The Indigenous players from both teams come together before the 2023 Dreamtime at the 'G match between Essendon and Richmond at the MCG. Picture: Getty Images

SPECTACULAR debuts, milestone moments and emotional pre-match war cries – Dreamtime at the 'G has had it all.

Saturday night will mark the 20th time Richmond and Essendon have faced off in the now-signature event, an annual blockbuster on the AFL calendar and the showpiece of Sir Doug Nicholls Round. The Tigers hold the edge, sitting at 12-7 in the 19 clashes to date.

Take a trip down memory lane at some of the biggest moments from the past 20 years.


2006: Polo's big entrance

Not many players have been best on ground in their debut match, but Dean Polo certainly made an impact in the second Dreamtime match, winning the inaugural Yiooken Award for best-afield. The big-bodied Tiger midfielder was simply outstanding, finishing with 28 disposals and three goals, as well as the three Brownlow votes from the umpires. He played a further 76 games for Richmond and St Kilda, never again reaching those career-best numbers.

Dean Polo is congratulated by teammates after winning best on ground medal in the Dreamtime at the 'G clash between Essendon and Richmond at the MCG on May 6, 2006. Picture: AFL Photos

2007: 'Richo' simultaneously wins and loses the game

The 2007 season saw a crackdown on the "push in the back" rule, with umpires required to use a stricter interpretation in marking contests meaning players no longer were allowed to place their hands on opponents' backs. With scores tied at the 25-minute mark of the final term, Richmond champion Matthew Richardson – playing despite breaking his cheekbone the week prior – nudged Mal Michael under the ball, taking possession and belting what he thought was the winner from 50m on the boundary. But the umpire had called an Essendon free kick, and Richardson's disposal meant a 50m penalty was paid. In the blink of an eye, the Bombers kicked a few points, followed by a Matthew Lloyd goal on the siren to win by eight. The ecstasy and agony of supporting Richmond in a nutshell, as 'Richo' not-so-quietly voiced his displeasure.


2009: High-flying marks on the big stage

Two Indigenous Essendon players took their moment in the Dreamtime match, with both Nathan Lovett-Murray and Paddy Ryder soaring high to mark the footy. They were exciting moments in the Bombers' comfortable 40-point win, which saw Jason Winderlich earn the Yiooken Award. Lovett-Murray took a running jump, landing his knee on Richmond ruck Adam Pattison's shoulder to intercept mark inside 50, the Tigers leading by seven in the third term at the time. A 21-year-old Ryder used both Jobe Watson and Shane Tuck as stepladders as the Bombers charged home in the last quarter.


2012: Topsy-turvy game ends in Bombers win

Essendon coasted out to a 42-point lead early in the third term, Paddy Ryder having booted three in the opening 12 minutes of the match, with support from Leroy Jetta and Angus Monfries in attack. The Tigers had to switch to all-or-nothing mode, and it worked, Shane Edwards' three goals chipping away at the lead while the Bombers' scoring dried up. Trent Cotchin's second saw Richmond grab an unlikely lead, 11 minutes into the final term, but Essendon then seized control, doing enough to secure a 19-point win.

Trent Cotchin and Jobe Watson with teammates Patty Ryder and Sam Lonergan during the 2012 Dreamtime at the 'G match between Essendon and Richmond at the MCG. Picture: AFL Photos

2013: Essendon triumphs despite off-field turmoil

The stats don't paint the full context of the match. The 2013 season saw Essendon under investigation from ASADA for its supplements program the year prior, and the lead-in to this Dreamtime game saw CEO Ian Robson resign just two days before the match. Jobe Watson won the Yiooken Award after an outstanding, well-rounded performance, recording 28 touches and three goals. Essendon had opened the season with a 6-0 start, but the win against Richmond provided a steadier after back-to-back losses.


2015: Dustin Fletcher reaches a magical milestone

While the game itself proved to be a bit of a fizzer for the Essendon legend – subbed out with a groin injury at three-quarter time – Fletcher became just the third player in the V/AFL to reach the incredible 400-game mark. Aged 40, he recorded 10 touches in what eventuated to be his final game, an abdominal issue sidelining him for the remainder of the season.


2016: Dusty flexes his power

Dustin Martin has a long history of making his mark on Dreamtime games, and it was this one in 2016 which gave a strong hint as to what was to come for the next five years of his career. He finished with what was then a career-high 38 disposals (his all-time record is 43, set later that year in the return fixture with the Bombers), with seven clearances and three score assists. Aged just 24 at the time, he made his maiden All-Australian side later that year and won his first best and fairest for the club.


2017: Richmond snaps its heartbreaking streak on road to breakthrough flag

Arguably, this Richmond win kick-started the push to the 2017 premiership triumph. The Tigers had gone through a horror three-game losing streak, dropping matches in the final minute to Greater Western Sydney, Western Bulldogs and Fremantle in uniquely heartbreaking circumstances each week. The Bombers jumped out to a three-goal lead early, but it was a two-point margin at half-time, and three at the final break. The Tigers kicked 2.3 to 0.3 in the final term to finally break through for a win.


2018: Shane Edwards' moment in the sun

The Yiooken Award had first been presented in 2006 (the second Dreamtime at the 'G match), but dependable Tiger Shane Edwards became the first Indigenous man to take out the honour in 2018. Edwards' first Dreamtime game was in 2007, and his 2018 nod came during an outstanding individual season, for which he was named in the All-Australian team. The silky midfielder/forward kicked two goals from his 31 disposals and seven inside 50s, as the Tigers won by 71 points.


2019: Sydney Stack takes centre stage

The pre-game war cry has become an increasingly bigger feature of the pre-match ceremony, and young Tiger Sydney Stack – in just his eighth game of football – captured the imagination of the football public when he joined the Indigenous dancers. The 2022 edition saw the eight Indigenous Tigers – Edwards, Stack, Shai Bolton, Daniel Rioli, Maurice Rioli jnr, Matt Parker, Rhyan Mansell and Marlion Pickett – surrounded by teammates, before they dropped to their knees to reveal the octet standing tall in a spine-tingling moment. Last year, the Indigenous players on both sides joined arms and walked together, with their non-Indigenous teammates in arms behind them.


2020-21: Dreamtime hits the road

The Victorian lockdowns forced the teams on the road for two winters, meaning Dreamtime was played outside the MCG for the first time. The 2020 edition was billed as "Dreamtime in Darwin", with Richard Fejo delivering a particularly memorable Welcome to Country. Richmond won by 12, with Shai Bolton taking out the Yiooken Award. The following year saw the action shift west, with "Dreamtime in Perth". It was a closely fought affair for three quarters, before the Tigers put the foot down to win by 39 points, Darcy Parish named winner of the Yiooken in the Bombers' loss. 


2023: Sam Durham's winner the final straw for Damien Hardwick

Essendon finally broke through for its first win over Richmond in 14 clashes, former VFL Tiger Sam Durham breaking hearts with a winning Bomber goal with just seven seconds remaining to secure a one-point victory. Essendon skipper Zach Merrett was named best afield with his 39 disposals. The wheels had already been wobbling dangerously at Punt Road, and the Durham goal proved to be the nail on the road that completely upset the apple cart, a burnt-out Damien Hardwick resigning just two days later.