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Feel-good Tigers must harden up

The Final Say: Voss wraps up week one Watch a complete wrap of week one of the finals with Lions great Michael Voss
Jarrad Waite of the Blues celebrates kicking a goal during the 2013 1st Elimination Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues at the MCG, Melbourne on September 08, 2013. (Photo: Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media)
Jarrad Waite celebrates a goal against Richmond as Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt wince
THE CHALLENGE for Damien Hardwick will be to decide when to sit with his players and forensically analyse Richmond's shattering 20-point loss to Carlton in Sunday's elimination final.

He could do it first thing Monday while the memories of the loss are fresh in the minds of the 22 who played and those who coached and helped prepare the team.

Or he could save it for the first day of pre-season training sometime in November. What better launching pad for 12 weeks of torture?

Either time, it won't make for pretty viewing. For the second time in four weeks at the MCG, the Tigers spotted the Blues a five-goal lead, only to fade badly and lose.

The difference this time around was contested possessions. The Tigers held the edge 71-60 at half-time and were deserved 26-point leaders. They ended the game 129-137 in arrears and, equally, deserved to lose.

Chris Judd played an enormous second half for the Blues. Bryce Gibbs lifted as well. Jarrad Waite held some marks, Nick Duigan played the game of his life with four goals and voila, it is Carlton, not Richmond, that is preparing for an ANZ Stadium semi-final on Saturday night against the Sydney Swans.

Much good came from Richmond's season. It was the first in 12 years in which the club figured in the finals. The expectation of such an outcome helps explain why the Tigers attracted 60,000 members this year and why more than 94,000 fans – the largest week-one game attendance since the League moved away from the final four in 1972 – packed into the MCG.

Blues coach Mick Malthouse, a former Tigers premiership player, said it felt like being the away team in Perth and that he had never heard a roar as loud as when the Tigers ran on to the field.

That's the feelgood story about the Tigers in 2013. But of more concern to Hardwick is that his side develops a harder edge in 2014, that the run, carry and spread used to dismantle teams like Hawthorn this year doesn't disappear in a half like it seems to do against Carlton.

Richmond is sound defensively and boasts an above-average midfield, so the building blocks are in place. Football history is filled with sides like Richmond, who use the disappointment of a premature finals exit as the motivating force the following season.

But sadly, Richmond's own history is filled with false dawns. The Tigers took 13 years to make the finals again after losing the 1982 Grand Final, then six years again after that 1995 appearance. They delivered doughnuts every year from 2002 until this year, so perhaps Monday morning might be the right time for the Hardwick post-mortem and a refresher course in Richmond club history.

Nick Duigan celebrates one of his four goals against Richmond. Picture: AFL Media

Carlton's week will be simple, with lots of recovery and not much training as it freshens itself up for the game in Sydney. The Blues rode the back of Judd, Murphy and Gibbs to pull this game out of the fire and Malthouse knows that despite Carlton's obvious fitness, it can't keep chancing its arm with these slow starts.

Still, the Blues will encounter a Sydney Swans outfit with considerable problems of its own. Put simply, the Swans are banged up.

Here are the issues arising out of Friday night's 54-point loss to Hawthorn. The Swans' midfield is shot. Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh are warriors – any club would kill to have them – but they have played every game this year and the fatigue is showing.

Others such as Dan Hannebery and Nick Smith played hurt against the Hawks, whose speedster Isaac Smith ran rings around Hannebery and others, who just couldn't go in the third term as the Hawks mounted their surge. Ryan O'Keefe, another not to have missed a game all year, looked spent in the second half. And Jude Bolton appears to have squeezed every last drop out of what has been a magnificent career.

Then there's the mess that is the forward line, which looked more potent, and certainly less predictable the week before against the Hawks when Kurt Tippett did not play.

The four talls strategy did not work. Shane Mumford, Mike Pyke and Tippett, you would think, would all play on Saturday night against the Blues but Jesse White might be the player facing pressure to keep his place in the side.

Perhaps the enigmatic Mitch Morton will play one last game in the red and the white before settling into retirement and making his millions in the financial sector. He can play smaller and can pose some match-=up issues for the Carlton defence.

The other query for the Swans is the venue. For contractual reasons, next week's final must be played at ANZ Stadium, arguably the worst playing surface in the AFL and which will have been chopped up by an NRL final the night before.

Oh, and the Swans have won just one from three there this year with the solitary win coming against the Giants. And Mick Malthouse has won seven of nine games there while coach of Collingwood.

Jarrad McVeigh was among the Swans to show signs of fatigue against the Hawks. Picture: AFL Media

Friday night's semi-final features the unlikely pairing of Port Adelaide and Geelong. Neither side was supposed to be there. Gifted a home final at Simonds Stadium, the Cats squandered their huge home advantage, while Port Adelaide was supposed to be cannon fodder for the Magpies (right, Eddie?) before their 'unjust' Friday night trip to Perth.

The Cats need to face up to the remainder of their season without perennial All Australian and best and fairest Corey Enright, who strained a medial ligament and they need to sort out Tom Hawkins once and for all. His back is clearly stuffed and most likely won't get any better this year. But he commands respect and a decent opponent when he plays. Do the Cats roll the dice? He has to offer more than Josh Walker did on Saturday.

Port Adelaide was stirring to watch on Saturday night. Ken Hinkley has his side super-fit and their fourth quarters have been a feature all year. After Collingwood hit the lead on Saturday night, Port kicked the last 4.6 of the match for an emphatic win.

They'll have the fitness to match it with the Cats. And they have the run. If they have the belief, then we are in for a great semi-final on Friday night.

Angus Monfries celebrates Port's famous win over Collingwood on Saturday night. Picture: AFL Media

And now a brief word about Hawthorn and Fremantle who will both disappear from the radar for the rest of the week.

Hawthorn will get Lance Franklin back for the preliminary final and it is fair to say he owes his club one after his idiotic suspension. Cyril Rioli is expected back from his ankle strain, which the club has done its best to confirm is the true injury and not a hamstring as some have suggested.

So who misses out? Matt Spangher will make way for Franklin, although his efforts against the Swans were admirable and have earned him cult status among the fans that lurk the message boards. Then it gets tough. Jed Anderson? Possibly, but how great was that contested mark he clunked in the final quarter? And he was great against the Cats in round one.

Liam Shiels is the other candidate, but he is the closest thing the Hawks have to a genuine shutdown player.

Freo will first need to navigate the Match Review Panel. If Zac Dawson goes, then All Australian aspirant Michael Johnson is the logical replacement.

Like the Hawks, the Dockers will be rested and close to full strength for the preliminary final. Both sides will take a power of beating two weeks from now.

Twitter: @afl_hashbrowne

Ryan Crowley flies over Joel Selwood during their duel at Simonds Stadium on Saturday. Picture: AFL Media

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs