Tigercats? TIGERCATS! The HPN Richmond-Geelong Preliminary Final Preview

HPN Team Ratings

Geelong still sit at the top of the heap according to the HPN Team Ratings, but their spot is about someone necessarily being number 1 due to the way ordinal numbers work rather than representing dominance over the competition. As mentioned in previous weeks, it’s the efficiency at either end of the ground that drags their solid but not spectacular performance in the middle up.

Richmond is the inverse of Geelong – dominating via ball movement but being a bit weaker at either end. Richmond tends to win by dominating inside 50 entries – unless Brisbane kicks 8.17 that is.

Keys to the game


  1. Winning the ball on the intercept

If you had to pick at random, ignoring club allegiances, the Tigers may play the most aesthetically pleasing style of any team. They generally don’t overuse the ball, avoid long periods of trench warfare via stoppages, and attack regularly on the counter attack.

That last part is critical to the Tigers’ success. There are a dozen more total turnovers in Richmond wins against top 8 opponents as opposed to losses against top 8 sides. As their attack has been a shifting work in progress this year, and their defensive setup shuffling throughout, getting weight of entries up forward has been key. At times, this has meant that the Tigers are more willing to take risks and take the game on.

When the Tigers start to look more cautious, and fall more into the trend of kicking the ball down the line, they look very beatable. But if it is a quicker, back and forth game, Geelong may be in trouble.

2. Dusty forward

Martin kicked six goals against Brisbane, after he’d scored only six goals in outings against the eventual finalists across nine previous matches. The Tigers forward setup had been a bit lacklustre against top sides through the year, with a reliance on positive inside 50 differentials and the lowest points per inside 50 production of any finalist. Martin’s role against Brisbane as a nearly permanent focal point, having half his 14 touches in forward 50 and kicking 6 goals, completely changed things up for the Tigers, with Riewoldt and Lynch then able to help stretch the defence and get good isolated looks at the footy themselves.

Geelong’s league-leading defensive miserliness will be a different prospect, and is fresh from blanketing West Coast’s imposing forwardline. Unlike Brisbane, Geelong appear to have better defensive matches for someone like Martin – limiting him to the second fewest goals per game during the era since 2016, without necessarily letting him run rampant in midfield as compensation.

The Geelong defensive setup get to train against perhaps the most Martin-like forward in the competition in Patrick Dangerfield, and since Dangerfield joined the Cats Martin has managed just 4 goals in 6 games against the Cats (0.67 goals per game). Against all other teams since 2016, Martin has averaged 1.2 goals per game.

The Cats have multiple strong and quick defenders that could switch onto Martin in a pinch, including (but not limited to) Blicavs, Stewart and Henry.

In order for Richmond to have a good chance of winning, Martin may need to find a way to impact the game in front of goals.

3. Stay flexible against good sides

Against Brisbane, Richmond showed they could win against good sides without feasting disproportionately on intercepts (they had 10 more turnovers than the Lions). They also found paths to goal other than Lynch and Riewoldt and lifted their forward efficiency, as mentioned above. A middling side for tackles inside their own forward 50 in 2019, the Tigers laid on almost a season high 18 to outdo the season’s best side on that front, keeping the pressure up and forcing scoring opportunities. They broke even in stoppage clearances, something they’ve rarely done against good sides this year.

In short, the Tigers showed adaptability and the ability to win without their usual observed strengths coming to the fore. In a tight contest between two sides who have been near the top of the ladder for a few years, have seen a lot of each other, and know the other’s game plans, the ability to adapt tactically and spring surprises may prove the difference.

What HPN said two weeks ago

Everything about the statistics in Richmond’s game against Brisbane suggested it should have been far closer – luck with shot conversion blew out the scoreline. However, the Tigers found new ways to win.

❌ The intercept defence – As noted above, this was a bad turnover game for the Tigers, but they won anyway. Only Grimes among defenders matched his season average intercepts in wins vs the top 8, while Edwards, Houli and Vlastuin intercepted less footy than is typical.

✔️ Mark avoiders – This was a typical game where Richmond took a lot less marks (-37) and had a lot less kicks (-45) than their opposition. They played very directly, and got the ball into advantageous positions and unlike in some games, the extra opposition ball ownership didn’t translate to a winning number of scoring opportunities.

✔️ Forward line against top sides – Typically this year the Tigers have struggled with forward efficiency, but against the Lions they scored 2.07 points per entry compared to previously averaging 1.55 per entry against finalists. Activating Dustin Martin in one-outs and mismatches was key.


  1. Find the non-Hawkins focal point

It’d be hard to have missed the fact that Tom Hawkins is suspended for tonight’s game for even the most causal of football fans. For over a decade, Hawkins has been the linchpin of the Cats attack – the focal point that draws the attention of their opponents away from the rest of their forward line. When he is in full flight, the Cats use Hawkins to open up space for the rest of their forward line, and release pressure from the “hotspot” sitting between 10 and 25m out from goal.

More than ever, Hawkins has been leading to pockets, providing a first option for players delivering the ball inside 50 and a better secondary option behind. Guys like Gary Rohan are having career years by filling space behind Hawkins and beating the best of the rest. Here’s his shot locations last year and this year:

Source: Stats Insider

Hawkins has been taking set shots this year almost exclusively from the right pocket – the more accurate of the two pockets for him. While this is somewhat telegraphed, it plays an important role in dragging the best defenders away from the most valuable spots for defenders.

Without Hawkins, the structure has to change for Geelong. In their last five games without Hawkins, Geelong have gotten four wins, including over Richmond in 2017 and Collingwood last year. Each time a different player has assumed the mantle as the key to their attack – and Geelong have a few options this time too. From Taylor to Henderson, Blicavs to Dangerfield and all Menegolas in-between, Cats players and coaches have been throwing out alternative replacements for Hawkins.

This confusion may end up helping the Cats – at least at the start of the game – while the Tigers defence try to work out what is happening. However, if the Cats try to replace Hawkins like for like (by deploying the same leading patterns), this advantage may be lost, because beating Lachie Henderson on a hard lead to the right flank is much easier than doing the same to Tom Hawkins.

2. Create as many stoppages as possible

HPN alluded to this above, but this match is a real battle of contrasting styles. Richmond games tend to be very turnover heavy and devoid of stoppages, while Geelong games are a bit more stagnant and stoppage heavy. Richmond like to create on the rebound, and Geelong don’t mind slowing the game up so their structures can get better set behind the ball.

Both sides can win when the style goes against them, with the low-intercepting Tigers win over the Lions game a case in point as noted above. However, against a side so averse to stoppages as Richmond, Geelong would be foolish to try to unnecessarily open the game up, especially if they play Stanley as the recognised ruck. Richmond look the most dangerous when they break lines with speed, exploit broken play, and switch across into space, so a dour tight-checking struggle will likely suit the Cats.

3. Keep the ball in marking situations

Despite missing one of their best marking players in Tom Hawkins, Geelong will still come into the match with a considerable size and marking advantage. On average, the Cats are 2.4cm taller and 3kg heavier than their Richmond opponents, despite Richmond playing two ruckmen.

As noted last week, the Cats also excel with the ball in the air and when moving the ball via foot, and struggle when they can’t find marking targets. Richmond, on the other hand, are the second worst finalist with respect to mark and contested mark differentials, those areas barely having mattered to Richmond’s style.

If the Cats can keep the ball off the deck and in marking situations, they would expect to be able to control the pace of the game and keep Richmond out of it.

What HPN said last week

Geelong played a mid-tempo game and defended well enough to deny the Eagles kicks, marks and ultimately, scoring shots.

✔️ Control the ball in the air – Geelong denied West Coast control of the kicking game, with +6 marks, +14 kicks enough to deny the Eagles scoring opportunities.

✔️ Careful and cautious play – 140 total turnovers in the game, 73 intercepted by Geelong and 67 by West Coast, is a mid-tempo game for most teams but was a bit more than West Coast usually prefer.

✔️ Control territory – Geelong had 15 more inside 50s and about 700 more metres gained, clearly doing what they needed to here.


Note: the HPN tipping model this year was bad. Don’t gamble, especially not with this information. Look at the work of Squiggle for a variety of better performing models. Mild boast – HPN was the only model to pick all four results last week. It probably won’t happen again.

Richmond by 6.

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