Are the Richmond Tigers ready to roar once more in season 2022?

HUNGRY: Richmond appears to have its hunger back, according to Rohan Connolly. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images
HUNGRY: Richmond appears to have its hunger back, according to Rohan Connolly. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

There's an entirely understandable fascination in AFL football with "eras", specifically, teams that have proven their worth over a period of time with premierships. It means we talk about them endlessly, whether they're still powers or not.

Take Geelong, for example, whose status seems to have been the subject of ongoing debate for more than 10 years now, certainly since the Cats won their first flag in 2011.

Or going back a fair bit earlier, how about Hawthorn, famously written off after some dispiriting grand final defeats but which just kept rebounding against the odds and the consensus of the experts to the extent the Hawks dubbed the video of their 1991 premiership triumph: "Too old, too slow".

And into this discussion now jumps Richmond, which after three premierships over a four-season period from 2017-20, has certainly franked itself as one of the modern age's greatest teams. Are the Tigers still one of those, however? Or are we talking history? That is an intriguing question given the current state of the AFL season.

It's too easy sometimes to observe a fading power roll out a couple of vintage performances and yell: "Look out", ignoring the gradual erosion of their power and the rise of other contenders. Particularly when some absent stars return to the fold, as champion Dustin Martin did last week for Richmond.

But I'm starting to think there might be a few more roars left in the Tigers yet after their last two wins, not just a dismantling of an admittedly vulnerable West Coast by more than 100 points in Perth, but last Saturday's efficient dismissal of Collingwood at the MCG. Richmond had coughed and spluttered its way through the first six rounds of 2022. But its last two wins have put the Tigers back in the top eight for the first time since last June. And in both victories, there's been plenty of evidence the Tigers really do have their hunger back, the single quality most absent since their decline over the back end of last season.

That hunger has been apparent in the return of ferocious tackling pressure, which marked those mega-successful flag years of 2017, 19-20. And to that end, the performance particularly of Maurice Rioli and the heat he has been able to apply around the 50-metre arc has been significant.

The return of the Richmond appetite has been reflected also in the high rate of scores from turnovers forced from the Eagles and Magpies in both of those big wins. And it's also been obvious simply in Richmond's two highest scores of the season, an aggregate of 42 goals, Tom Lynch responsible for 13 of them and Jack Riewoldt half-a-dozen.

It's there also at the other end of the ground in a much more stable-looking and unflustered defensive set-up. Dylan Grimes' return from injury has clearly had a lot to do with it. But so has Noah Balta being freed to return to his valuable intercept defender role after having been forced to go forward.

With Lynch and Riewoldt having their kicking boots on, and Martin set to return to a role primarily as a goalkicking forward presence with more occasional stints in the midfield, there's a lot more flexibility for coach Damien Hardwick.

And, of course, Richmond's potential return as an entity to be feared is there in the shrinking absentee list, over the last few weeks the likes of Martin, Kane Lambert and Trent Cotchin back in the fold, and this coming weekend the considerable names of Dion Prestia and Nick Vlastuin almost certain to be added to the mix after illness.

The Tigers come up against Hawthorn this Saturday at the MCG, against whom they drew in the final home and away round last year. The Hawks have beaten Richmond just once in their last seven attempts, however, and in contrast with their opponent, have fallen away considerably in recent weeks.

In terms of how the rest of this season looks, for Richmond, it's pretty favourable. Including the Collingwood win, the Tigers have a run of seven games out of eight at their MCG home deck, 10 of the last 15, and only five games of the last 14 against teams currently in the top eight. That's a more than handy run home. So, are the Tigers ready to "Eat 'Em Alive" once more after a blip in transmission, and have a great era continue? It's still too early to say definitively. But the signs are sure starting to look ominous. And as different as the very top of the ladder is looking these days in the presence of the likes of Fremantle and Carlton, already I suspect the presence of Richmond in the lower half of the eight might be causing prospective finals opponents a little more anxiety.