Punt Road woes, pressure mounts on Richmond

Searching for answers: Damien Hardwick has attempted to remain optimistic despite his side’s struggles this season.

Is there a more frustrated AFL fan base than those of the Richmond football club?

After the Tigers 88-point loss against Greater Western Sydney today the answer is definitely not. Today’s performance against the Giants caps off a horror fortnight for Damien Hardwick’s men, losing their last two games by a combined margin of 158 points.

2016 was due to be a season of promise at Punt Road, with Richmond finishing in the top eight over the past three seasons and recruiting much-maligned Carlton running defender Chris Yarran.

Yarran has since taken indefinite leave away from AFL football to deal with mental health issues and the Tigers season has continued to frustrate since their round one win over Carlton.

The Tigers current predicament grants their coach with the toughest situation of his coaching career, as he now has to face the very real prospect of a rebuild, before even achieving any kind of success with his current group of players.

It seems for now that the Richmond board believe Hardwick is still the man to lead them to their desired destination, with President Peggy O’Neal and club CEO Brendan Gale both broadcasting their faith in Hardwick earlier this year, who is contracted until the end of 2018.

It has to be said that Hardwick’s work thus far at Richmond has been great, he has taken a mediocre team in 2009 to a side that has competed in the last three finals series, despite losing all three in elimination finals to Carlton, Port Adelaide and North Melbourne respectively.

These results now seem irrelevant however, as the Tigers sit 7-11 on the ladder, narrowly outside the bottom four.

For a team that has endured so much pain over the past 20 years, including a debt in 1990 that almost forced the club to fold, more performances like the one against GWS will only heighten the chances of Richmond re-considering their position on Hardwick.

The Tigers, who are one of the proudest clubs in Australia now run the risk of becoming irrelevant in today’s current competition having last won a final’s match in 2001.

Hardwick raised eyebrows months ago when he stated that Richmond’s list was the best he had ever had at his disposal, but perhaps this is true? Maybe this is as good as Richmond are, at least until some tough calls are made on the playing list post this season.

Despite the poor season Richmond have had, Hardwick has maintained a positive outlook on his side and believes there is improvement in the current group.

The team features a strong core of players with Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio, Brandon Ellis, Jack Riewoldt, Dustin Martin and Alex Rance all stars in their own right, but the lack of quality underneath this group is damning for the Tigers.

With the team only featuring two picks in the first three rounds of the draft in 2017 it’s clear some tough calls must be made on some players who’s time may be up at Tigerland.

Players such as Tyrone Vickery (who is a restricted free agent), Ben Griffiths and Reece Conca may still have currency on the trade table if the Tigers want to explore these options in an attempt to get some more picks in the draft.

Whilst Richmond would be compensated for the loss of Vickery if they decided not to match a rival offer, the best the Tigers could hope for would be a late second or third round pick for either of these players, not quite enough to get the Tigers their ideal position in the draft.

This is where Richmond may have to look at trading away one of their stars in order to increase the depth of young talent they have on their list and whether or not they are prepared to offer someone like Ellis on the trade table in order to get a late first round or early second round pick in the draft.

Richmond’s faith in Hardwick is warranted when considering what he has done for the club since taking over from Terry Wallance in August 2009.

He may still be the man to change Richmond’s finals fortunes but it will be a ‘watch this space’ type of situation if Richmond continue to hand out appalling displays on a regular basis.

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