance. They’ve also been stopped at the preliminary-final stage seven times in the last 10 seasons.
A popular Throwback Thursday thanks to Nelson Bros Funeral Services.
— Williamstown FC (@WilliamstownFC) September 19, 2019
Rd 5 @ Downer Oval: Richmond 12.13 (85) d Williamstown 4.10 (34)
The Tigers proved unstoppable away from home, holding the Seagulls to just one goal until the eight-minute mark of the final term. Patrick Naish (23 disposals) was Richmond’s most prolific player, while Riley Collier-Dawkins (18 and seven clearances) excelled at stoppages and Dan Butler and Jake Aarts each kicked three majors in the win. Mitch Hibberd racked up a game-high 29 touches for Williamstown in defeat.
Richmond (18-2 overall record) has won eight consecutive games following last week’s 26-point preliminary-final triumph over Port Melbourne. Its only losses of 2019 came in Round 9 (against North Melbourne) and Round 14 (Footscray).
Williamstown (15-4-1) defeated Essendon by 26 points in Sunday’s preliminary final and has now lost just once since Round 9 (to Werribee in Round 21), having started with a record of 5-3 through the first two months of the season.
The Tigers held a 20-point lead over the Borough late in the first quarter of their preliminary final, later falling nine points behind early in the final stanza before rattling off the game’s last six goals. Connor Menadue starred for Richmond with 27 disposals and three goals, Callum Coleman-Jones (17 disposals and 24 hitouts) was important in the ruck and Patrick Naish and Mabior Chol each kicked two fourth-term majors.
The Seagulls led for most of their preliminary final against the Bombers, conceding the game’s first goal but then piling on six straight majors to take a match-defining 29-point lead into quarter-time. Nick Ebinger (five goals) and Billy Myers (four) were dynamic inside 50 for Williamstown, as Mitch Hibberd (29 disposals), Willie Wheeler (21) and Nick Meese (25, 70 hitouts and 14 clearances) controlled the midfield battle.
Who could step up to be match-winners?
Let’s look outside of each team’s key midfielders here. The ruck battle between young Tigers AFL-lister Callum Coleman-Jones and veteran Seagulls big man Nick Meese will be fascinating, with Coleman-Jones likely to look to utilise his movement around the ground to work over Meese and counter the Williamstown pillar’s probable dominance at stoppages themselves. Whether conditions at Ikon Park are windy and rainy and lead to congestion – or not – could have a big say in the outcome of this match-up.
Richmond may be lacking an obvious tall focal point up forward, but the Tigers boast a range of pressure-loving smaller types – like Jacob Townsend, Maverick Weller and Dan Butler – who will seek to force turnovers from Seagulls defenders Leigh Masters, Joel Tippett and Nick Sing. However, if Williamstown can control the game’s tempo from the back half and release rebounders such as Jake Greiser and Jack Dorgan, one of Richmond’s primary scoring sources will be neutralised.
At the other end of the ground, Derek Eggmolesse-Smith has the same game-breaking potential as a defensive driver for the Tigers. He’ll need strong-marking interceptors like Ryan Garthwaite and Hugh Beasley to win contests against their Seagulls opponents though – and that’ll be no easy task. Nick Rodda and Sam Dunell are perhaps the best-known Williamstown goalkickers, but 2019 has shown Joel Ottavi, Nick Ebinger and Billy Myers are all just as capable of booting a bag.
OK, back to the midfield now. It’ll be pretty clear to most VFL watchers that the Seagulls love a contest. They were easily the VFL’s top team for average contested possessions during the home-and-away rounds and have taught a lesson to Footscray (167-138) and then Essendon (162-135) in this area in their finals so far. Mitch Hibberd, Willie Wheeler, Liam Hunt, Ben Kennedy and skipper Adam Marcon – and of course Nick Meese – thrive in one-on-one situations and are built for the pressure Richmond brings.
Indeed, forcing turnovers at crucial times and in crucial places has won the Tigers plenty of games at VFL and AFL level recently. Richmond conceded 25 more contested possessions and 17 more clearances to Port Melbourne last week but still managed to generate 13 more inside-50s due to its defensive prowess. The intercept ability of the back line has plenty to do with this, but Tigers midfielders like Connor Menadue, Riley Collier-Dawkins and Jack Ross are very capable two-way runners as well.
Richmond will be encouraged by its 51-point victory over Williamstown in Round 5, not only because of the magnitude of the margin but also thanks to its 152-147 advantage in contested possessions and 45-41 win in clearances – one of the rare occasions the Seagulls have had their colours lowered in both regards in 2019. This demonstrates the Tigers are capable of matching Williamstown at the coalface, but if they can’t this time, plenty rests on what happens between the centre and deep in the Seagulls’ forward line.
Richmond VFL senior coach Craig McRae:
On success throughout the club: “It’s a good situation to be in when both teams (AFL and VFL) are alive at this time of the year. We saw in 2017 that we just fuelled each other… That feels the same (this year). We’ve got a lot of (AFL-listed) players who are playing really good footy at the moment, so they’re just waiting for an opportunity.”
On VFL-listed players having to miss out: “It’s heartbreaking, really. These guys invest so much in our program and they’re the reason why we’re in this position. We’ve got a great culture; we’ve got 24 VFL-listed players who train knowing they may not get an opportunity, but they work all day and then they turn up.”
Williamstown senior coach Andy Collins:
On leading a standalone VFL club: “We’re proud of our culture and that we’ve been able to keep a large majority of our players together for a long period of time. We just won a preliminary final and had all the boys going to work on the Monday… That’s the unique nature of the VFL – that semi-professional players play against professional players.”
On big off-season change to the playing list: “We didn’t start the season very well. Internally we were probably a little bit concerned and I was definitely having private conversations with the captain about how we could jell and develop this group, but… we’ve come together as a really strong team.”
REPLAY: Watch a full replay of the 2019 Hard Yakka / Totally Workwear #VFL and @SwisseAU #VFLW #LovetheGame press conference with @BulldogsW and @CollingwoodFCW / @RichmondVFL and @WilliamstownFC.https://t.co/jNuWJvXXNZ pic.twitter.com/hSJUgmhoMd
— #VFL / #VFLW (@VFL) September 17, 2019
Richmond VFL captain Steve Morris:
On the team’s two last-term comebacks in the finals: “We wouldn’t have wanted to find ourselves in the position we found ourselves in against Essendon (40 points down at three-quarter time), but the resolve to be able to turn around our form in the space of one quarter and play our best footy probably for the year (was pleasing).
“We kicked the last six goals (against Port Melbourne), so there’s no doubt our players should take some belief from the fact we’re able to run out games strongly and be able to find a way to win from any position.”
Williamstown captain Adam Marcon:
On how players have replaced 2018 AFL draftees Ben Cavarra, Lachlan Schultz, Brett Bewley and Michael Gibbons: “When that happened (their selections to AFL lists) it was such a proud moment for the club, but I think it’s a credit to the club holistically that we’re able to develop players to come and fill a hole and do so well.
“Boys like Nick Ebinger have… shown so much resilience to spend four or five years developing on the list. I’m so proud of some of these guys who stick it out. Even when they’re not getting games, they turn up and want to improve.”
Full VFL press conference below: