Tigers' mission impossible still possible

RICHMOND 6.0 8.3 13.5 15.8 (98) ST KILDA 2.2 4.7 5.9 10.12 (72)
Goals: Richmond: J Riewoldt 6 B Deledio 2 B Griffiths 2 B Ellis I Maric J Batchelor N Foley R Petterd. St Kilda: S White 3 N Riewoldt 2 B Murdoch C Shenton D Armitage J Newnes S Fisher.
BEST Richmond: Riewoldt, Deledio, Miles, Chaplin, Houli, Maric, Foley. St Kilda: Riewoldt, Armitage, White, Murdoch.
Injuries: Richmond: D Martin (hamstring tightness) replaced in selected side by R Conca.
Umpires: Jeff Dalgleish, Jacob Mollison, Tristan Burgess.
Venue: MCG.

The Tigers' Mission Impossible might yet turn out to be exactly that – but they have  incredibly given themselves a chance of success following an eighth successive victory that puts them in the eight for the first time this season.

A date with flag favourite Sydney is the one thing now standing in Richmond's way following a 26-point  victory against St Kilda yesterday.

Only one team (Brisbane in 1995) has come from so far down the ladder so late in the season to steal a finals spot, since the top eight system was introduced. From third last in round 14, to eighth by round 23.

In fact, the Tigers have accomplished the mission one round early. They are currently eighth after dismissing St Kilda at the MCG. Now they've just got to stay there.

Damien Hardwick wasn't to know it on Sunday, but just down the road at Etihad Stadium, Sydney was proving just how difficult that challenge will be next week. Unless John Longmire changes his mind and decides Lance Franklin and a few other A-graders  need a rest, that is.

Two months ago, this statement would have seemed ludicrous: but if Richmond misses out on September, it will be unlucky to do so.

If you let Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley watch Richmond's first quarter against the Saints and then ask him which team he would least like to face in the first week of finals (should the Power stay in fifth), he would be hard-pressed going past the Tigers.

More importantly, they have beaten the two teams that might end up in eighth spot – West Coast and Adelaide – and the team that will finish seventh – Essendon – in the past month.

And if they make it, they will enter the finals on the back of a nine-game winning streak.

In short, they are playing nothing-to-lose football, a complete transformation from earlier in the season when they moved the ball slowly when they went forward.

In the first quarter on Sunday they were lightning quick. They pulled the trigger on any kick that was going to break open the play, and then spread like crazy. They first hunted the Saints from behind and side-on, then as the pressure grew, it seemed like Alan Richardson's team was running into tackles themselves.

The Saints had 12 kicks in the first 12 minutes. When St Kilda finally did settle and started to force the ball forward, Jack Riewoldt herded his fellow forwards to the centre and left half-a-ground's worth of space behind them.

Then, once Richmond's defenders turned the ball over, Riewoldt and his partners rushed back to goal. Riewoldt looked sharp. He kicked two goals in opening term when the Tigers set up a 22-point lead, two in the second when the Saints made their most dangerous challenge, and finished with six.

Dustin Martin, a late withdrawal,  wasn't there to help him, but Ben Griffiths and Brett Deledio were. Griffiths statistics don't show his true value. He is definitely worth persisting with.

They won the midfield battle – clearances were 34-21 after the three quarters that mattered – and one of the Tigers' other late-season "finds" Anthony Miles was instrumental in that. As was Ricky Petterd on the outside.

Chris Newman had 12 disposals in the first quarter, Bachar Houli had 25 at three-quarter time, and Troy Chaplin and Jake Batchelor also got involved while Alex Rance had his hands full with Nick Riewoldt.

It's hard to picture the Saints in a few years when Riewoldt finally ends his decorated career. He battled manfully again in a losing cause.

There was, however,  a small glimpse into the Saints' future in the debut of young key forward Spencer White. There were a couple of incidents where he proved he could do what's required at the level. He's quick, athletic and finished with three goals.

Better key forwards have been far less productive in their first game.

Of course, the typical pessimism that follows the Tigers hung over the ground like a fog.

Long-suffering supporters have seen enough to fear that, having done the hard part (win seven games in a row including victories against teams around them), their team might forget to do the easy part (beat lowly St Kilda).

But after being challenged in the second term, the Tigers came out after half-time and kicked five goals to one in the third. And then coasted home.

Now it's time for Sydney.

This story Tigers' mission impossible still possible first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.