IF YOU come at the kings, you best not miss.
A wounded Richmond proved it remains the AFL's benchmark on Friday night, fighting back from 25 points down to bring the Western Bulldogs' unbeaten start to the year to a grinding halt in a MCG thriller.
The reigning premiers had been challenged by the League's new kids on the block, who took the fight to the Tigers from the outset and arguably should have led by more in the game's early stages if not for some wasteful finishing.
TIGERS v DOGS Full match coverage and stats
But spurred on by five consecutive goals on either side of half-time, a tidal wave of Richmond momentum carried the Tigers to a resounding comeback and a statement 11.11 (77) to 7.13 (55) victory.
Tom Lynch had almost been the villain as Richmond fell into an early deficit, missing a series of gilt-edged chances and squandering his first five shots on goal as the Bulldogs seized the early running and shot into a commanding lead.
But he would quickly become the hero, adding three goals in the third term to complement 12 marks and 11 score involvements in a towering performance that inspired the thrilling turnaround.
Triple-premiership skipper Trent Cotchin displayed the hunger of a captain desperate to make it four, with his brave second-half performance setting the tempo for his side's gritty response.
He finished with 24 disposals and seven clearances, while the class and dare of Bachar Houli (31 disposals, one goal) and Jayden Short (26 disposals, nine marks) added a rebound threat the side had lacked to half-time.
The Bulldogs, as the plucky up-and-comers, played their part in what proved to be an instant classic. Marcus Bontempelli (26 disposals, four tackles) was brilliant, while Caleb Daniel (34 disposals) and Bailey Dale (27 disposals) were the side's creative outlets.
But having led by more than four goals in the second quarter as the Dogs grabbed control of the contest, Luke Beveridge had every reason for thinking 'what could have been?'
Bontempelli's wayward set shot on the stroke of half-time was a wasted opportunity to further Richmond's first-half misery, while Patrick Lipinski's poster in the final term missed the chance to stem the bleeding and draw the Dogs level at a crucial juncture.
Instead, Houli converted a long-range effort at the other end and Shai Bolton kicked two more in quick succession to ensure panic over Richmond's indifferent start would be held at bay. The Tigers are still the team to beat.
This is why the Tigers are king
It was a third quarter that completely changed the dynamic of the match, and perhaps the season. Having trailed by 19 points at half-time, Richmond was staring down the barrel of a second straight defeat and a 3-4 record on the season. But not willing to accept that fate, the Tigers dominated contested ball (+12 in contested possessions) and territory (+13 in inside 50s) throughout the term to kick five unanswered goals and completely swing the match. The Dogs went nearly 20 minutes without a single possession in its forward half, highlighting the complete control the reigning premiers had over the contest. Have no doubts, Richmond is still the team to beat this season.
Criticism sparks Tiger into action
Damien Hardwick was forced to launch a passionate defence of Tom Lynch this week, with the dual premiership forward producing an impressive – if inaccurate – response. Lynch claimed seven marks, had five score involvements and put Richmond's first goal on a plate for Jake Aarts in the first quarter alone. However, when the moments for Lynch himself to be the hero came, he struggled. Lynch kicked behinds from his first five shots on goal, eventually hitting the target with his sixth effort in the third quarter. That sparked Richmond's comeback, with Lynch finishing with three majors, 14 disposals, 12 marks and 11 score involvements in a near best-on-ground display.
Is underrated Dog the AFL's most improved?
If the AFL had an NBA-inspired 'Most Improved' award, Bailey Dale would have to be close to the lead through the first seven rounds. Dale was again both assured and damaging across half-back against Richmond, with his prolific ball-winning ability consistently putting the Dogs on the front foot in transition. Dale finished with 27 disposals, three marks, five intercepts and 636m gained in another impressive performance, finishing as arguably the Bulldogs' best. Together with the equally as creative Caleb Daniel, the pair are proving a valuable weapon for Luke Beveridge's side.
RICHMOND 1.4 2.8 7.10 11.11 (77)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.6 5.9 6.10 7.13 (55)
Richmond: Lynch 3, Bolton 3, Aarts, Riewoldt, Graham, Baker, Houli
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 3, Scott, Bruce, Smith, Schache
Richmond: Lynch, Cotchin, Bolton, Houli, Short, Broad
Western Bulldogs: Dale, Liberatore, Bontempelli, Treloar, Daniel, Macrae
Richmond: Cotchin (hamstring)
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Richmond: Naish (replaced T.Cotchin)
Western Bulldogs: McNeil (unused)
Crowd: 52,402 at the MCG