Richmond coach Damien Hardwick has found it hard to explain his team’s dramatic recent form slump, but insisted his “very proud” players were still hungry to win a historic three-peat of flags.
Hardwick must be one of very few people who can detect that hunger, though. Fresh from registering their lowest score in 60 years against the battling Saints last week, the Tigers plumbed to new depths on Thursday night with a humiliating 10-point loss to lowly Gold Coast at Marvel Stadium.
Their ability to make the finals this year, let alone aim for a premiership hat-trick (which looks as far off as it ever has), is now in serious jeopardy, and they could find themselves out of the top eight with just eight rounds to go.
“It’s hard to answer to be honest,” Hardwick said post-match when asked where it’s all gone wrong for his team in such a short period of time.
“Confidence is a very, very funny thing within the AFL – you can quickly gain it, you can quickly lose it.
“Our boys are just lacking confidence at the moment which is surprising … when you lack confidence you’re one step behind. Instead of being proactive, you’re reacting, so we’ve just got to build them up and get them better.
“We‘re the first to admit we’re not playing anywhere the level of capacity we think we can and we’ve got to get better in a lot of facets in our game.
“Unfortunately at the moment, our players are just struggling.”
“I’ve still got a firm belief that we’re not too far off it.”
Hardwick admitted the way the Suns “outworked” his side with superior hunger around the contest and pressure on the outside reminded him of his own Tigers at their very best.
But Richmond were also let down by a few undisciplined acts from veteran defenders Nick Vlastuin and Dylan Grimes in the first quarter and on the halftime siren respectively, which gifted goals to the Suns from the goalsquare.
“It’s disappointing but I think we’re probably seeing a little bit of a trend across the AFL where the retaliator seems to get pinged a fair bit at the moment – it’s not something that I’d like the game to (allow) creep in,” Hardwick said.
“But our boys have got to be better to be fair. Lashing out, we know it doesn’t help, it just gives away a free kick.
Riewoldt lipping off at the umpires at the end like Richmond didn’t just get smashed in every facet of that game. Give us all a spell mate. #AFLSunsTigers
Things I never thought I'd hear: Gold Coast fans giving Richmond the 'na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye' at Marvel Stadium 😬 #AFLSunsTigerspic.twitter.com/8IDIiyKLJa
“It’s something we’ve got to eradicate from our game because it’s certainly cost us probably this year more so than ever.”
Hardwick confirmed a calf injury was the reason for Callum Coleman-Jones being subbed out in the first half, while the extent of injuries suffered by Vlastuin and Shane Edwards, who both played out the game, will be ascertained during the week.
Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew was proud of his team for not “overreacting” to their recent dismal three-game losing streak, and hailed the victory over the Tigers as the Suns’ “most complete” performance of 2021.
“The lesson is often when a (opposition) team loses the week before, particularly one like Richmond, it shows they’re human … they can be beaten,” he said.
“To get some of these results you’re going to have to live with some pain … to get through to the goodness.”
Dew reserved extra special praise for midfield bull Touk Miller who was the best player on the ground.
“I don’t know what to say about Touk – we’re lucky to have him at our football club. He’s putting in a season to remember,” Dew said.
The Suns have been notorious for their dramatic fade-outs in the second half of seasons in recent times, and Dew said the challenge for his players was to use their latest performance as a springboard for more consistency over the final eight games.
“We’ve just got to bottle what we did tonight,” he said.
Having been forced to flee Queensland due to the Covid crisis that is gripping the nation, Dew wasn’t sure when his team would be allowed back in their home state, and it’s unclear as to when Miller’s fellow on-ball star Hugh Greenwood will be able to rejoin the line-up after he stayed back on the Gold Coast for the birth of his second child during the week.
“It was all going to plan with the (originally-planned) Thursday night (game against Richmond) at Metricon (Stadium), but obviously jumping on a plane put a spanner in the works,” Dew said. “He’ll just be at the mercy of the rules.”
Meanwhile, forward Josh Corbett will enter the 12-day concussion protocol after suffering a head knock and being subbed out.
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