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Who's closer to a flag: Brad Scott or Damien Hardwick?

Nick Bowen and Peter Ryan  January 9, 2016 6:45 PM

AFL 2015 First Elimination Final - Richmond v North Melbourne

Does North's win over the Tigers in the 2015 elimination final suggest Brad Scott is closer to coaching a premiership than Damien Hardwick?

Brad Scott

The argument that Hardwick's Richmond is better positioned than Scott's North Melbourne seems to go essentially like this: the Tigers have more A-graders – Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio, Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt and Alex Rance – who have more time on their side to deliver a premiership than a Roos team that desperately needs to make flags while star veterans Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Jarrad Waite, Nick Dal Santo and Daniel Wells still shine.

This line of thinking undersells North as a bunch of blue-collar overachievers and oversells the Tigers as a glamour team on the rise.

It also ignores the teams' recent finals records.

Under Scott, North has won four of seven finals and made two consecutive preliminary finals, while Richmond has not won a final in six seasons under Hardwick, bowing out in an elimination final the past three seasons.

Finals scoreboard, Scott and his Roos.

Let's not forget either that Richmond's most recent elimination final defeat came at the hands of North.

The Roos' 17-point win continued their recent domination of the Tigers – Scott has a 7-2 record against Hardwick, with the second of those losses coming in round 23 last season when North rested nine players ahead of the finals – but it also underlined North's greater depth.

With its skipper Trent Cotchin well held by Ben Jacobs, Richmond struggled to win the ball at stoppages, losing the contested ball count 148-115.

The Tigers picked up inside midfielders Jacob Townsend (Greater Western Sydney) and Andrew Moore (Port Adelaide) in October's player exchange period.

But they still don't have the clearance-winning depth of a Roos' outfit led by Ben Cunnington, Andrew Swallow and Jack Ziebell … oh, and spoon fed by reigning All Australian ruckman Todd Goldstein.

I don't subscribe to the view that the bottom will fall out of North when Harvey, Petrie and co. retire, either.

In Goldstein, Cunnington, Ziebell, Shaun Atley, Lachy Hansen, Robbie Tarrant, Sam Wright and Jamie Macmillan, the Roos have a solid core of experience around which they can quickly regenerate.

Many outside Arden Street might think North has gone as far as it can the past two seasons, but Scott and the Roos are quietly confident they are not done yet.

Whether their journey ends in the club's fifth premiership remains to be seen, but they're better placed to win a flag than Hardwick and his Tigers. - Nick Bowen

Damien Hardwick has taken the Tigers to the finals in three consecutive seasons. Picture: AFL Media

Damien Hardwick

Three consecutive elimination finals losses hurt a club at every level, and the most recent loss to North Melbourne pushed Richmond to another fork in the road.

This is inevitable when a club embarks on the slow and steady rebuild the Tigers did in 2010 under coach Damien Hardwick and CEO Brendon Gale.

What puts a team back in contention is what happens next.

That's where Richmond is better placed than North Melbourne, who has, to its credit, performed brilliantly when it mattered for two seasons in succession.

But are the Kangaroos any more likely to finish top four than the Tigers, and launch a real tilt at the flag?

I don't think so.

The Tigers finished fifth and including their disastrous elimination final, have won 24 out of their past 33 games beating Hawthorn, Fremantle in Perth and the Sydney Swans in Sydney in that time.

They conceded the fifth fewest points in 2015 and had a percentage of 123.09 at season's end, the fourth best in the competition and well ahead of North Melbourne (106.45), so they had every right to hold their nerve and stick to the business of building for success.

In the off-season they added Chris Yarran and Jacob Townsend to the list and plucked Daniel Rioli in the NAB AFL Draft.

An elite midfielder such as Adam Treloar, who they coveted but couldn't convince to become a Tiger, would have been handy but they did not drop their eyes and take an inadequate replacement.

Such an approach was admirable but left many other questions to be answered with actions.

Can the skipper Trent Cotchin become great or is he just OK?

Will Ty Vickery's improvement continue at the same rate?

Can Dustin Martin accept responsibility to realise his talent?

Can they find and develop the depth in their ranks to have 30 players good enough to fill a role when required?

Do the leaders know what needs to be done when the game demands they do something?

Is their ruck set-up good enough?

These are the questions all premiership teams find themselves facing at one stage or another. Those who succeed answer them positively.

Richmond has already found some answers: Jack Riewoldt and Alex Rance are super players at either end of the ground and reliable in big games.

Richmond has also got their first draft selections right in recent seasons too, with

Brandon Ellis, Nick Vlaustin, Reece Conca, Ben Lennon and Corey Ellis having shown to varying degrees their capability at AFL level and Anthony Miles exceptional last season.

They have made many good decisions, but the pressure is building.

Losing three finals in a row attaches a monkey to a club's back.

But Richmond has more than faith. The pillars of success are in place.

It is united and has people who believe in each other overseeing a list that is only now about to enter its prime after three consecutive finals appearances.

That's experience money cannot buy.

The Tigers' list profile is right. They have a few years yet to prove this crop is good enough. - Peter Ryan