Dreamtime is back at the MCG and Richmond is almost daring to dream again.
The centrepiece game of Sir Doug Nicholls Round returned to the home of football for the first time since the show was taken on the road amid the coronavirus pandemic, travelling to TIO Stadium in Darwin in 2020 before stopping in Perth's Optus Stadium last year.
But it could come at a cost for the Tigers, with two premiership stars – Tom Lynch and Kane Lambert – both sitting out the final quarter with injury concerns as the Tigers strolled to a 32-point win in front of 70,226 people.
After a week of forensic analysis of the Essendon Football Club, from the big names to the board and everything in between, Ben Rutten's side played with a renewed level of spirit and energy from the opening bounce that was typified by a brilliant chase-down tackle by Mason Redman on Shai Bolton in the opening quarter.
But it was never enough to trouble Damien Hardwick's men.
Essendon laid only 30 tackles against Sydney last weekend – its lowest tackle count since round 14, 2005 – and had 20 on the board at the first break, nine more than Richmond. They continued this theme throughout the game, but couldn’t find a gameplan that could break down these well-drilled Tigers, who are starting to build into a premiership threat again.
The Bombers finished with 63 tackles for the game, keeping them within touching distance for much of the contest, but they never put too much fear into the Tigers.
Just when it looked like Richmond almost had a clean bill of health – only missing Noah Balta and Jack Graham – Lambert was substituted out of the game just before three-quarter time due to hip soreness, while Lynch sat out the final quarter due to a hamstring issue that could hurt his Coleman Medal chances.
The All-Australian started the round at the top of the leader board, before Carlton star Charlie Curnow leapfrogged him by kicking a bag of six on Friday night.
With Lynch having an off night in front of goal, kicking 0.4 before he exited the game late in the third quarter, triple Coleman Medallist Jack Riewoldt was the star of the show inside 50, finishing with 4.2 and dishing off a couple of others in a superb performance by the veteran Tiger.
Star midfielder Dion Prestia dominated from the opening bounce to win the Yiooken Award for best on ground, finishing with 36 disposals and six clearances in a dominant display, while Liam Baker and Jayden Short were both enormous for the Tigers.
Maurice Rioli Jnr. ensured his first Dreamtime appearance was a memorable one, producing two magic moments in the second quarter in a performance that would have made his famous father – 1982 Norm Smith Medal winner Maurice Rioli snr – incredibly proud. Rioli's nephew, Daniel Rioli, also starred for the Tigers amassing a personal best 26 disposals.
Essendon recovered from a 2-6 start to roar home and reach September in 2021, but that won't happen this year. The Bombers are now 2-8, a world away from the excitement that built en route to that elimination final appearance in Launceston.
REDMAN IN MRO TROUBLE?
Essendon defender Mason Redman will come under scrutiny from the MRO after elbowing Dion Prestia in the throat in the second quarter. Redman was reported on the spot by the umpire for the off-the-ball incident. Richmond players made their feelings known in the closing stages of the quarter. Jack Riewoldt might also get a please explain for a tripping incident in the last quarter.
MORE HIP CONCERNS FOR LAMBERT
Just when it looked like Kane Lambert was back in business after overcoming a hip injury that threatened to end his career at the start of this year, the triple premiership star was substituted out of the game with hip soreness. It has been a week-to-week proposition for Lambert, with Damien Hardwick recently revealing that most other players wouldn’t still be playing under this duress.
ROBBIE TARRANT RETURNS
When Richmond’s list managers coaxed Robbie Tarrant from North Melbourne during last October's trade period, it signalled the Tigers' intentions in 2022. Not many expected Tarrant to spend a fortnight in the VFL in the opening half of the season, but after earning another opportunity for the Dreamtime game, the 33-year-old proved he can still play a big role for this side in 2022.
RICHMOND 2.3 7.5 9.12 11.14 (80)
ESSENDON 1.2 3.3 6.3 7.6 (48)
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, M. Rioli 2, Bolton 2, Castagna, Edwards, Soldo
Essendon: Hobbs2, Francis, Bryan, Shiel, Waterman, Perkins
Richmond: Prestia, Baker, Short, Riewoldt, Nankervis, D.Rioli, Vlastuin
Essendon: Parish, Merrett, Redman, Laverde, Heppell
Richmond: Lambert (hip), Lynch (hamstring)
Essendon: Perkins, Shiel (calf), Guelfi
Richmond: Jake Aarts replaced Kane Lambert in the third quarter
Essendon: Tex Wanganeen replaced Matt Guelfi in the fourth quarter
Reports: Mason Redman (Essendon) reported for striking Dion Prestia (Richmond) in the second quarter
Crowd: 70, 226