AS THE season wears on, the chances of Richmond defying convention and becoming the first club ever to re-field its premiership 22 become less and less.
As strange as it sounds, a victorious Grand Final line-up has never, in the history of the game, come together in another AFL match.
On field, such a notion probably doesn’t really matter. In fact, coaches would almost want to be in a position where they’ve got players improving to the point where they dislodge a premiership star the following year.
But, it’s a romantic notion, getting the band back together, especially if no one from the triumphant line-up has actually left the club.
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That was the case at Hawthorn in 2015 with the retirements of Brian Lake and David Hale, plus the departure of Matt Suckling to the Western Bulldogs, leaving the Hawks with no chance of playing their premiership team together again.
And in 2016, Joel Hamling’s decision to return to his home state of Western Australia and accept a trade to Fremantle meant the Dogs weren’t in a position to reform their drought-breaking 22 in 2017.
Before that, no other premiership team had played together again in the game’s history.
With no exits and just two players pushing 30 at the start of this year, the Tigers were the best-placed team to achieve the never-been-seen-before feat when they broke for holidays in October last year.
But, injuries and an off-season issue made it impossible early on.
A broken foot sustained in the Grand Final ruled Daniel Rioli out until round 13 and a pre-season hamstring issue meant Dion Prestia didn’t play until round four.
Nathan Broad wasn’t available until the same week as punishment for circulating a private photo without the subject’s consent during the premiership celebrations, and was then made to wait until round five to return.
In his absence, Jayden Short – who lost his spot in round 18 last year when Bachar Houli returned from suspension – started about making sure he didn’t go out of the side again.
And, with Prestia out, perennial Richmond whipping boy Reece Conca, who also missed the flag, took on a more midfield-centric role that had him playing career-best football before he dislocated his ankle in round 15.
Nearly four months later and it’s hard to imagine the Tigers without Short, with his drive off half-back and elite kicking making him one of the most improved players in the League.
You also expect they’ll be keen to see Conca back in the later rounds.
Across the year, Brandon Ellis, Jacob Townsend, Jack Graham and Kamdyn McIntosh have spent time at VFL level, and Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Shaun Grigg, Dylan Grimes, Nick Vlastuin, Jason Castagna and David Astbury have missed games with injuries.
Graham, Vlastuin and Josh Caddy have fallen foul of the match review officer and sat out with suspension.
Shai Bolton, Corey Ellis, Sam Lloyd, Anthony Miles, Connor Menadue and Callum Moore have come in and played roles, while they’ve celebrated two debutants – Jack Higgins and Ryan Garthwaite.
It’s also hard to see Higgins leaving the side after 11 games, such is his infectious enthusiasm and famous half-time rev-ups that have left his teammates in a positive frame of time entering the third term.
So, it’s hard to see the Tigers defying history and putting their flag-clinching 22 back on the park in 2018 – and even tougher to see it happening next season.
With the likes of Grigg, Houli, Broad and Townsend coming out of contract, and the Tigers keen to secure big fish Tom Lynch, it’s not guaranteed they’ll all be there beyond October to reload for another attempt at uniting the band.
Richmond’s 2017 premiership line-up
B: Alex Rance, David Astbury, Dylan Grimes
HB: Bachar Houli, Kamdyn McIntosh, Brandon Ellis
C: Dion Prestia, Shane Edwards, Nick Vlastuin
HF: Trent Cotchin, Daniel Rioli, Jacob Townsend
F: Jack Riewoldt, Kane Lambert, Dan Butler
R: Toby Nankervis, Shaun Grigg, Dustin Martin
IC: Nathan Broad, Jason Castagna, Josh Caddy, Jack Graham
Em: Jayden Short, Shaun Hampson, Corey Ellis
Source: AFL FOOTBALL NEWS