RICHMOND has faced some tough opposition through the season's first two months, but according to coach Damien Hardwick a potent Geelong outfit might just be the best of the bunch.
The Tigers were humbled on Friday night, suffering their biggest defeat in nearly two years following a resounding 63-point loss to a rampant Cats side that kicked seven straight goals in the third quarter.
Having already faced fellow premiership contenders like the unbeaten Melbourne, the previously unbeaten Western Bulldogs and last year's preliminary finalists Port Adelaide, Richmond's indifferent start to the season is now reflected in a 4-4 record.
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However, the Tigers coach believes the Cats might be ahead of everyone in the challenging pack, saying his side must respond ahead of next week's pivotal encounter with the Giants in order to get their season back on track.
"We've got no choice, we've just got to get to work," Hardwick said.
"Once again, we'll look at some things that Geelong did. They did some things really, really well that we'll take out of the game. There are some areas that we've certainly got to improve on.
"If you look at the tape, you'll see their ability to fight through tackles … that's the difference in the game. The game is 10 goals, but it's amazing … if you nullify those contests and we don't make a couple of errors, the game becomes a hell of a lot closer.
"They're a well-coached, well-drilled outfit that is probably the best side we've played this year."
Geelong's victory was built on the back of a dominant second-half, where the Cats kicked 13 of 15 goals and saw their potent forward trio of Jeremy Cameron, Gary Rohan and Tom Hawkins grab complete control over the contest.
Cameron finished with six goals from 22 disposals to instantly endear himself to the Geelong faithful, Rohan kicked five majors in his 150th game, while Hawkins capped an exceptional night with four goals from 20 disposals.
Given it was just their third game playing together following Cameron's arrival from the Giants last November and his summer hamstring injuries, Cats coach Chris Scott said he was surprised with how quickly the forward line was gelling.
"I thought it was going to take a little bit longer to build that cohesion," Scott said.
"We've obviously been conscious not to put a lid on them, we'd like to see it and we've been working towards it."
However, despite the victory and the dominant nature of his side's performance, Scott cautioned that it wouldn't act as a defining moment in a season where his Geelong team is hoping to go one better than last year's Grand Final defeat.
"Against them, I'm not so sure (it will matter)," Scott said.
"They tend to bounce back pretty hard, so we're not falling in love with ourselves.
"But if you look at the last three weeks, we were outstanding against West Coast after a pretty average first quarter. I thought we were pretty good last week as well. If we executed as well as we did tonight, last week's game could have been different.
"For a while, I think we've had some players in our team – without individualising, you can work out who they are – who we rate really, really highly. They're nowhere near their potential at the moment. Games like this help them believe in themselves.
"Sometimes, those kind of vague ideas around confidence … what do you say to get them to believe in themselves a bit more? They fade away, compared to actually doing it. I think that will be the more tangible part that we'll take away."