RICHMOND has tightened its grip on its first finals berth since 2001 after recording a fighting 27-point win over top-four contender Fremantle at the MCG on Sunday.
The Tigers led from the opening minute - when Jack Riewoldt opened the game's scoring with a goal - to the final siren, defying slippery and blustery conditions to win 12.12 (84) to 8.9 (57).
Richmond's win was its 11th for the season and not only strengthened its grip on sixth spot on the ladder but also took it three games clear of ninth-placed Carlton.
With key players such as Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and Hayden Ballantyne sidelined, the Dockers never quite found their rhythm against a patient Tigers team that used pinpoint passing to cut through the visitors' renowned defence.
However, the Dockers never gave up and threatened to stage a remarkable comeback victory when they kicked the first two goals of the final term to cut a three-quarter deficit of 21 points to just eight points at the 10-minute mark.
But the Tigers steadied, kicking the final three goals to put the result beyond doubt, two coming from spearhead Jack Riewoldt, who had been well held by Zac Dawson.
The win was the Tigers' first this year against a team above them on the ladder and Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said the ability of leaders such as Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio, Riewoldt, Daniel Jackson and Ivan Maric to stand up when challenged in the last quarter was "enormous".
"It's good to beat a quality side. Fremantle for a long period, and Ross (Lyon) and the sides that he's coached, have been very, very good and very, very strong," Hardwick said after the match.
"It's always good to beat a quality opposition. They had some blokes out, there's no doubt about that, but we're still really pleased with the way we played and the things we put in place that came through."
Skipper Cotchin was outstanding for the Tigers, racking up a game-high 34 possessions. With midfield partner Deledio contained by the game's toughest tagger Ryan Crowley, Cotchin's run through the middle was vital for the Tigers.
Dustin Martin (30 possessions) was also important for the Tigers in attack and through the midfield, while young defender Nick Vlastuin again underlined his courage and poise under pressure.
The Tigers have a tough run home with games against the Sydney Swans (SCG) and Hawthorn in the next two rounds and Essendon in round 23. But they might need only one more win to book their spot in September and will start favourites against the Brisbane Lions (MCG, round 20), Carlton (MCG, round 21) and Greater Western Sydney (Skoda Stadium, round 22).
"The Tigers were pretty good. (We) slaughtered the ball a bit when we had some golden opportunities, particularly in the first half," Lyon said.
"I thought their clearance work was just (very good), which we knew. They're the No. 1 clearance team for and against in the AFL and that's the way it panned out, scores off turnovers the same.
"They 'pantsed' us around the stoppages ... at the end of the day (we were) beaten in the midfield."
Although Riewoldt finished with four goals, Dawson was one of the Dockers' best players, holding the Tiger spearhead to just two marks, all coming in the final term.
Tendai Mzungu was excellent for the Dockers, kicking three goals in the third term, while Nathan Fyfe (27 possessions) and David Mundy (25) toiled hard on a frustrating day for the visitors.
The Tigers made a fast start, kicking the first three goals of the game to skip out to a 19-point lead at the 18-minute mark of the first term.
But the Dockers suddenly found space through the middle of the ground, kicking two late goals to cut the deficit to seven points at quarter-time.
The second term was defined by clangers and turnovers as both teams struggled to cope with the MCG's slippery surface and a swirling wind.
Tiger Matt White kicked the only goal of the term that ran just 24 minutes and 59 seconds – the shortest quarter of the season – as Richmond took a 13-point lead into half-time.
Trent Cotchin (r) led the Tigers to Sunday's hard-fought win. Picture: AFL Media
RICHMOND 3.3 4.6 9.9 12.12 (84)
FREMANTLE 2.2 2.5 6.6 8.9 (57)
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Deledio, White, Martin, King, S. Edwards, Vickery, Cotchin, Jackson
Fremantle: Mzungu 3, Mayne 2, Walters, Silvagni, de Boer
Richmond: Cotchin, Rance, Ellis, Vlastuin, Jackson, S. Edwards
Fremantle: Mzungu, Crowley, Dawson, Clarke, Johnson, Fyfe, Mundy
Richmond: Matt Arnot substituted out for Nathan Foley in the third quarter
Fremantle: Alex Silvagni substituted out for Cam Sutcliffe in the third quarter
Umpires: Donlon, McBurney, Stewart
Official crowd: 40,125 at the MCG