RICHMOND has picked up where it left off, re-establishing its high-pressure game style and thumping a disappointing Essendon in a ruthless pre-season performance in Wangaratta on Saturday.
Far from playing like a team content with its 2017 success, the premiers took to the JLT Community Series with an obvious hunger to repeat their heroics, beating the Bombers by 87 points at Norm Minns Oval.
Ruckman Toby Nankervis was the Tigers' only casualty, suffering concussion early in the match when his head hit the turf. He will have 11 days to recover before the team's second pre-season game, against North Melbourne.
Essendon midfielder Zach Merrett also suffered concussion early in the match, while big-name recruit Jake Stringer was cut open by an accidental elbow to the head from Alex Rance.
The Tigers have repeatedly spoken this pre-season about maintaining a hunter's mindset, and on Saturday they walked the walk on the way to a 19.10 (124) to 5.7 (37) win.
The premiers maintained their trademark small forward line and rattled an Essendon defence that conceded eight consecutive goals either side of quarter-time, and another eight in the third quarter.
The Bombers also struggled to hit targets in attack, with All Australian forward Joe Daniher going goalless and taking just two marks opposed to Alex Rance, while Stringer finished with just six touches in a disappointing outing.
Whether it was the Tigers' pressure or a lack of chemistry, the Bombers have a lot of work to do on their ball movement between now and their round one clash against Adelaide on March 23.
The Tigers, meanwhile, look cherry ripe and Damien Hardwick had the luxury of placing his midfield guns Dustin Martin (24 possessions and a goal) and Trent Cotchin (17 and one) on the bench for the fourth quarter.
From here, the only headaches the coach will have will be of the selection kind as he ponders his best forward line and who should replace suspended defender Nathan Broad for the season opener against Carlton.
In attack, small forward Shai Bolton made a strong case to come into the mix if Daniel Rioli is unavailable because of a foot injury, kicking three goals and creating others with his pressure and creativity.
In defence, Hardwick was pleased with Reece Conca, who finished with 15 possessions as he pushes to replace Nathan Broad in the season opener against Carlton.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Richmond: The premier's trademarks remain the same. Their high-pressure style took half a quarter to kick in, but once it did the Bombers had no answers. The small forward line still suits the Tigers, with Josh Caddy, Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin all rotating heavily. Maintaining that mix looks a better option right now than playing the inexperienced Mabior Chol as a second tall forward. Bolton is the frontrunner for Rioli's round one spot, while Conca has one hand on Broad's position.
Essendon: The Bombers had the weaker line-up of the two and will be strengthened by the returns of Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker, Tom Bellchambers and Orazio Fantasia in their next pre-season game. Still, the ease with which they were pushed aside at the contest and their inability to deal with the Tigers' pressure was worrying. It was most evident when trying to run the ball from defence, with John Worsfold's men unable to string clean chains of possession together. Darcy Parish would have learned a lot trailing Martin and Cotchin, while Andrew McGrath spent time as an inside midfielder. Shaun McKernan played exclusively as a tall forward and kicked on from his impressive AFLX performances.
Richmond: Prized recruit Jack Higgins had a quiet game, finishing with five possessions, but he showed his smarts with a clever kick to Jack Riewoldt's advantage in the second quarter. Second-year tall defender Ryan Garthwaite was strong in the air and showcased his ability to play on both tall and small opponents.
Essendon: Former Gold Coast defender Adam Saad was explosive early, kicking a 60m running goal and giving the Bombers some life off half-back. He faded thereafter and finished with 15 possessions. Devon Smith was the most consistent of the new recruits, leading the Bombers with 26 possessions and winning five clearances in a midfield role. Jake Stringer was rattled by a stray elbow to the head early, which cut his head open. The former Bulldog played on but was not right, finishing with six possessions from a half. Rookie Sam Draper spent time in the ruck and was competitive.
NEXT UP: The Tigers will back up in 11 days, taking on North Melbourne in a Wednesday night clash at Ikon Park. Essendon has a 14-day break before facing Geelong at Central Reserve in Colac.
ESSENDON 2.1 3.4 4.6 5.7 (37)
RICHMOND 4.5 8.6 16.8 19.10 (124)
Essendon: McKernan 2, Begley, Saad, Smith
Richmond: Bolton 3, Caddy 2, Castagna 2, Townsend 2, Riewoldt, Martin, Cotchin, Edwards, Ellis, Graham, Grigg, McIntosh, Short, Chol
Essendon: Heppell, McKenna, Parish, Smith, Zaharakis, McKernan
Richmond: Martin, Caddy, Cotchin, Castagna, Riewoldt, Bolton, Grigg
Essendon: Zach Merrett (concussion)
Richmond: Nankervis (concussion)
Umpires: Mollison, Chamberlain, Stevic
Official crowd: 7,681 (approx)