St Kilda celebrated its return to the finals with a thrilling victory over the Western Bulldogs last week. Its reward? A semi-final against a side who has won two of the last three premierships, where it will be missing experienced duo Paddy Ryder and Jake Carlisle. The Saints, and Brett Ratten in particular, have a good recent record against the Tigers. Ratten has won 10 of 11 games against Richmond in his coaching career, but victory at Metricon Stadium on Friday night would undoubtedly top all of them. Still, if this season has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected. Maybe there's a 'Miracle at Metricon' in the works.
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WHERE AND WHEN: Metricon Stadium, Friday 9 October, 7.50pm AEDT
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WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR?
Round four: St Kilda 15.3 (93) defeated Richmond 10.7 (67)
The most significant aspect of St Kilda's victory over Richmond earlier in the season was the control it had over the entire contest. The Saints led at every change in a mature performance, having the measure over the Tigers in most areas of the field. Dan Butler tormented his former side to kick three goals from 14 disposals, while Tim Membrey (seven marks, three goals) and Jack Steele (21 disposals, 10 tackles) were also among the best.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Will the return of Tom Lynch solve Richmond's issues going inside 50? Throughout the season, the Tigers ranked No.1 in the League for marks inside the forward arc – averaging 10.3 per game. However, in last week's defeat to Brisbane, the reigning premiers took less than half that amount – ranked seventh of the eighth sides playing finals. Richmond needs a reliable option inside 50 to maximise its scoring opportunities. Lynch should be that man.
Can the Saints cope without two of their best three performers from last week? According to Champion Data's AFL Player Ratings, Paddy Ryder (24.7 points) and Jake Carlisle (12.9) ranked first and third respectively during last week's narrow elimination final victory over the Western Bulldogs. Young gun Rowan Marshall will now have to shoulder the bulk of the ruck load without Ryder, while Carlisle missing could leave the side undersized down back.
WHAT THE STATS SAY
St Kilda scored 15 goals from 38 inside 50s when these sides last played, with its conversion rate of 39.5 percent equating to the club's best return on the season.
Richmond conceded 55 points from turnovers and 38 points from stoppages when it last played St Kilda, its second-worst differentials in both categories on the entire season.
Dustin Martin is the key man. In his nine finals since the start of 2017, his AFL Player Ratings average of 19.2 points is the best of any Richmond player throughout that period.
There could be a lot of stress placed on the Saints backline. Richmond ranks No.1 for time in forward-half differential this season. Meanwhile, St Kilda had a time in forward-half differential of -15.38 minutes last week – the worst of all eight teams playing in the finals.
There's no wonder Richmond wanted this game at Metricon Stadium. The Tigers have won their last nine games in Gold Coast, with an average winning margin of 46 points. St Kilda also boasts a relatively good record at the venue and is 2-1 there this year.
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR …
Toby Nankervis. On paper, one of few Richmond deficiencies can be found in the ruck. But while dual premiership big man Nankervis has played only eight games this year, he enjoyed the best of them back in round four against St Kilda. Making his return to the side – and rucking solo on that occasion – Nankervis had 17 disposals, 26 hitouts, seven tackles and a goal. He was one of Richmond's most important performers, getting the better of youngster Rowan Marshall. Doing similar on Friday night will go a long way to helping his midfielders.
Dan Butler. This is a man with a few things to prove. In his first game against his former side, where he was part of their premiership team back in 2017, Butler had 14 disposals and three goals to torch the Tigers. Now, he can do it on the biggest stage of all. Butler was restricted to just 22 games in his final two seasons with Richmond and left for more opportunities. He can continue to prove he was worthy of those chances if he again fires in the semi-final. It would cap a year where he also made the 40-man All-Australian squad.
PREDICTION: Richmond by 20 points. You can't keep a good team down for long and the Tigers have proved over the last four seasons that they are a very, very good team.