THIS felt more like a warm-up bout than the main event. But either way the result was clear: a knockout win for Richmond over Geelong in a game that mattered.
TIGERS TOO GOOD Full match coverage and stats
With a top-four spot up for grabs, the Tigers pulled apart the Cats to record a 26-point win at Metricon Stadium.
The impressive 7.15 (57) to 4.7 (31) win means the Tigers can seal a spot in a qualifying final by beating the last-placed Adelaide in the final round next week.
But the Tigers' win came at a cost, with injury blows to star forward Tom Lynch (hamstring) and ruckman Ivan Soldo (knee). Lynch limped off the field in the third quarter and finished the game with his leg iced, while Soldo didn't reappear after his knee was tangled in the first half.
Although soured by the fitness concerns, Tigers coach Damien Hardwick will have had no worries with the way his side dismantled the Cats, whose last loss came against West Coast in round nine.
After a frenetic start to the contest, Richmond took control thereafter, holding Geelong goalless in the first term and restricting them to just one goal to three-quarter time.
It was only in the final term, with Richmond reduced to two players on the bench, that Geelong started its charge, booting three last-quarter goals to get within 15 points before a Jason Castagna major shut down their late dash.
The dominant performance could have been even more evident on the scoreboard if the Tigers had have kicked straight, with their inaccuracy the only thing preventing Geelong from suffering a blowout defeat.
Jack Riewoldt was important for the Tigers, kicking four goals in an imposing tune-up before the finals, but it was otherwise an even performance from the reigning premiers, with Dustin Martin (19 disposals), Shai Bolton (18) and Jayden Short (16) also busy in the tight affair.
Tom Stewart was among Geelong's best but it was a lacklustre showing from the star-studded Cats in a game that could have locked in a top-four berth.
Expect a different intensity, a stack of new tactics, some new faces and even more rigour if these sides meet again in the finals series. But Richmond's recent stronghold over Geelong, as shown on Friday night, will be hard to ignore if they do battle again.
Balta gets the points over Hawkins
Noah Balta has been one of the most improved players in the competition this year, quickly rising into a key defensive weapon for the Tigers. But his biggest test of the season came on Friday as he took on the AFL's best key forward of 2020 – Geelong star Tom Hawkins. The battle between young and old, athletic and powerful, had its moments: Hawkins took a couple of strong marks, and Balta had some attacking runs. But what mattered most is that Hawkins could manage only one goal, which came in the last quarter. Another tick for Balta.
After last year's controversial move to play Blicavs on the wing as the Tigers' forward line ran rampant in the preliminary final, attention was on where Chris Scott would deploy his most versatile player on Friday night. The athletic tall started on the wing against Marlion Pickett and continued to play as a free-wheeling midfielder with stints in the ruck. Blicavs finished with 18 disposals and was solid, but Riewoldt dominated in the air and Lynch was also potent before his injury struck.
The late change masters do it again
Rumours swirled on Friday afternoon of a late change at the Cats involving Gary Rohan as he nursed a glute injury. And Geelong, renowned for its propensity to make changes, did it again. This time, it was a very, very late call, as Rohan was ruled out with only minutes before the first bounce. In came first-gamer Ben Jarvis, and he looked comfortable at the level. The second-year medium forward took three marks, including a handy grab inside 50 in the third term for a shot at goal, and wasn't overawed by the occasion.
GEELONG 0.3 1.4 1.5 4.7 (31)
RICHMOND 2.5 3.5 5.13 7.15 (57)
Geelong: Ratugolea 2, Close, Hawkins
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Castagna, Lynch, Rioli
Geelong: Stewart, Guthrie, Dangerfield, Menegola, Blicavs
Richmond: Riewoldt, Martin, Baker, Bolton, Grimes, Short
Geelong: Rohan (glute) replaced in selected side by Jarvis
Richmond: Soldo (left knee), Lynch (left hamstring)